How Does A Ski Lift Work? – Detailed Informations

Skiing is a loved sport in modern times by athletes as well as hobbyists. People visit high-end ski resorts to share a wonderful time with friends and family during winter. It’s been made possible thanks to several inventions in the skiing industry. 

Ski resorts, equipment, clothing, and ski lifts are fantastic inventions. Imagine if you had to go to the top of your favorite mountain and you wished to ski down and enjoy the view along with the thrill. Can you imagine doing so without a ski lift? You would have to walk up. That is why ski lifts are so important. So, how does a ski lift work?

A ski lift is a mechanism used to transport skiers up a hill to save time, energy, and work. The ski lift chair, cable cars, or t-bars complete a total 360-degree due to an electric motor attached to the steel cable. The skiers mount the chairs to reach their destination on the mountaintop.

It takes plenty of effort to make and work the ski lifts. No ski resort wants ski lifts that stop working during their busiest time. It is highly unsafe for skiers and ruins their experience of skiing. And, of course, it would result in a horrible rating for the resort. 

Related: Best Sunglasses For Skiing

Read on to learn more about ski lifts and their importance!

Origin of Ski Lifts

The first ski lift was built in 1908 by Robert Winterhalder in Germany. Bolgen lifts were the first ski lifts that used bars to transport skiers. They first designed J-bars that transported a person. T-bars followed this successful experiment, which carried two people.

Why Are Ski Lifts Important?

Before the invention of ski lifts, skiing was accessible to athletes, competitions, and adventurous mountaineers. Only they were able and willing enough to climb high hills to ski. 

The invention of ski lifts brought a lot of benefits to the ski industry and community:

  • Skiing became a leisurely pursuit rather than only a sport. People who couldn’t climb high altitudes on foot started using ski lifts. Skiing became accessible to people apart from professional athletes.
  • Ski lifts also save time and energy. Ski lifts allow hundreds or thousands of vertical travel in a few minutes. Imagine the amount of time and energy saved!
  • Combined with the opening of ski resorts, those who didn’t live in ski towns also started to visit and ski. It is how ski lifts also created room for tourism and income for the local community. The ski gear industry also boomed.

What Are The Essential Components Of A Ski Lift?

The major components of a ski lift are the haul rope, terminals, towers, carriers, and safety systems. Here is what each part is:

  • Haul rope: the sturdy metal rope that moves the chair lifts to and fro on the mountain is a haul rope.
  • Terminals: these are where you can find gears like motors, gearboxes, drive and safety circuitry, and auxiliary engines.
  • Tower: these support the haul rope throughout the path of the ski lift.
  • Carriers: the part of the lift that carries the passengers up or down the powdery slope is called a carrier. These have different names: cabins, chairs, lifts, trams, T-bars, and gondolas.
  • Safety systems: these systems raise the alarm when a cabin is about to go off the rails or when there is a potential rollback on the haul rope.

Material Used To Make A Ski Lift

Different companies use different materials in the making of the ski lift. Each company has its philosophy behind its designs and choice of material. Besides cost and energy efficiency, the safety of skiers is also a top priority when considering materials. 

Here are some ski lift companies and the types of materials they use so that you can have some good insight:


These ski lifts require glass for windows and doors. This company produces plastics for that purpose instead of using glass. Polycarbonate and acrylics are durable and also lightweight, as compared with glass. 

The light element of ski lifts means energy efficiency and money in running ski lifts. In addition, it has a high-impact resistance, 200 times higher than glass, which means it is safe for skiers.


A metallic material is required to create the ski lift’s body, pulley, and structure. Siderval makes carbon steel (Fe52D) that they use to make their lifts. It is a solid material that ensures safety for the skiers and offers design flexibility.

Do Ski Lifts Run On Electricity?

After materials, the operation of the ski lifts is also an essential element when we look into the construction and working of ski lifts. Modern ski lifts use electric motors to turn the bull wheels.

However, most ski lift companies also provide a diesel motor as a backup. It is done for safety purposes in case the electric motor stops functioning.

Electric motors are less expensive to operate than diesel ones. The power and engine may be at the ski lift’s top or bottom. It depends on engineering requirements, which the company discusses before constructing the ski lifts.

How Does The Ski Lift Pulley Work?

The ski lift works through pulleys. A ski lift is essentially two pulleys connected by a steel cable. The pulley at the bottom of the hill is powered, and the pulley at the top serves as an idler. 

The pulleys used in ski lifts are not your traditional vertical pulleys. Instead, they are horizontal for more power.

As the pulleys rotate, the haul rope begins to move, and the passenger-filled lift starts to go up and down the mountain. The pulleys create a perpetual motion to drag the large cable in a stable rotation. 

Types of Ski Lifts

Attached to the steel cable are areas where passengers can either stand up or sit down as they travel through the ski lift, secured with belts or rods. Below are some types of ski lifts and specifics of how each of them works:

Gondola lift

It is one of the most popular forms of cable transport. It has a loop of steel cable. The cable is attached to two stations. A bull wheel drives the rope in a terminal and connects to an engine or electric motor

There is a clamp attached to the cable. It allows the gondola to rise from the rope, which is then clasped and caught by a slow-moving chain.


These ski lifts are a series of chairs attached to the pulley. The chairs hang from a cable. Chairlifts bring skiers up to the hill and also take them down. 

The chairs are held in place by the use of a mechanical grip. This grip prevents the chair from sliding back.

Drag Lift

A drag lift is suitable for one person. The skier will have to ride on these with their skis with a pole between their legs for support and in a standing position. 

It is a good ski lift for those who prefer solo riding and are also looking to save time. Skiers use this to travel smaller distances as it is not too safe for more significant heights. 

How Do Ski Lifts Slow Down?

The old-fashioned ski lifts don’t have a mechanism built into them to slow down. They can only move at a constant speed. When you use them, the impact on reaching downhill can be pretty uncomfortable.

The modern-day ski lifts do have the mechanisms to slow down. Chair lifts and gondolas both have these abilities. It is called detachment technology. The detachment allows the chairs to be separated from the load-bearing cable when they arrive at the stations.

After the grip opens, the rope turns at a regular speed while the chair slows down. All the passengers can board and disembark safely and comfortably

Once all the passengers have left or boarded, the vehicle can switch back to the faster and primary cable.

Final Word

Ski lifts are a time, energy, and cost-saving invention. It has allowed the ski industry to boom for professionals and leisurely purposes. The Ski lift is a device that transports skiers uphill and downhill to facilitate their skiing process. 

It is attached to pulleys and cables, operated through electric motors. The safety and comfort of passengers are of utmost importance when constructing and using a ski lift. 

It is why ski lift manufacturers are constantly creating innovative materials for making ski lifts. That is why you don’t have to worry about your safety while using a ski lift and can begin your skiing expedition comfortably.

Mitchelle Lynn