How to beat the lift lines (and still hit the slopes)

Four skiers on a chairlift
Don’t want to queue for hours to hit the slopes? With our 6 tips to dodge the lift lines on a busy ski day, you may not have to (Image credit: Tetra Images/Noah Clayton)

For the resort skier, few things are more thrilling than waking up and checking your phone to see that the forecast for snow was right. Non-skiers will never know the shiver of excitement you feel when the snow gods make good on their promise and deliver eight or more inches to your favorite ski resort.

You leap out of bed upon seeing the news, holler at your roommates to wake up and start pulling on your ski pants and jacket. But when you roll into the resort parking lot only to see a river of humans snaking from the gondola through the village, your heart sinks. Do you stand out in the cold for an hour, possibly more, just waiting to get on the lift then contend with what might be congested runs? Or do you call it quits and go snowshoeing instead?

Having lived at a ski resort for 11 years, I found myself faced with this question more than once, and over the years, I decided that life was too short to stand in a long lift line. You can always head to the backcountry and go skinning, but if you’ve paid for your season pass, it’s a powder day and the resort is just what you want, you’re going to want to find some ways to beat the lift lines without missing out on ski days. The following are some of my best tips to dodge the lift lines without quitting altogether that don’t involve backcountry skiing or getting a job with ski patrol.

Family Of 3 Riding Ski Lift

If it’s a weekend, the resort will be at its busiest (Image credit: Layland Masuda)

When will lift lines be longest? 

First off, people whine and gripe about how busy resorts are, and while every resort will always be busier than the backcountry, resorts aren’t busy all the time. If it’s a weekend, the lift lines will be at their longest, and a lot of visitors arrive on Thursday to make a long weekend out of it, so the slopes actually start filling up towards the end of the week. Saturday will be busiest and Sunday a little quieter since many people start to travel home that day.

Public holidays – the week between Christmas and New Year, Martin Luther King Day and Presidents Day – always attract crowds and spring break manages to make most of March busy at many resorts.

If there’s been a big powder dump overnight, the sun is shining and it’s a weekend, the resort is likely to be tripley busy. Though those who can’t ski powder may shy away, the locals will be out in droves. If, however, it’s still snowing and visibility is very poor, the slopes aren’t likely to be busy, even if it’s a Saturday.

Three skiers walking through a resort with skis over their shoulders

If there’s been a big powder dump overnight, the sun is shining and it’s a weekend, the resort is likely to be tripley busy (Image credit: Maskot)

How to beat the lift lines 

1. Ski during the week 

Obviously, if you work a regular 9 - 5, this one isn’t very helpful, but a lot has changed in the last couple of years and work has become a lot more flexible for many of us. If you can swing it, avoiding the weekends altogether and skiing during the week always means quieter slopes. 

Monday through Wednesday are best, with Tuesday remaining my all-time favorite day for resort-skiing without the lift lines. If you work remotely, see if you can squeeze in a few hours in the morning and then work from a nearby coffee shop in the afternoon. 

2. Avoid holidays 

Everyone skis during the holidays because they’re off work anyway, but these are some of the worst days to ski if you don’t want to wait in line (though Christmas morning is notoriously quiet). Again, this one is easier if you have more flexibility at work, but one of the best times to ski is January, after the Christmas crowds have cleared out and while everyone is tired and broke. Avoid MLK day and you should otherwise find near empty slopes and nice cold conditions. 

Powder skiing in Verbier

Powder days can be busy, but not if you know where to go (Image credit: Craig Paterson, Justbefilms)

3. Get there early 

If you want to go skiing tomorrow and you think there’s a chance it will be busy, best set your alarm. While many tourists will want to enjoy a bit of a lie-in followed by a hotel breakfast and may take longer to find all their gear and navigate their way to the gondola, the enthusiast will have an alpine start

Lay all your gear out the night before and aim to arrive at the resort 30 minutes before the lift opens. Others will have the same idea if it’s a powder day, but at least this puts you toward the front of the line. That said, if it is a powder day, this can backfire on you, so read on for the next tip. 

4. Wait it out 

Let's say it’s a Saturday and the resort called 16 inches overnight – everyone’s going to have the same idea (and I mean everyone). You could get up at 6 a.m. and still spend 90 minutes in line, as we recently reported happened at Whistler. In this instance, you actually might fare better by waiting it out. 

I know, it’s controversial, but if you let the initial lines subside and people get where they’re going, you might actually be able to ride the chairlift solo by 11 a.m. and still get a great day of skiing in. If it’s a powder day, sure, the snow might be a bit tracked out in areas, but there really is enough snow for everyone and this shouldn’t deter you. In other words, if you’re a good enough skier, you’ll find good skiing. 

Two women laugh on a ski lift

If you let the initial lines subside and people get where they’re going, you might actually be able to ride the chairlift solo by 11 a.m (Image credit: Daniel Milchev)

5. Know the resort 

Though there isn’t a one-size-fits-all rule here, all resorts have popular areas and less crowded areas. The better you know a resort, the more easily you can make your way to quieter lifts and runs. Take Vail, where I used to live, for example. On a powder day, everyone storms to the back bowls where the skiing is admittedly wonderful. But certain chairs like Avanti Express turn into on-mountain traffic jams, while the front and side of the mountain remains relatively quiet and untouched. Get to know the runs that are always eerily quiet and you can have a brilliant time lapping a single chair for a couple of hours. 

6. If you can’t beat them, join them 

If you find yourself arriving to the sight of skier bedlam and you’ve got your snowshoes or skins in your car, you can keep driving and earn your turns instead, but sometimes you find yourself funneled into a lift line halfway up the mountain with no options to bail. 

In this case, plan for the party – make sure you’re dressed for the conditions, load up your ski jacket pockets with snacks and make the most of it. There are worse things in the world than standing in a snowy, alpine environment with other people who love to shred. 

Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.