Upon loading a chairlift, do you lower the safety bar when you’re skiing?
I do… always have, always will. I like the protection of a restraint bar when traveling 20-50-feet above the cold hard ground with no other “safety net” to speak of. Quad chairlifts (for example) are swift, heavy, 500-pound, metal objects traveling at 1,000 feet per minute. Think about the logistics when a lift stops for some “gaper” that misses loading at the base, a boarder that hooks an edge when unloading?!

I also love a chairlift footrest to rest my 12-pound skis, plus the 5-pound ski boots, a short respite for the 5-8 minute ascent, before my next ski down the mountain.

Bonus, most ski lift safety bars also help define the space in which I should sit, and similarly where my chair neighbors should fit their butt, their backpack, poles and gear. Just like on an airplane, I put the armrest down so you “stay on your side”. Flashback to my parent’s station wagon backseat with my two brothers. I digress…

Skiing out west, Colorado, Utah, California, I am flabbergasted by the number of skiers and riders who do not put down their safety bar. The rope speed on detachable lifts is swift, 16 feet per second. Think about that momentum if it comes to a sudden stop.

Chairlift emergency stops can and will happen. Picture your slippery ski pants, perhaps with a little snow or ice build-up on the chair, and no safety bar to stop your forward inertia. Where is your ass going to slide?

Snowboarders, sorry dudes, in particularly seem to think its cooler to hang out without the protection of the safety bar. So when I happen to join a group of dudes, or dudettes, on a six pack or quad, I politely ask if we can please put the bar down. Inevitably they reply “no problem”, “sure,”… some even comment on how the foot rest “is actually quite comfortable.”

Recent ski tragedies bring the importance of a safety bar to new gravity – literally. A Park City Ski Patroller recently fell from the Shortcut chairlift to his death. So sad, our condolences to his family and friends. Shortcut is a fixed grip chair, a tree fell on the line causing the chair to bounce. The chair also likely stopped very abruptly. Was his safety bar down? Uncertain. But had the safety bar been down, you’d think it would have prevented the fall of over 25’?

In recent years, a ski mom and her two children at Grandby Ranch in Colorado slid from their chair when the lift started traveling backwards. The mom died from her fall and impact. Why didn’t they have the safety bar down? Others on the malfunctioning lift had their bars down, and they remained in their chairs, uninjured. Its so simple.

Vail Resorts company-wide policy requires all employees to “restrain themselves by lowering the safety bar when riding a chair lift.”

New Englanders tend to bigger adopters of chairlift safety bars. According to Vermont Tram Safety, “Always bring down the restraint bar. Before you lower the bar, make sure your child is safely seated and then ask others if they’re ready for the bar. Teach older kids to do the same. Getting off, raise the bar when prompted by signs, not before.”

Is it a wild-west phenomenon to disregard the safety bar? A few lifts out west don’t even have a safety bar. The A Lift at Copper Mountain seems precarious with no protection on this upper mountain, often windy, old double. Ditto the Edelweiss double chair to the summit of Alpental at Snoqualmie in Washington which has no safety bar, not even an old school safety gate!

In Europe, lowering the safety bar immediately upon loading a chair is the law in most regions. Many chairlifts in The Alps have automated safety bars that lower immediately, latch and lock just after loading. And the safety bar mechanism doesn’t unlock until you reach the top station, when the bar releases and rises just as skiers and riders enter the unload area. Its seamless, no discussion, no option.

Its fascinating, ok silly, to me when skiers lift the safety bar a full two or three towers prior to the unload ramp. To me, keeping that bar down until I am safely in the unload area is most important. The likelihood of a stoppage is continual, and I don’t want to fall out of the chair where there is any big gap to the ground. Especially with slippery little kids whose backs don’t reach the seat back, so they are already poised forward on the chair. Besides, there is plenty of time to lift the bar, it takes all of 5 seconds, once you announce “bar up.”

I am all about personal freedoms, I’m from New Hampshire – the “live free or die” state. Bode Miller and I love the freedom that only skiing brings.

But safety bars on ski lifts are just that – “safe”! And a simple metal bar certainly doesn’t infringe upon your freedom. If I ride the chair with you, I will politely announce, or request if I sense people are not “ready”bar people”, that I prefer to put the safety bar. So pay attention, be aware, don’t lean your helmet head forward in the way of the bar coming down. And please refrain from saying “good thing I’m wearing a helmet,” if you are leaning so far forward that the bar taps your skid-lid.

In The Alps, by the way, no one asks, it’s just standard protocol, you load the chairlift, sit down, the bar is coming down. Go ski the Alps, you’ll see!
Happy trails ski friends! See more on ski etiquette and the Skiers Responsibility Code.