Chairlift Stories

In my last blog, I attempted to “measure” skiing and made a point that, even with state-of-the-art detachable chairs, we’re still spending a significant portion of our ski time sitting on lifts. Long ago, when all chairlifts were slow and time ran more quietly than it does these days, I used to tell my children stories on the way up the hill. My son Thomas was not really into that, but my daughter Charlotte insisted for a new story every ride we took. This, and a hot chocolate, were her main motivators to go out and ski. Under this sort of constant and, I admit it, pleasant pressure, I developed a creative technique for generating “chairlift-time stories” that would be varied in length and content, but would always include a measure of creativity should the lift stop for a while, the wind blow too hard or the temperature suddenly drop to subzero levels.

Over the years, this routine became another habit of mine and I always enjoy striking up a conversation on the chair or joking around with my fellow passengers. Since I was born in France, my accent has always been a dead giveaway that I turned into a conversation ice-breaker and a fodder for endless discussions on all subjects. All kind of questions have sprung up and I have learned – often at my own expenses – how to articulate an answer that is well-rehearsed and why not, peppered with humor.

I have a great deal of admiration for anyone who can think on their feet, particularly “improv comedians,” and have spared no effort in using that skill during a typical chairlift ride. One of the essential information I memorize is the average ride time for each lift; I get it from the “Lift Information” box located at the bottom right hand corner of the Deer Valley Winter Trail Map, on the side showcasing the panoramic ski map. Since the average uphill time is around six minutes, I refrain from telling stories that are too long as I must find enough “wiggle room” for a casual opening and partying words to “sandwich” the core story. There is no denying that high-speed lifts are forcing me to be more concise than I used to be!

The next important point is to tailor the story to the audience. If the others passengers are into their 60s or above, talking about body aches, prescription medicine or AARP always goes a long way as it often build bonds that may leave us standing and talking for another 15 minutes at the top of the chair! If the skiers are in their 30s and can’t stop fidgeting with their iPhones or Blackberries, tech talk often becomes de rigueur. If they all board the chair with extra wide, double rocker skis, a little expose showing some knowledge about big mountain skis is hard to avoid in order to strike a meaningful conversation.

If kids are sharing the chair, there’s always that good tale, but young folks’ attention is much harder to earn these days and the story needs to be new, exciting and not a re-hash of something they have already heard from a much better story-teller. In the past, when I told stories to my daughter, I’d pay enormous attention to my surroundings; if I happened to spot some rabbit tracks on the snow, I got her a special bunny story. If I couldn’t tell what the tracks really were, it could turn into a jackalope’s sighting, another misdeed from Sasquatch or some unsolved snow mystery. It just had to make some sense, contain a beginning, a middle and an end, but if told well and with a flurry of special details, it could turn me into a mountain wizard.

Finally, there’s always the big joke. On snow of course, and with some pun intended, this remains a slippery area that should only be tackled when all the previous options are perfectly mastered. If someone asks a really stupid or even a demeaning question, I will return the favor by telling an egregious story so long as I can keep a straight face, interact well with the offender(s), and make sure I have enough material left to make it to the top, including a great punch line. Of course, I always try to do it tongue-and-cheek and I keep my sense of humor while delivering the message. If I ever mess up, I do my very best to exit as fast as I can and vanish quickly into the ski crowd as soon as I unload the chair.

Now you’ll ask me: “What am I to do if I grossly underestimate the time to tell the whole story?” It’s quite simple; make an appointment with your listeners at the base of the same lift for the second, third and final installments!

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