Resorts advertise improvements to attract the coming season’s skiers. I shudder with dismay each time I see that a double chair is being replaced by a high speed quad. My life would have been very different had it not been for the now old-fashion conveyance at Sugarbush Resort.
It was in 1968 that a tall, handsome man asked if I was single as he snaked his way through the queued skiers. His version of the actual experience was altered to make me the eager aggressor.
Not only our children but now our grandchildren thrill over the accomplishment of riding a chair without an adult. It is a major milestone not only in independence but also in achievement. The beginner double chair, not without its challenges, was slow. It’s close to the snow at take-off and a bit sloped both when loading and more so at the top. Getting on and off took concentration and determination. Pulling the safety bar down and then up when approaching the summit was a scary task. The reward of arriving ready to descend the mountain was totally satisfying. You felt like a conquerer. If you had done it totally alone, you were your own super-hero.
Additionally, the close quarters in a double made it virtually impossible not to acknowledge a person riding with you. Small kids shared pearls of wisdom— who they were and where they were from and occasionally a random riddle. There is a lot to be said for the opportunity for early acquisition of social skills and a double chair lift provides a perfect laboratory. It was in such a chair that I learned from a five year old that it is really easy to recover from a fall. You just lift your tushy up!
It was in a double that I began the dialogue with a man from Stamford, Connecticut. That would take us on an adventure that resulted in five children and countless chances to share one on one with them. My dear husband never missed an opportunity to tell how we met in the Valley House double and that it has been down-hill ever since!
Given the increased capacity, It is hard to imagine that a shy youngster and even most adults will have the courage to speak up when surrounded by three or five strangers. It is easier to imagine riders engaging on their phones or plugged into their buds. Had my husband been seated on the opposite end of the chair, doubtful we would have spoken a word. Now as a widow, I often find myself a bit uncomfortable as a three-way conversation I over-hear, leaves me not only out and clueless, but also wondering about the propriety of interjecting. In a double, especially when the temperatures were chilling, it was nice to have a stranger to share the misery and some conversation to pass the time. Rarely did anyone not welcome meeting and learning something about another hardy soul.
Speed, Automation, Efficiency
Today, as in all segments of the economy, it is all about speed, automation and efficiency. Practically speaking, the aging infrastructure at many resorts has necessitated upgrades and those upgrades, with the rare exception of the single replacement with another single chair at Mad River Glen, involve changing to a minimum of 3 person capacity but more often result in quads or six-packs. Some include amenities of heated seats and bubble tops that shield riders from the elements. Eastern resorts are no exception. In the West, Eldoro, Big Sky and Alta double chair lift replacements are a sign of the times— the beginning of sweeping changes coming to iconic and understated areas.
End of an Era
When they dismantled the double chair on the lift where my husband and I met, I purchased one of the chairs and it now sits on an iron frame in my back yard. It carries the number 7. Thanks to one of these chairs we became a skiing family of seven. Our children would share stories at dinner of whom they met on the lifts. It was not uncommon for someone to approach us at lunch saying he or she knew all about us having sat with one of the kids in the chair. The Valley House chairs were replaced in 2016 by a fixed grip quad with a self-feeding ramp requiring no effort or movement to be seated and whisked up the mountain.
That season also found the beginner chairs at both Sugarbush’s Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen replaced with quads. The old chairs were not, thankfully, relegated to the bone yard of metal waste. The decommissioned chairs were in great demand as they were put up for sale. It seems that many sensed the end of an era and had great sentiments attached to these decade-old warriors. They, too, wanted a memento of how it was.
Unfortunately nostalgia won’t get anyone up the mountain. When you have the passion for skiing and snowboarding, you will get to the mountain and up it anyway you can. Skiing down and perhaps falling down, we can simply recall with a fond smile, the relationships formed and the sage advice learned on a double. Acceptance. Just lift your tushy up and head back to the lift.