Riding a chairlift, the engine that helps drive our passion for skiing and snowboarding, can be fraught with danger.
Particularly for little kids.
I remember a blustery day at a Tahoe-area resort some 25 years or so ago when I was skiing with my daughter Grete, my buddy Curtis and his son Matthew. The kids, who were no more than 6 or 7, would ride the lifts together — not many quads in those days for the four of us to share — while the dads would take the following chair.
On one ride, along an exposed ridge, the wind really started to howl, causing the chairs to yaw dramatically. The effect on Grete and Matthew was immediate, and the two kids had to maintain a death grip on the sides of the chair — there was no restraint bar for them to pull down — to keep from being flung to the ground. Curtis and I could only watch helplessly from behind.
After a harrowing few minutes, the kids reached the unloading platform, got off the chair and immediately started sobbing, knowing they had narrowly avoided a possibly even more traumatic experience. A quick exit from the ski hill and stop at the local burger joint helped bring the kids to rights.
The aforementioned is an extreme example of how a chairlift ride can be potentially perilous for young children. But there are many other situations that can pose danger to kids, and to that end it behooves parents and guardians — even non-skiing or non-snowboarding parents and guardians — to teach them how to ride the lifts safely.
How to Ensure a Safe Ride
The following, thanks to the National Ski Areas Association’s Kids on Lifts program, is a partial list of chairlift dos and don’ts:
- If it’s a first-time experience, take the time to observe how other riders get on the lift properly before loading.
- If you are unsure of the loading procedure, ask the lift attendant for assistance.
- Sit as far back on the chair as possible, and don’t lean forward. Observe the “back-to-back” concept; i.e., make sure that the child’s back is resting firmly against the chair’s back.
- Use the restraint bar.
- Do not let a child rest his or her arms on the restraint bar as this will force the child to move forward on the seat and perhaps to be perched on the edge.
- Knock off the horseplay. Don’t throw snowballs or other objects at fellow passengers or those on the ground; don’t turn around in the chair; don’t try to touch the support towers with either your hands, your poles or your boards; don’t swing or rock the chair; don’t try to knock your fellow riders’ skis or snowboards off their feet.
Individual Behavior Is the Key
Ski resorts generally do a pretty good job of maintaining their uphill transport, so the rides themselves are relatively safe. For every chairlift evacuation you may see on YouTube or the local TV news, there are thousands — perhaps tens of thousands — of rides that are trouble-free.
“Through experience and studies,” says the NSAA, “it is individual behavior and human error that is usually the contributing factors in most lift accidents.”
The prime directive, therefore, is to be cognizant of the fact that it is the rider’s responsibility to know how to properly ride the chairlift in a safe manner.
Teach your children well.