Safety Bar Talk: Up, Down, When Does it Matter?

Katy Shipley |
Bar up or bar down? image: frozen movie

The never ending debate: bar up or bar down? People insist bar up, others say bar down– some simply ask, “when is the bar open?” Depending on the resort and the terrain, the preference can change.  Whatever you do, make sure you call it out before slamming the bar down on someone’s head.

Strangely enough, the debate of the bar is quite an American thing.  Europeans are known to put the bar down without question; it’s part of the daily routine. Maybe the European Alps are so gnarly, the bar is more welcome.

austrian bar
Equipped with a wind guard and foot rests, you’ll want the bar down on this Austrian ski lift. Image: Jagdhaus Grubhof

So what makes us Americans so weird about it?  People may have different opinions, but we know that anyone who has been on Red Dog at Squaw Valley has thought about putting the bar down.

 “Exceptions are wind, drinking beers, kids and Red Dog.” – Leah Scurto

Resorts have implemented genius ways to encourage the use of the bar.  From electronic screens telling you current conditions, to foot rests and wind guards, putting the bar down is more and more inviting.  One state, Vermont, actually requires that you use the bar. We have definitely come a long way from T-bars and rope tows.

tech bar
Updates on conditions, lifts, and much more could be at your fingertips on a chairlift. Would that make you put the bar down? Image: J2ski

But is the bar actually safe? Or does it only give you a sense of comfort?

According to NSAA’s Lift Safety Fact Sheet, 71% of all falls from lifts in Colorado occurred on chairlifts that had a restraint bar.   Furthermore, in those 11 seasons from 2001-2011, 86% of all falls were due to skier error.  This is where the responsibility code comes into play.  No matter how experienced you are, putting down the bar isn’t a bad idea in certain instances.  High winds, tall lift towers and the occasional young rider should encourage some sort of safety awareness.

“Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely.” – NSAA

Here’s a couple chairlifts that will make you want to put the bar down:


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42 thoughts on “Safety Bar Talk: Up, Down, When Does it Matter?

  1. Some of my tall friends have experienced the head thump when chair riders decide to pull the bar down without announcing it. One wears a gopro (puts him to 6′ 7″) and has almost had it knocked off. He will take the bar down, but some folks are a little bit quick on the trigger without warning. I would like to see stats on how many people have been knocked off because of the bar bapping them on the head just as they are adjusting themselves after seating on the lift.

  2. I put the bar down so I can rest a little, take a little load of the back. I figure at my age, 58, putting the bar down every time gets me an extra run or two.

  3. In Canada, it’s bar down. When Vail bought Whistler I noticed all of these new, American skiers who seemed shocked I wanted the bar down. “um, sure…I guess”. Definitely an American thing. Land of the free and all that (which I completely love in other circumstances).

    You gotta have balls to ride the Peak chair without the bar down.

    Went to Baker and couldn’t believe some chairs didn’t even have bars.

  4. Because Mrkans are the stupidest people in the world, they do everything and anything the OPPOSITE way of how it should be done and the rest of the world does it.
    – Rest of the world: 1.80. Mrka: 5’11”
    – Rest of the world: 26°C. Mrka: 80°F
    – Rest of the world: Leave them boys right as they are. Mrka: Let’s circumcise them for absolutely no reason
    – Rest of the world: Let’s get from point A to point B by flying for 3 hours. Mrka: Let’s get from point A to point B by driving for 28 hours and crossing 4 State lines (btw, do they even eat? Drink? Take a piss? Get a wink of sleep?)
    – Rest of the world: Mandatory vacation time. Mrka: Work till you drop, vacays are for sissies
    – Rest of the world: Public transportation. Mrka: Driving even to your own bathroom

  5. In most North American ski resorts pulling the safety bar down is not mandatory. But, if you ride the chair with others you need to respect that some people NEED the bar to be down. So you should be polite and let it come down even if your preference is to leave it up. For those who pull it down, please WAIT until everyone has adjusted their butts to a comfortable position and ANNOUNCE that you intend to bring the bar down. At 6’3″ I will be hit on the head every time if I am not expecting the bar to come down. As well, those who yank the bar down the instant they sit down are just being rude and deserve a ride up the lift with the bar up just to teach them a lesson in courtesy.

  6. I have been skiing since 1955. I am a Certified PSIA Ski Instructor. I have skied on both coasts and much terrain in between. I am smart enough not to fall out of a chair lift, but crazy enough to have performed front flips and other aerial maneuvers in my day. A portion of my skiing life has been spent riding chair lifts with the restraint (safety bars when I began skiing) bar up.
    However, I have experienced two chair lift rollbacks due to operator error, a chair detachment (due to insufficient maintenance practices I assume ?) that did not part from the cable – we just slid back on the cable and mashed the skiers in the chair behind us (boy you should have seen the look on the operators face at the top of the chair lift when he saw us coming up the mountain !) and numerous chair lift ‘Stops’ where the operator hit the emergency stop button and set all loaded chairs swinging to the point of almost dumping me and others out of the chair.
    My point is this. I am not always in control of all factors and operator actions. I have had close calls and have almost been injured by the performance of duties of others – beyond my control.
    Now I prefer to ride chair lifts with the bars down if only to protect myself from others shortcomings.
    And ski another day.

