by Merisa Sherman
They met at the bottom of the lift. There were two of them, leaning on their brand new snowboards with such glee that anyone sliding by couldn’t help but feel the joy radiating from them. Friends for quite some time, it was a new treat that they were able to ride together. After a while, the girls got even sillier, the laughter carrying across the base area. You could see random strangers smile as they noticed the two, scooting over to the lift line in a race to get there first. The chitter-chatter barely paused a second as the chair came around the bull wheel and scooped them up, taking them to the top of their snow covered playground.
The girls bent their heads close together on the lift, revealing their deepest secrets and, at the same time, revealing nothing at all.
On the lift, time stands still.
As you sit, the chair swings you off your feet and into the air like nothing else I have ever experienced. There are no barriers to the world as you are simply suspended by metal hanging from a cable above with your skis dangling below. You swing your skis like a little kid on a bar stool and you find yourself floating above the world as you journey to the top of the mountain. There are no barriers to the sky as you are simply suspended by metal hanging from a cable above. You are, quiet simply, floating to freedom.
Modeled after banana carriers, the chairlift was invented by steel engineer James Curran of the Union Pacific Railroad in the summer of 1936 at the behest of his employer, owner of the new Sun Valley Ski Resort and future ambassador to the Soviet Union, W. Averill Harriman. Based in Omaha, Nebraska, Curran simply replaced the banana carrying hook with a simple chair and a whole new world of skiing was born. With the lack of snow that summer in Omaha, the most difficult part proved to be figuring out how to actually scoop the skier into the chair. With the help of some roller skates and a pick-up truck, they worked out the details and the first chairlift was installed in Idaho later that year.
From the old double chair days where the shouting of “single” was a combination of a mating cry and a prayer for warmth on the cold ride up to the fancy bubble chairs of today, no other device has come close to bringing strangers together as the chairlift. The intimacy of sliding up to the green line and being scooped up together creates a rare desire to connect. Strangers at the bottom oftentimes become friends by the summit, as stories are told and deep secrets sometimes revealed. Then suddenly, the Raise Safety Bar sign appears and you realize, now would be a good time to introduce yourself before this new friend vanishes from your life forever.
Over the years, we meet skiers from all over the world, of all ages and backgrounds, each with their own dreams of what will happen once they arrive at the top. Perhaps it is the gentle sway of the chair floating that relaxes us, the mountainous winds combining the positive energy from our last run with that of our neighbor. Or perhaps it is just the sheer beauty of the mountains that inspires us to share our awe of this mountain life with the stranger next to us. But for those few minutes that we float above the world, suspended in a chair by a cable, we understand that we all have one wonderful thing that will always bring us together: our love of skiing and the mountains.
As the great ski filmmaker Warren Miller said, “Once you take your first ride up a lift your life will be changed forever.”