26

I like the convenience of having a backpack when I ski.

Last winter one of the lifties at the local ski hill gave me guff about my backpack, claiming that it was unsafe. I wore the same backpack to different slopes around the Northeast US all winter, and he was the only person to ever say anything about my backpack being unsafe.

Is it unsafe to ski or ride the chair lift with a backpack? If so, what are the associated risks?

  • 3
    Do you keep it on your back or do you have it on your lap? – gerrit Dec 15 '16 at 14:08
  • Through personal experience, yes, I've come a cropper this way before... BUT my mental cost-benefit analysis concludes that the pros of having the correct clothing, drink, snacks and correct goggles outweigh the risk. – josh Dec 15 '16 at 16:03
21

With a dash of common sense, and a modicum of skill I'd say packs are safe on a chairlift. One winter I skied over 100 days at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. I wore a pack the vast majority of those days. I never once felt that any of my packs at any time were decreasing my safety or the safety of others on the lift, tram, or gondola.

According to Outside Magazine (emphasis mine):

Chairlift accidents happen, too, but the greatest dangers on lifts come from inexperienced skiers slipping during loading, or children and distracted riders falling to the ground. In December 2014, a woman caught her ski on a support pole at Hunter Mountain in New York and fell to her death. Colorado is one of the few states that require resorts to report injuries resulting from lift falls. In the past five years, 74 people were injured falling from lifts in that state, according to numbers provided to Outside by the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board. The agency classified three of those as the lift operator’s fault.

Notice that they didn't mention, packs. I believe this is because most people who wear packs wear them responsibly. Also I think it is worthwhile to consider that in a 5 year period a busy skiing state like Colorado experienced on average ~15 falls annually. This is a very low number considering the thousands upon thousands of trips people take on ski lifts in Colorado annually. For more concrete numbers (emphasis mine):

In the past 42 years — during which skiers took more than 16.3 billion chairlift rides — only 12 people have been killed, according to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA). In fact, you’re eight times more likely to get hurt riding an elevator than hitching a lift up a mountain.

Some general tips I'd offer are:

  • Don't wear a big or bulky pack.
  • While seated carry the backpack on your lap, with only one arm in one strap, and any waist belt unbuckled. This way you can sit fully back in the chair, ensure your pack's straps don't get caught in anything during the ride up, and it is easy to ditch the pack in the unlikely event it gets caught on something.
  • If you feel uncomfortable lower the safety bar. This is a good safety tip regardless if you are carrying a pack or not.
  • Don't carry a pack until you can get on and off the lift smoothly. If you can't do that then you don't need the extra concern.
  • Don't carry a pack if you are nervous on chairlifts. If you are already worried then you don't need extra gear to worry about.
  • If you ever feel uncomfortable mid ride you can always hook an arm over the back of the chair lift. That will dramatically reduce your already slim odds of falling off the lift. Once again this can be done if you're wearing a pack or not.
  • Follow lift operator directions. If the lift operator is giving you instructions that you feel are unreasonable exit the line and bring the issue up with the administrative team at the mountain. If the mountain has a strict no packs policy then evaluate if you want to continue to ski/snowboard there without a pack or take your business elsewhere.

Like I said at the start I don't think wearing a pack is a big deal. Keep in mind you've already decided it is safe enough to sit on a chair suspended several stories in the air with strangers in possibly windy and icy conditions. Once you've made that decision, wearing a pack responsibly probably isn't going to be the straw that tips this activity into "unsafe" territory.

  • 3
    Thanks Erik. Your answer corresponds with my experience. I like to keep one arm in the straps and turn my pack into my lap before loading. It makes it easier to access the contents, and I am more comfortable without the pack between me and the seat back. Keeping one arm loaded in the straps gives me confidence that I won't drop my pack accidentally, and confidence that i can ditch it easily if needed. – Lumberjack Dec 15 '16 at 3:09
  • eight times more likely to get hurt riding an elevator than hitching a lift up a mountain. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this sounds like a total number of accidents figure, biased by the fact(?) that many more elevator rides than chair-lift rides are taken per year, since many people don't ski or snowboard at all. Not that I'm saying lifts are dangerous in an absolute sense (something times a very small number is still small), just that I expected them to be maybe more dangerous per-trip than elevators, and this sounds like a misuse of statistics. I could be wrong, of course. – Peter Cordes Dec 16 '16 at 16:53
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    @PeterCordes since I don't have access to the sources that site used to reach their conclusion I can't definitively say. The risks in elevators are clearly different than in chair lifts. People are assaulted, overdose, etc in elevators so the risk is the other occupants My belief is they probably used some naive metric to prove a greater point For a good review of this kind of thing read the "safer in airplanes than cars" claim that was Investigated in the book Freakonomics Overall their point was chair lifts are safer than many other common forms of transportation Which is why I included it – Erik Dec 16 '16 at 17:58
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    This might be different in the US, but... Are you implying that lowering the saftey rail/bar on the chairlift is somehow optional? Virtually all chairlifts I have ridden in Switzerland have a safety bare that must be closed (mostly automatically, or manually on very old (> 40 years) lifts)... – fgysin Dec 19 '16 at 10:48
  • 1
    @fgysin I just rode a lift in the US last week that didn't have a safety bar – Chris Mendez Jan 11 '17 at 14:25
27

