Ultimate Guide to Mountain Etiquette

Ultimate Guide to Mountain Etiquette

The start of a new ski season!  It’s a fun time mixed with powder days, holiday festivities, free concerts, après parties, and new lift and terrain openings.  However, it’s also a good time to remind everyone about the subject of “Mountain Etiquette”.   What was once standard knowledge obtained during years of experience has now morphed into a balancing act between “anger management” and “mindful diplomacy”.  Therefore, in order to maximize your inner peace while on the hill, we’ve compiled the ultimate guide to practicing excellent ‘Mountain Etiquette’.

The first place to start is the Responsibility Code. This code is basically the “10 Commandments” of the ski industry and is usually posted on all signage and promotional materials at almost every major ski resort.   If you are unfamiliar with it, read it and do your best to know it.  In a perfect world, understanding the code would be a pre-requisite to buying a ski pass, comparable to passing your written test before obtaining a driver’s license.  If only we could be so fortunate!

However, “knowing the code” is only the beginning.  Without further ado, here are the DO’s and DON’T’s of skiing/riding etiquette broken out in the following categories:  Lift Lines, Chairlifts, Gondola, Skiing/Riding, and some Final Thoughts.


  • DO NOT put on your skis or snowboard at the entrance to the lift line (aka ‘the maze’) OR at the top of the maze thus blocking all traffic into and within the lift line.   Instead, please do this out of the way of others and prior to getting in the line and having your pass scanned


  • DO have your pass ready to be scanned.  Make sure it is not near your cell phone or any other electronic device that can interfere with the reader. Nobody likes to be held back in line because you forgot what pocket your pass is in, especially on a powder day.


  • DO NOT talk on your cell phone or text friends in a crowded line without paying attention to the flow.  If you must do this, move outside the maze so you do not hold up the line.   If possible, talk at a low volume and avoid speaking in a confrontational tone or airing your dirty laundry in public.


  • DO be aware of the maze configuration and learn how to ALTERNATE if there is a merge.  Pay attention to when it’s your turn to do so.  If it’s a chairlift, know how many people fit on a chair and be sure to pair up prior to entering the loading area.  Most resorts now have either 4 or 6-person chairlifts, sometimes even 8. (Yes, we are looking at you Big Sky!)


  • DO NOT engage in horseplay especially in a crowded line.  There is no tolerance for silly human tricks like messing with your friend’s bindings or waving your poles around like you are channeling your inner Zorro.  You can easily hurt someone and delay the progression of the line.  Along these same lines (no pun intended), no ‘’cattle calls” to members of the opposite sex or cursing, especially with kids around.


  • DO use your poles to help you move up in the line AND to help stop you when reaching the loading area.   “Shuffling” is generally ineffective unless done on the dance floor.  If you have a child with you who is not using poles, please hold them by the hand and pull them along to make sure they keep moving with the flow.


  • DO NOT enter a singles line AND join a group from the other side of the maze (if the lift has two lines on opposite sides that are merging together), unless there is NOT another single waiting on that side. SINGLES should only join groups from THEIR side of the maze.   On the contrary, if a SINGLE person joins your group, DO NOT under any circumstances tell them to go with another group or hang back because you want your own personal chair with friends or family.  NO, not ever, NEVER!!!  On the contrary, DO NOT enter the main maze as a SINGLE rider unless there is no singles line or it is not crowded.  There is a singles line for a reason.  Don’t be that guy that creeps up to a group in the middle of a line and asks to join up at the last second or doesn’t even ask at all.


  • DO NOT enter the maze at a high rate of speed without the ability to stop on a dime and avoid hitting others in the line.   This is an expert maneuver reserved only for trained professionals.  You are entering a lift line not finishing a World Cup downhill!


  • DO NOT wait for your friends at the top of the maze unless you intend to clearly step aside and out of the way of others or choose to meet them at the top of the lift.  If you do this at the top of the loading area, expect to get nasty looks, rude comments and yelled at by the lift operator. This is a major violation of protocol and is subject to ridicule by every other person in the line.


