Chair Lift Stories

I’m doing laps in the Cirque. First a warm-up on the Big Burn corduroy in Dallas Freeway and Whispering Jesse, then give it a go down AMF through Rock Island.

With all the snow this January, the ski patrol has done a lot of control work – dropping gunpowder charges into the chute which defines Adios, “My Friend”. This loosens up the snow at the top of the run, cresting a taller and taller cornice at the drop-in point, and flattening out the piste towards the bottom. The snow stopped 5 days ago, followed by sunny days and warming temperatures. But the prevailing westerly wind blows snow over the edge, and pastes it to the surface, filling in the valleys between moguls and providing a smooth semblance of fresh snow experience each morning.

The wind slab is fairly firm, and my skis chatter with my down-weighting pressure at the end of each turn. Then through KT gully, across the hill to Rock Island, where lumps of snow rise above the moguls, hiding the boulders which have fallen over the millennia from the cliffs above. The final narrow bumpy patch before the smoothly groomed Green Cabin run brings me back to the Sheer Bliss lift.

Back up, then onto the CIrque Poma, through a ground blizzard of snow, still blowing to the east, into the bowl below. A trip down my favorite real estate, Cirque Headwall, through the sparsely treed sub- alpine terrain leading into the narrow KT Gully chute. Back to the lift, for one more trip up, over to Hanging Valley.

I slide suavely through the single line, and find a few skiers and boarders have formed the beginning of a line. I let one group of three snowboarders go ahead, and team up with a young, lean, bearded skier sporting ear buds and a Buff neck gaiter. Gliding up to the load-in point, I flip my left pole straight into the air, catching it mid-shaft. My signature move, to prove I’ve still got some hand-eye coordination.

He’s a friendly guy, going beyond the usual, “How’s your day going?” to “Where’ve you been skiing?”

“Been doing laps on the Cirque, AMF, then the Headwall,” I say matter-of-factly. I’m past posing in my ski life. It’s just what I do.

“Cool – How was the snow there?”

“Well, there’s some wind-blown cover over the moguls, makes it pretty smooth. It was OK. I’m done with that now, I think maybe I’ll go over to Hanging Valley”

“You know the High Alpine lift is open now…” It had been closed for those brisk easterlies this morning.

“Yeah, but I don’t like to walk if I don’t have to.” Two ways into Hanging Valley: Walk a bit uphill for 5-10 minutes from the top of the High Alpine lift, or take the cirque lift up ( 10 minutes or more, depending on the line), then glide along the High Pass catwalk around the top of the Cirque Bowl to the Headwall gate (another 5 minutes.)

He’s fiddling first with his neck gaiter, then his ear buds, maybe deciding whether to keep the conversation. He’s been affecting a cool staccato delivery, what 20-somethings affect when they don’t want to seem too adult.

I press on: “You work here?”

He takes me literally, “here” meaning Snowmass I guess. “No, I’m down in Carbondale. I work at ‘Jaywalkers’. It’s sort of a rehab-treatment facility. I’m, I guess, a ‘technician’ there. I work in the evenings, helping the clients with their work. And sometimes, I take them on trips, like to skiing, or hiking in the summer, maybe fishing.”

“Whoa, for a minute when you said ‘technician’ I thought maybe you, like, drew blood, did lab tests, or something. But you’re more like a care attendant, right?”

The wind had died down, and the sun was nearing its zenith for the day. He tugged at his neck gaiter, pulling it below his chin, and scratched his short brown, fairly scraggly beard. “Hmm, I guess so. When I’m there in the evenings, I’m often the only staff around. It’s kinda cool.”

“Do you take any public insurance, like Medicaid.” I was thinking of my daughter, Shaine, who helps lead a union in Washington state with 1,000s of home health care attendants mostly paid by Medicaid. She has to negotiate the contract with the state every now and then.

“No, it’s mostly private.”

“Do your clients come from Colorado, or from all over?”

“They come from everywhere. They like being in an isolated place,”

“Away from the temptations of the city, I guess?”


A vision popped into my head, The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann. Much of it takes place in a convalescent retreat in the Swiss Alps. “You know, a hundred, 150 years ago, people went to places called ‘sanitariums’, maybe in Switzerland, to get relief from whatever was troubling them. This sounds kind of like that.”

“Maybe…” he seemed a bit skeptical. “The best part of what we do is not rest, but getting people active, outside, and all.”

“Right. I’ve heard of studies that say being outside, just by itself, as good for our mental health.”

“Uh, huh.”

“Jaywalkers, huh? Sounds like you’re doing good work.”

The ride was getting the top. We started to raise the bar, kicked our feet, shifted a bit to make sure nothing was caught, and slid off the chair at the load out.

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One Response to Chair Lift Stories

  1. Susan Hodgson says:

    Nice dialog. Especially like the part where you speculate your companion may be losing interest.
    I read The Magic Mountain in philosophy class in college. At the time, I was living in a building in Colorado Springs that had formerly been a tuberculin hotel. I often imagined the former occuments coughing and sitting in the sun rooms.
    So are you skiing remote all on your own?

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