The solution? Slow down the cable speed enough to make it safe and easy for skiers to get on and off without unduly delaying the trip up the slope.

"It's a juggling act," Sharp said.

Thus the new high-speed detachable lifts, which are prevalent at resorts today, use two separate cables. That means chairs can be transferred to a slower-moving cable at the loading and unloading zones, allowing the skiers to load at a speed that differs from their ascent speed.

"Because detachable lifts are so much easier to load and unload for people learning to ski," Alan Henceroth, vice president and chief operating officer for Arapahoe Basin, wrote in an early-season blog post, "we anticipate way fewer stops and slows."

As for lift placement, resorts rely on repeat business, so they feel pressure to open new terrain. But, Hunn noted, "It's easy to get lost or spend lots of time on moving around a mountain. Knowing how to read terrain and what type of a lift services it is what helps."

Experts say new skiers should rely less on trail designations and more on their assessment of their own abilities (assuming their view is realistic). A quick look at Vail's map, for instance, shows that a beginning skier can get to the top of the mountain but not into the back bowls on a beginner run.

There are intermediate runs that can take you there if you are comfortable doing so and think it's a manageable risk. As in most things in life, honesty with oneself is key, as is seeking advice.

"One of the best things new skiers can do is ask for help," Reeder told me. "I enjoy it when someone asks how to get somewhere."

Other tricks to navigating a resort include choosing a section of the mountain that is served by one lift but offers a range of terrain. That way, groups can stay together while new skiers take easier runs down and more advanced skiers take steeper trails.



Then there is the ultimate resource for skiers wanting to learn the small stuff about a new resort or favorite local hill. This document, known as a master plan, deconstructs why a tree island may have been left in the middle of a favorite run or why a particular lift is where it is.

Buried deep inside hundreds of pages, a skier or boarder can find a slew of information about how the mountain comes together. Some of the information includes fall line analysis, usually considered the fastest way down a mountain and determined by the line a ball would roll if rolled down the trail; slope analysis, which measures the gradient of each potential trail; and a snow analysis, which maps the snow collection each trail may have and how winds and weather patterns change the snow pack.

To access a master plan, contact the resort's media or public relations department. It may take a bit of sleuthing, but it's worth it.

"Skiing is a journey," Hunn said. "Some days I just go out and ride lifts, while other days I focus hard on skiing. But one thing stays the same. I love to be out there regardless.

"Just be ready to have fun and be challenged."

travel@latimes.com