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This terrifying video proves why ski lift wind holds are a thing

Frozen chairlift in Tignes, Rhone-Alps, France
Robert Bye via Unsplash

My favorite chairlift is the FourRunner Quad at Stowe Mountain Resort. Rising more than 2,000 vertical feet over steep pitches and offering a panoramic view of Mountain Mansfield, the lift is an icon of the eastern winter experience. It’s like ascending a rollercoaster.

The FourRunner lift starts loading at 8:00 a.m. In the lead-up, skiers and riders are raring to go, with excited banter and equipment adjustments filling the air. But sometimes, when the clock strikes eight, empty chairs continue up the hill, and resort staff notifies everyone of a “wind hold.” That occurs when winds reach about 40 mph, presenting a safety hazard for occupants.

Ski lift wind holds can be frustrating, especially when the breeze doesn’t seem that strong or bluebird skies and fresh snow await. But there’s good reason for them. As a recent case in Italy shows, strong winds can wreak havoc on lifts, creating a harrowing experience for everyone. Here’s what happened.

How a chairlift ordeal unfolded at an Italian ski resort

High above the slopes on a ski lift, I’m at the mercy of the weather. High winds and frigid air pelt my outerwear and test my spirit lap after lap. Driving snow stings my skin and blocks visibility. Just making it to the exit ramp feels like an accomplishment. But I’ve never experienced anything like what happened at Breuil-Cervinia in Italy, where 60+ mph winds flung chairs like a swing set and took occupants on a harrowing ride.

At Cervino Ski Paradise, winds abruptly changed, reaching 70 mph while chairlift occupants endured a 40-minute ordeal. During the weather event, the lift looked on the verge of collapse, with cables and chairs flexing and tumbling as skiers tried to survive. 

Moment powerful winds violently shake a ski lift in Italy

One of the survivors, Barnaby Dunning, described the experience. “There were, like, multiple moments of total panic and fear,” he said. He further added, “It’s literally just like you’re in a washing machine, I guess.” “You’re just getting thrown around all over the place.”

So, why wasn’t the lift on wind hold? Cervino Ski Paradise commented, “The weather conditions changed suddenly and unexpectedly,” and chair lift access “immediately closed.” However, there were still “users on the seats, who were taken to the station … unharmed.”

When the wind kicks up, just wait it out

Sunset over Tonale Pass in Italy
Simone Pellegrini via Unsplash

Chairlifts are a ticket to ride. Like a rollercoaster cart, they take you to the top so you can fly down. You can take laps all day long, racking up vert, turn after turn. When the weather hits, ski lift wind holds might seem like a hassle, but they’re a necessary part of resort operations, as highlighted by this story. After all, safety takes precedence over ski and ride bliss. So, the next time you face a wind hold, just chill and wait it out — there’s always another day.

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Mark Reif
Mark Reif is a writer from Stowe, Vermont. During the winter, he works as a snowboard coach and rides more than 100 days. The…
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