Those Lift Rides Add Up, But to How Much?

The metronomic strains of a cable running over wheels means that a ski lift is keeping time, and with it,


The metronomic strains of a cable running over wheels means that a ski lift is keeping time, and with it, the skier. Unlike standardized chronometers, however, each lift’s time code is unique, inculcating its own wayward mathematic: the distance between towers isn’t uniform, so time in this odd universe seems to slow down and speed up at strange intervals. When a lift stops suddenly, it’s like time itself has halted.

One time I wondered how much time I’d spent on lifts. But first I had to calculate how much time I’d spent skiing. A reasonable estimate was 30 years x 75 days per year = 2,250 days, and 2,250/365 = something just over 6.16 years. Wow. But what about the ascent to descent ratio? I figured you spent two-thirds (.66) of a ski day not skiing, so 6.16 years x .66 = 4-ish years. Even if I generously ascribed half that time to eating lunch and waiting in line, I’d still spent two full years riding lifts.

A crazy statistic, but accurate?

I asked a ski friend who is a professional actuary and hobby number-nerd – with reams of self-collected data at his fingertips – to also derive a figure from first principles. Assuming high-speed lifts, average ride times, and a typical day for an advanced skier being 23,000 vertical feet, he came up with 72 percent of a day spent not skiing. As further test, he analyzed a spreadsheet from a 44,200-vertical-foot day at Snowbird, Utah, with minimal crowds; using trail-map ride times, he again estimated close to 70 percent of the day spent doing something other than making turns.

Bottom line? Waiting for and riding lifts easily consumes more than half a normal ski day at a modern resort; throw in excessive lineups or slow lifts, and 60 to 70 percent is more than reasonable.

That’s depressing – unless it’s a powder day. Since the 95 percent of time spent ascending in backcountry skiing is a perfectly acceptable trade-off for untracked snow, you’re doing okay.

Photo: Chair 23, Mammoth Mountain, by Steve Casimiro

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Showing 9 comments
  • Maths

    Your original equation would be accurate if you spent 24hrs each day skiing. I’m guessing 12 would be more accurate, so your actual number would be 2-ish years.

  • Mark Rosasco
    Mark Rosasco

    not enough. more time on chairs more time skiing.

  • Dolen

    Favorite chair ever. I’ve spent years on that one alone. I’ve also spent years in line waiting for it to open and the top to pop!

  • Eric Teixmen
    Eric Teixmen

    I love chair 23! That used to be my chair when I worked lift maint at Mammoth. Don’t forget to factor for Mtn. biking.

  • Mike

    Well wouldn’t it depend on your style of skiing? Hard charging strait liners versus easy going slow swooping turners? A very large factor indeed.

  • Doug Schnitzspahn
    Doug Schnitzspahn

    I have forgotten where and who I was on solo rides up Eldora’s Corona Bowl with the Front Range wind at full blast.

  • Jon

    Lifts are for lazies. Don’t be afraid of a little hard work, it builds character.

  • Scott Bo Miller
    Scott Bo Miller

    I have actually tried to make an estimate of this a few years ago. Something like a few months worth of time.

  • Nicola

    My dad is a long time skier and figured this math out a number of years ago. After coming to a similar conclusion, he decided that he needed to make that time productive rather than waste that much time of his life, so he decided to teach himself to play the recorder. He now composes his own recorder songs and also writes lyrics to them (which he sings after playing as you can’t do both at the same time). Not what I would have picked to do with that time, but productive none the less!

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