  • DO watch where you are going in the lift line and your proximity to other skiers in front and behind you.  Avoid consistently stepping on other people’s skis or demonstrating your favorite yoga pose.  Once or twice is an accident, anything more than that and you deserve to receive one or all of the following responses:
    • A hard stare
    • A pole stab to the ski tip
    • An aggressive stomp of the ski (removed from under your ski)
    • A question asking: “Hi, where in Europe are you visiting from?”



  • DO NOT snowplow on to the magic carpet (if one exists) when loading the lift, unless you enjoy doing the splits, pulling a groin, stopping the lift or getting slammed in the head by a metal chair.  Have faith in the concept of friction and you will stop automatically on your own. If necessary, use your poles to slow you down by planting them in front of you.


  • DO be patient and ALWAYS ASK everyone if they are ok with lowering the safety bar.  Wait for a response or confirmation before slamming it down on one’s head.  We are all fellow passengers, not crash test dummies! Keep in mind, it may take people a few seconds to adjust themselves on the seat before they are ready to lower the bar.


  • DO NOT choose to discuss potentially controversial subjects such as politics, religion or sex with your chairlift mates, unless you are friends with them and understand their comfort levels.  To that same point, avoid discussing any deep family secrets or relationship issues.  Nobody likes an awkward silence on a long lift ride, because you chose to voice your stance on abortion, quote the gospel, or boast how you cheated on your girlfriend/boyfriend.


  • DO NOT ask those sitting next to you if it is ok for you to smoke on the lift.  Some may respond ‘yes’, just to be polite, but they are most likely just trying to avoid any kind of confrontation.  If possible, avoid ingesting anything that causes any kind of physical or mental impairment while skiing or riding.  (alcohol, drugs, etc.)   In most instances, it’s usually ok to remind people that there is something called après, which is way more fun and generally doesn’t do any harm to the people around you.


  • DO avoid using any foul language, unless you are only with friends and especially when in the presence of strangers or children.   Same rules apply regarding talking on the cell phone with strangers on the lift. Keep any calls that you must answer as brief as possible and to a minimum. We get it, you’re a big deal!



  • DO NOT try to put your skis or board into the gondola rack if you don’t know how so you don’t hold up the line and cause a stoppage.  Instead, hand your gear to the lift operator if you are struggling.  If you are the first to board, make sure you put your gear in the rack ALL the way to the left or right (depending on which way the gondola is spinning) so your fellow riders have time and space to use the other spots as the gondola makes it rotation. The world won’t end if your gear has to be put on the gondola behind you.


  • Same smoking/drinking/cussing rule also applies as on chairlifts.  However, if you EVER tell people to take the next gondola because you want to have your own personal hot box, then you are by all definitions a complete jerk and probably live in a van down by the river!


  • DO move over and make room for everyone.  Nobody should be forced to have their chest and legs crushed just because you feel the need to sit in the middle just so you can take the perfect picture for your Tinder profile.


  • DO NOT EVER ride the gondola if any of the conditions exist:
    • You smell like you slept in a sewer.
    • You have a weak stomach.
    • You have difficulty keeping gas and other bodily fluids inside your body.
    • You feel the need to blast ‘dubstep’ in your headphones or on your JammyPack
    • You enjoy eating stinky foods such as tuna fish or Limburger cheese while on the lift.
    • You enjoy engaging strangers in any kind of political debate or philosophical discussion.


  • DO ask others in the gondola if it’s ok to open or close a window to get some fresh air in the cabin.  Breathing is a good thing and so is keeping ice, rain, snow, and wind out of one’s face.



  • DO take a lesson if this is your first, or second or third, or even fourth time EVER skiing/riding. Even though equipment has improved, there is still no autopilot and most people don’t offer free lessons on their vacation unless you are family or a loved one.  Skiing cannot be mastered by only watching YouTube videos!


  • DO understand the difference between green, blue, and black as well as a circle, square and a diamond. If you don’t, then schedule an eye exam and reference the Responsibility Code.


  • DO give all downhill skiers/riders the right away, EXCEPT when that person decides to engage in long GS turns across an entire crowded slope or decides to traverse across a steep mogul run, WITHOUT looking uphill prior to attempting such maneuvers. Failure to do so could result in a severe collision. (NOTE: This rule is NOT in the Responsibility Code but we feel it should be revised to include this exception.)