Yes there are increased risks associated with riding a lift while wearing a pack

Hangups

The first major risk, mentioned by Paparazzi, is hangups. These occur anytime the pack becomes entangled in the chair. These occur fairly frequently when unloading especially with chair riders unfamiliar with the hazard. The danger is compounded with inattentive lift operators as the likelihood of going "around the wheel" and being exposed to real danger goes up.

Slips

The second major risk is a slip off the seat. Since the backpack occupies horizontal space the rider has less area to sit and the riders weight is centered much closer to the lip of the chair. My ski area uses deeper chairs to mitigate the issue. Slips tend to occur mostly during loading.

A common time for a generalized slip which does not depend on packs occurs when the bar is moved upwards in anticipation for unloading. This risk for this type of slip increases with the use of a pack.

Bumps

As Pont pointed out in the comments a pack will push you closer to the swing space of the safety bar. This makes bar strikes more likely if when you aren't paying attention and/or your fellow riders don't provide a warning they are moving the bar.

Other Considerations

While there are increased risks packs also reduce risk. The can provide fall protection, additional warmth, and obviously carry supplies which can reduce risk depending on what you bring and how you use it. While they are a hassle for lift operators, ski areas have not banned them likely because the real risk of injury or death combined with lift operator frustration is far less important than lost skier dollars to those who prefer to carry their lunch, water, avalanche gear etc).

Source: At the ski area I frequented for several years backpacks were common since they were mandated and lightly enforced for the hike-able terrain (which accounted for much of the ski areas draw).

  • 1
    As a snowboarder, I prefer to have my pack already on my back when dismounting (because one-foot-out riding is often difficult enough without the off-balance pack). Thus: I prefer the slim risk when wearing the pack to the (perceived) higher risk of falling and twisting something when carrying it during the dismount. – Roger Lipscombe Dec 15 '16 at 11:03
  • 8
    +1 for focusing on the concept of "increased risk' rather than binary "Safe/Unsafe' – user5330 Dec 16 '16 at 1:26
  • Another risk: getting hit in the head or face by the safety bar because the pack is making you sit too far forward. Particularly risky when the bar is being raised, since it can pick up a bit of speed from the counterweight and a helmet won't protect you from that angle. Source: personal experience :/ – Pont Jan 6 '17 at 8:26
  • Good poing @Pont. I've been bonked a few times as well. I'll add that in. – Glenn Jan 6 '17 at 14:23
9

As a ski patroller for many years I usually have a pack on when riding the lift. Yes packs can be dangerous, but it is a manageable hazard, and a potentially life saving and life saving and required accessory depending on where you are skiing. People need to be educated about the hazard and how to mitigate it! You determine the hazard by how you wear the pack, and what pack you choose. The primary hazard comes from loose straps or pockets that can catch on the lift. A set of suspenders, safety leash or any other loose garb could have the same potential. All too often is see people on lifts with ski straps and compression straps dangling waiting to catch on the lift. This is like asking to get hung up.

The best option is to remove the pack when riding the lift or move it to the front, but it is important to clip loose straps when you do this so they they are less likely to catch. The only time i personally have ever had a pack catch on a lift was with it was hanging from one shoulder with the waist belt undone, but it slipped off and went around the bullwheel without me.

As a patroller we are often transporting gear with us on the lift and removing the pack is a not an option. As such we maintain awareness of our equipment. Prepare for getting off the life checking the you are clear and wear a clean pack with minimal and or stowable exterior straps.

The packs I currently use for for patrol have a clean pocketless and strapless exterior. When I am skiing 100% inbounds I wear a Black Diamond Bbee which is clean and has nothing to catch. It is also low profile, such that I barely notice it when sitting on the lift. When I need heavy gear I currently wear a BCA Stash pack with a completely stowable ski carry system (no exposed straps!). I actually tape excess tails on straps to keep them from dangling from my pack so they don't flop around, but it also makes them less likely to catch on the lift. There are many other ski packs that are clean and low profile, but there are also many packs that have dangerously exposed straps and buckles that are best kept clear of the lift. As a buyer you need to look out for this as pack companies are not designing their packs for lifts.

As people are likely to post references to packs here is self inflicted case of a snowboarder who got hung up by his safety leash, and a man who ended up upside down a hung by his trousers. I also remember an incident at a mountain where a man was saved by a friend when he passed out for medical reasons and was caught by his friend as he was falling out of the chair by his pack.

