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There’s an eerie sight early-bird skiers see at some popular ski areas across the country: a sprawling lift line, packed to the brim with skis and poles, but no skiers. Big market resorts and mom and pop slopes both fall prey to these annoying “ghost lines”—snaking queues of unattended skis set up to reserve skiers’ spots hours before first chair. It’s standard procedure for some, enraging to others, and ultimately harder to avoid every season. As ski areas face major lift line woes these days, skiers and resorts are now pushing for a solution.
Reports of ghost lines this month at Heavenly Ski Area joined many viral examples of outrage around the practice from years past.
“I think it’s a bullshit practice and just poor etiquette,” says David Amirault, a ski industry veteran and long-time skier from Salt Lake City, Utah. “If you want first chair, you sit there and you wait for first chair, you know?”
Heavenly regulars, like Cassie Chao, already regularly deal with massive queues of skiers. “The lines get extremely long and the mountains are filled with new skiers and boarders which makes for a risky day, she says.” Chao, a skier from the Bay Area who calls Heavenly her home mountain, hasn’t witnessed a ghost line pileup in person but sees the early morning lines as an added risk to an already overcrowded resort. “I definitely would not want to see this trend happen [at Heavenly],” she says. “It just sounds like a liability.”
The practice, though exacerbated recently, isn’t just a new trend created by the miserable wait times or naive newbies. “For a long time it was commonplace, at least at Alta,” says Brandon Ott, marketing manager and one-time chairlift operator for Alta Ski Resort. Alta has a long history with ghost lines, and likely where the practice influenced skiers at other resorts. “But then, it just started happening earlier and earlier with more people, and that became a problem.”
Now, as new skiers arrive in droves, allowing ghost lines comes at great risk to opening the mountains on time. “If all the skis are out there before we set up the maze,” says Ott, “then we have to take extra time to move the skis or set up the maze around the skis.”
This is in part what drove Alta’s management to disallow unattended skis in lift lines in January 2021, putting up signage across the resort to discourage. Now, says Alta regular Amirault, things look different. “No one does it anymore,” he says.
Potential changes to ghost lines policies at resorts would be part and parcel of the number of lift line rule changes made in recent seasons. “Phone Free Zone” signs have sprung up at Vail Resorts recently to curb distractions at the lift, while POWDR’s new Fast Tracks system to skip crowded lift lines entirely drew ire at the start of the season.
More than policy needs to change as well, Amirault suggests. “I think it’s a cultural issue, and a piece of the culture that needs to go away,” he says. “At the other resorts that haven’t gone so far as to put signage up, I hope the culture takes care of it, because then where does it stop?”
Vail Resorts did not respond to requests for comment prior to publication.