A Guide for Those with a Fear of Heights: Mastering Chairlift Rides

by Dan Giesin | December 4, 2023

Chairlifts are wonderful contraptions.

They transport us to our most sacred playground — the wonderful whiteness of winter snow, preferably untouched, in an alpine setting.

They help us rise from our otherwise dull and dreary daily existence to the ecstasy of carving turn after glorious turn down the mountain.

They take us out of the mundane world of the horizontal into the realm of the invigoratingly  vertical. 

In short, they lift our spirits.

However, there is a small, almost minute, segment of the skier/snowboarder population that finds riding chairlifts can be a bit … um, uncomfortable. 

Yes. They have deep-seated, if you would, anxieties about hopping on a chair.

The Height of Anxiety

Perhaps this fear arises from the thought of falling off the lift (basiphobia), or from being in such close quarters with fellow humans (anthrophobia), or even from the possibility of mechanical failure (mechnophobia).

Usually, though, the sweaty palms and general feeling of unease and trepidation while sitting on an above-ground uphill conveyance is simply a case of acrophobia, an intense fear of heights that affects around 5 percent of the general population. (Then there are those pour souls who may suffer from any or all of the above phobias plus claustrophobia, the fear of crowds, while riding gondolas and/or trams, but that’s a whole nother story).

While most of us have a healthy regard for all that air below our feet as we ascend to the heights and refrain from doing anything that would tempt fate and cause a tumble into the abyss, skiers and snowboarders with even a mild case of acrophobia can often be seen clutching the sides or the backs of the chairs with a death grip for most of the ride up.

As a veteran of many scary chair rides over the decades — with some of them occurring on bluebird days with no wind or other outside influences to ratchet up the chances of a mishap — I have found that there are several ways of stemming the rising tide of fear.

Solutions Simple and Drastic

The simplest and most obvious solution, of course, is to lower the restraining (some call it safety) bar. This should keep you physically and, more importantly, psychically secure in your seat.

Find a way to get your mind off what’s troubling you —chat up your seat mates; scope out potential runs; dial up your internal jukebox and quietly hum (or sing aloud if you’re alone) your favorite tunes; try some cognitive distractions such as mentally naming state capitals or doing math equations in your head.

Set your sights on the horizon or look at nearby stationary objects such as lift towers or rock outcroppings.

Deep breathing also works wonders.

However, if these suggestions fail and you still find riding chairlifts leaving you queasy, you have a couple of more drastic options at hand: You can keep your feet squarely on terra firma and just ride T-bars and other drag lifts all day long. Or you can free your heel and earn your turns; many resorts allow uphill travel on their property these days.


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