8

In many (possibly all) European ski resorts it is mandatory to lower the safety bar in a chair lift. On the chairs I have ridden there is not enough space to sit down while wearing a backpack - I am referring to a backpack that has things in it, such as off-piste gear and a bit of spare clothing. Even if you do not want to lower the safety bar on a European chair you are likely to find your chair companions want it lowered. I have been on chairlifts where someone choose to wear their backpack on the lift, they found that the safety bar could not be lowered because their head or upper body obstructed the bar.

Like large numbers of other chairlift users I always took off my backpack and carried it up held against my chest, or sometimes on the chair beside me if there was space. On one occasion out of many ascents a strap got caught as I left the chair. I had to abandon the bag, but as it was not tied to me I could safely let it go. The bag tripped the safety bar and stopped the chair allowing easy retrieval of my bag.

  • 1
    I ran into this in Canada, no skis involved. In winter the chair lift was used for skiing but in summer it was simply used to access the mountain. I had relatives along that didn't realize what I was trying to tell them about the chair lift mattered (none of them had even seen one before)--the operator hit the stop button when two of them didn't lower the bar when they were supposed to. – Loren Pechtel Dec 15 '16 at 23:49
  • 1
    On Austrian lifts, I find that there's enough room to wear a mini-pack (under 8 litres or so) with the safety bar down, but a normal-sized day pack would be impossible without flipping it round to the front. – Pont Jan 6 '17 at 8:35
4

It is dangerous as it can hang up and it places you more forward in the chair (slip off).
Lift operators fear packs.

A hip pack is a much better option as there is a gap in the chair for the hip pack.

I ski patrolled with a pack as I carried some rescue gear and would carry skis to areas the lift did not go to.

Before you get on the lift take it off, clip the hip belt to reduce dangling straps, and wear it backwards.
enter image description here

Look for a climbing pack no external pockets. A pack like this:
enter image description here

2

Yes, it can be potentially very dangerous to ride a chair lift with a backpack.

Here is a story (warning semi graphic pictures) about a guy wearing a backpack on a lift and it getting snagged. The guy's pack ends up tangled around his neck, leaving him hanging unconscious 10 feet in the air. Luckily, his friend was able to save him before any thing really bad happened.

Full story

Today I saved someone's life. I think some strange forces were at work. I planned to ski by myself today. As fate had it though, some good friends ended up recognizing me despite my ski gear, and we joined forces for an epic pow day. Again, fate intervened. One of our crew got his backpack strap stuck in the chairlift as he tried to unload and the lift dragged him back down the hill. We were on the chair lift behind so we unloaded and ran down the hill to help him when we realized the worst possible thing had happened. The backpack had wrapped around his neck and he was unconscious, dangling 10 feet above the snow. Panic set in and we struggled in vain for about a minute to build a human pyramid to get to him but the powder was too deep and we toppled over. I yelled at the lift operator asking if the lift ran in reverse and he cried no. Ski patrol was on their way but not there yet. Panic was becoming terror as we realized we were about to watch our friend die in front of our helpless eyes. Then I had a eureka moment. I realized I could climb the lift tower above the chair and climb onto the cable and shimmy down to him. I knew my slackline experience prepared me perfectly for this so I burst into action. I climbed the tower and slid down to the the chair. It was second nature, just like being on a slackline only way colder and made of steel. I climbed down the chair and I first tried to break the strap by kicking it but I couldn't. A newly arrived ski patrolman threw me a knife and I luckily caught it on the first try and cut the strap. Our friend fell like a doll into the snow. 8 or so ski patrolman then began CPR. Thankfully they were able to restore his breathing, ski him down to the base, and get him into an ambulance which rushed him to the hospital in Denver. I'd like to take this moment now to thank the #slacklife for the skills it has given me. It was incredibly fortunate I was there and able to act quickly. I'd also like to thank ski patrol for their strong work reviving our friend. I just got an update from the hospital and he's doing quite well and will be released tomorrow! #thankful #lovelife #rightplacerighttime

And the semi graphic image:

enter image description here

2

The liftie was right to inform you of the dangers. The backpack straps and buckles can easily get caught on the back of the chair. As a Director of a Ski School in France 'Ski with Ease' we always inform skiers of the risks and inform of best practice to remove and place on your lap.

It doesn't matter if you are an experienced skier or not, it only takes a second to get caught.. Ski trouser braces dangling to look cool are another that I have witnessed getting caught on lift exit.

Our resorts are particularly hot on it after a child died just a few years ago http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/11914211/Ski-bosses-go-on-trial-for-death-of-British-teenager-strangled-on-French-Alps-lift.html

and

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/05/boy-left-dangling-ski-lift-snagging-rucksack/amp/

Avoid wearing rucksacks wherever possible as they are going to affect your balance over the center of your skis. Of course off piste skiing they would be a must to carry probe and shovel etc.

protected by Community Oct 28 '17 at 10:25

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