  7. Would you drive across a the Golden Gate Bridge if they took down the guard rails? Have you ever actually hit or come close to hitting the guard rails on a bridge? Put the bar down. Where is the harm?

  8. 43 years old. Been skiing 40 years. Putting the bar down is not a debate. I’ve literally never heard one person advocate for leaving it up. Ever. Don’t know how this is even a topic. The only ones on the mountain who leave a bar up are “too cool for school” kids and they look ridiculous for it. (I never comment on these articles but this one is too stupid to leave alone) . . . And to the writer: Facts matter. You can’t just make shit up and call it a debate!

    1. stop leaning forward . expect the safety bar to be coming down. if a stranger is getting on with me I tell them I always ride with bar down. Before we load. Denver spinal unit sees too many cases from bar up riders.

  9. My daughter had epilepsy. Medicated, only had one breakthrough seizure in 6 years, but why take a chance? Bar down, because if she had a seizure while on a chair, I guarantee you she’d fall off, and probably take everyone with her. Don’t be a dick; lower the chair if someone wants it down.

  10. Just like in Vermont, it’s bar down almost all across Canada. Haven’t skied in the US in decades didn’t even realize it’s still a thing down there, wow.

  11. Lowering the Bar is exactly what it sounds like. More of a pain in the ass and dangerous for the people who get smacked in the back of the head or can’t fit their Snowboards on the foot rests, and then when you have to unhook your feet before the bar goes back up in time. The whole thing seems pretentious to me! Bar down- usually wearing a one piece!

    1. i’ve been using the bar my whole life and i’ve never seen it hit a skier that’s aware of their surroundings…

      1. When I was a kid at Whistler on the old Green chair, a woman yanked the bar down the second after lift off and my poles fell. I was too shy to say anything then, just as we’re getting off, she asks me why I didn’t have any poles.

  12. Any thoughts on the new lifts without the ability to reach over the back or between the seat and back rest? Was on the new 8 person lift at big sky when it came to Sudden stop. Dead center between towers. The chair when up and down which felt like 30 feet with no where to hold on. Never seen eight people agree on the bar coming down so fast.

  13. I’m a bar down guy. I’m not in a rush to do so and call out “bar down” loudly before hand. The main reason, besides safety, is I can really rest on the way up. with the bar up.

  14. FYI for all Squaw/Alpine skiers/riders: All employees are required to put the bar down whether on duty or free skiing/riding. So please help us out when we say “Bar Down!”…

    1. No, I don’t fall off my couch often.
      My couch also isn’t moving forward at varying rates of speed, hovering anywhere from 5 feet to 50 feet (or more!) above the ground, starting and stopping its forward motion sometimes so quickly that it swings forward and backward a few times before it settles down. My couch, in addition to being very stable and never swinging back and forth, is cushioned, very comfortable, and allows me to lean back and relax, while the chairlift seat is often snowy, icy, or wet, and much narrower than the seat of the couch, so that if I lean back, it pushes my butt toward the forward edge, which is made of wood, or plastic, or on some old chairs, metal, which is a tad more slippery than the cushions on my couch. I tend not to sit on my couch wearing ski boots with skis dangling from them, which gravity loves to pull on. Also, I’m not usually wearing waterproof/windproof layers that can be somewhat slippery when I’m on the couch.
      I also have never fallen off a chairlift.
      If there’s a safety/restraint bar, I want it down.

  15. People always are ‘lowering the bar’
    Fyi for legal implications ski area’s no longer
    use the term ‘safety bar’. It is a restraint bar.
    Like the restraint I need to keep me from punching you in the face when you dont give any thought or consideration of notice when you just slam the bar on my head.
    Ya helmets r mandatory
    What a bunch of klowns
    Skiing is a dangerous activity derrr….. ski at your
    own risk, get on an old lift, all about choices.

  16. Most people have not experienced an emergency stop while on a chair. Experience that once with the bar up! You probably won’t get a second chance. The chair stop is almost as quick as the stop you have when you hit the ground!!!

    1. Spot on. Also people have fallen after having a heart attack or stroke. Why take any risk in life when there is absolutely no reward?