  • DO provide enough personal space when on the mountain.  Keep as much distance as possible from other skiers/riders.  Always be aware of your surroundings and your position relative to others.  A safe distance is typically at least 6 feet away and not subconsciously challenging strangers to a Chinese Downhill, especially in high traffic areas.  Keep your head on a swivel!


  • DO NOT stop below a knoll or hill where you cannot be seen from above. If someone hits you, it’s most likely your fault.  Instead, stop to the side of the trail OR move to an area where you can be clearly seen from all angles.   This rule is especially important in terrain parks.  (check out this video for reference.)


  • DO NOT EVER stop in the MIDDLE of a run, under any circumstances.  (especially trails that are narrow and considered high traffic zones, aka catwalks.)  Do you stop your car in the middle of a highway just to check for directions or answer the phone?  If you do not follow this rule, then may God have mercy on your soul! J   Use your head (those wearing helmets usually fit in this category) and stop on the side of the slope where you can be clearly seen and are out of the way.


  • DO always look uphill and yield to others whenever starting downhill or merging on to a trail.  This is probably one of the most important tenants of ALL mountain etiquette to follow!


  • DO NOT traverse underneath the starting point of ANY ski run.  Instead, start your traverse PRIOR to turning into the desired trail.   If for some reason, this is not an option, then, ALWAYS, no matter where you are, look uphill first BEFORE moving.  If you refuse to follow this rule, two of the following things will most likely happen:
    • You risk being the victim of an aggressive public shaming. (i.e., yelling, cussing)
    • You risk being mowed down at a high rate of speed.


  • DO stay on the inside lane when skiing on a crowded catwalk, unless you plan on immediately turning into a run or stopping.  Catwalks are access trails to other parts of the mountain.  They are not an arena to practice your slalom turns!  If it’s not too steep, try to keep your skis straight and allow fasters skiers to pass you. If you need to control your speed, a wedge or ‘pizza’ is perfectly fine to do in this situation.
    • DISCLAIMER: The above rule becomes null and void if there is NOBODY else on the catwalk. Then, it’s every man/woman for themselves!
    • Always assume snowboarders will channel their inner Shaun White and veer suddenly and without warning to the uphill side of the trail to attempt a trick or jump.  If possible and to avoid a collision, NEVER pass a snowboarder on their heel side. Make sure they can see you or clank your poles or loudly say “On your left/right!”  The same strategy should be applied to skiers who act like snowboarders and stop in the middle of the run or in dangerous spots on the trail.


  • DON’T over-terrain yourself.  The terrain you chose should match your skillset.  Don’t let your ego or peer pressure force you to make decisions that you may regret.  Entering advanced terrain as a beginner or intermediate not only endangers yourself but others as well.  Sign up for ski school if you are unable to advance to a higher level, it is worth the money.   Nobody goes from the bunny hill to the Olympics in one day.  In the same vein, an expert on a beginner trail needs to know how to dial it back.  Zooming in and out of ski school classes, cutting people off or schussing quickly by a beginner is not only careless and in bad taste but can result in your losing your pass.  Don’t be that guy or you are going to have a bad time!



  • Pack it up, pack it in, let me begin!  I shouldn’t have to say this, but don’t be a litterbug.   Keep all garbage in your pockets or throw it away in the appropriate receptacle.  The only things that should be left behind are fresh tracks and big smiles!


  • If you don’t know how to use or unfamiliar with how to use any lifts, don’t be shy and ask the operator for assistance. That is what they are for!


  • Be nice to ALL lift operators. These folks work long hours for low pay.  A kind word or a funny joke can go a long way.


  • Carrying your Skis and Poles.  Always be mindful of your surroundings when you start carrying your skis in public places.  For a more in-depth and comical view on different ways to carry your skis, we highly recommend watching this video.  (HINT: Real skiers carry their skis on their shoulders with the tips facing in front of you.)

We know this a ton of information to absorb and remember, but when in doubt, just try to use your common sense and keep your head on a swivel.  Always be mindful of your surroundings and of other skiers/riders whether you are in the lift line, on the gondola, or just skiing down your favorite run.

In the words of the late great Warren Miller, “If you don’t do it this year, you will be one year older when you do!”

Thanks for reading and we hope you all have many happy and sunny ski days in your future!

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Felt like we left some things out or have your own thoughts or experiences to share? Please comment below and let us know!

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