    2. NOotto mention the jerky starts on the lifts built in the 50’s… bar down, dudes! ( plus we HAVE to in NY – or risk having your pass pulled…

  17. Why wouldn’t you put the bar down! Is it so much effort? Even if it saves .05% from falling off? I don’t get it? As for calling out…assume when we are off, the bar is coming down. I have said “coming down” and the guy two seats away didn’t hear and was pissed. Almost started a fight. Relax. Your at a ski resort. They put the bar there and call it a safety bar for a reason. No debate. Just stop already.

  18. First. Red Dog makes my butt pucker.
    Second. Bar down wins in rock, paper, scissors. If the person you are riding with feels safer with the bar down you should accommodate their wishes. If no one minds riding with the bar up… roll the dice. As always, respect gets respect.

  19. Bar down. If someone on the chair wants it down, put it down. Don’t resist and be a jerk. I usually ski at relatively low altitude. I skied at Loveland and about backed out from the altitude? No safety bar. I could have slid out of the chair. Little to hold onto. On one of the newer lifts the seat cushion sloped forward. It was a quad. Nothing to hold onto in the middle two seats. I rode a long chair without safety bar at Park City. No foot rest. My feet fell asleep before I got to the top. Both Vermont and NY require safety bars and their use. It gives a sense of security. It gives riders something to hold onto and a place to rest feet. I have been on chairs that stop quickly and bounce. I will use the safety bar. To the “fancy lady from Miami” at Deer Valley who couldn’t shut up long enough to hear the announcement, “Bar Down”, go talk somewhere else. Pay attention to what is going on.

  20. Yup I have been on Red Dog many a time and always have the bar down. That is a long way down at its high point. And yes please call it out when you are putting that bar down. Unfortunately way too many foreigners, especially Asians, just pull that bar down when I am not even settled in yet. It has happened way too many times at Squaw, Heavenly, Kirkwood, and Sugar Bowl. I am just assuming it is a language thing but hopefully they will learn the protocol soon.

  21. If you’ve ever been on a chairlift when the e-brake comes on, the chair stops really fast. I’m always worried that my with my slick ski pants, I could slide right off!

    1. If you’re not sitting back in the chair when the E-Brake activates (and the safety bar isn’t down) you’re going to suddenly understand some new possibilities !! Keep Safe

  22. The author contradicts herself by saying that it’s a good idea to put the safety bar down but reports that 86% of the people who fell off chairs was skier error .
    So safety bars don’t prevent people from falling off chair lifts ?
    The skier responsibility code states that you should be able to load and unload safely,
    So falling off sorta means that you don’t know how ride a chair lift safely ?

    1. Right…Only a quarter (25%) of all traffic-related deaths in the US are the direct result of alcohol impairment. So it’s really safer to drive drunk!

  23. The point of the article is whether or not to
    Ride the chair with the bar up or down.
    The people who fall off chair lifts are not
    Paying attention to what is happening around them, texting on their cell phone,etc….. . I have never fallen off a chair lift and never will . I don’t put the bar down because that’s a personal choice , I don’t text on my phone because I don’t carry my cell phone with me. I prefer to experience the outdoors with out artificial distractions. Pay attention to what you are doing and you won’t fall off .
    It’s really that simple, stupid people fall off chair lifts . And yes I am smarter than you. I recently experienced an overbearing boyfriend harass his girlfriend the whole ride up the chair, he is the type that falls off chair lifts . Get off the cell phone and pay attention to what you are doing.

  24. It takes us Americans a long time to accept change. I’ve heard the same sort of language from my fellow citizens who:
    -didn’t want to wear a helmet skiing
    -didn’t want to wear a helmet riding a motorcycle,
    -didn’t want to wear a seat belt,
    -don’t want any sort of gun control,
    -don’t want to drive slower on the freeway (I’m guilty of this one),
    -don’t want to accept any government involvement in paying for health care (really, how could things get any worse than what they were?).

  25. Strange how one would be opposed to putting the bar down.
    And only stupid people fall off chairs? Only stupid people say stupid things like that.

  26. Only stupid people fall off chairlifts !
    I have been skiing and riding chairlifts for over 40 years and have never come close to falling off a chairlift. Follow The responsibility code and load and unload safely !!!!! Safety bars don’t prevent people from falling off chairlifts, watch the video of the kid at squaw get pulled under the safety bar by the avalanche on KT 22 .

    1. Make sure you never have a seizure that you didn’t see coming… or that would make you a stupid person and you’ll fall off the chairlift.

  27. The weirdest experience skiing in US (there were a few more contenders) was a chairlift without a bar. Seriously, WTF is wrong with you?

    1. Hold on to the chair ?
      Don’t fall off ?
      Ride safely ?
      Pay attention to what you are doing ?
      Don’t fall off the chair ?
      I grew up on fixed grip chairs , no safety bar , hold on and don’t fall off ?
      Stupid people fall off .

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