Slow lifts: Endangered Species?

Not so long ago, most ski lifts were slow. They provided us with a chance to catch up, regroup, think about our technique, rest our legs and even munch on a sandwich or a bar. They also gave us a chance to talk. Talk about anything: from views, to snow quality, to weather, good restaurants or cool equipment; the list could go on forever… In those days, even though chairlifts could be painfully slow, we got to the top without realizing we had spent fifteen solid minutes hanging up in the air.

We had to wait until 1981 to see the first ever, high speed detachable quad in the world, installed in the Rocky Mountains. Since then, that precious “chair-time” has been rapidly eroding; at the best American resorts, high-speed chairlift are becoming the norm. Next winter, what used to be the perfect illustration for today’s subject, the Deer Crest chairlift, will undergo a total metamorphosis and in the process, will shed its fixed grips, its slow, easy pace, for a brand new detachable design that will whisk skiers, in less than half the time taken previously, to the top of the Jordanelle Gondola. In the process, it will also get rechristened “Mountaineer Express.”

Back in February of 2010, I wrote a blog about chairlift stories, set back in a time where most chairlifts hanged to a fixed grip, moved up much more slowly and were the perfect place for telling, trading or making stories, as long as the company was receptive and the weather wasn’t extreme. Of course, things have changed a great deal with the spread of portable music players and the proliferation of smart phones. Now, a short life ride is all the time one needs for checking emails, tweeting or responding to a Facebook post. What I’m trying to say is that today, chairlifts have become more an opportunity to catch up on-line than striking a long and profound conversation. From that viewpoint, the demise of the slower lift might accompany the end of endless chat aloft. So much for long conversations or even for a quick lunch up in the air (Deer Valley restaurants are a much better culinary alternative anyway!)

And with the switch to faster ski-lifts what about our own, tired legs. I can think of many time when finally sitting down while riding up the mountain was a welcome relief! One might argue that nowadays skiers are much more fit and don’t generally look for the “rest” provided by a slow moving seat. I would add that with so many new spas available in and around Deer Valley, soothing options are today more easily available and have become so common-place that a tired pair of legs can soon be pampered and repaired into peak shape after a solid day of hard skiing.  On the flip side, one aspect no one will miss with detachable chairlifts is the “bump” in the back of our calves that could be common place if we didn’t pay attention or if the lift attendants weren’t so kind to be holding (or bumping) the chair for us.

This creature-of-comfort consideration also brings up my last argument: Today, with much faster ski-lifts, the same amount of skiing that used to take an entire day, can be compressed into half that time thanks to these express chairlifts and there’s now more time for enjoying all the extra resort activities that have sprouted in recent years. We all know that multitasking doesn’t work too well, so why not ski more intensely for fewer hours on these state-of-the-art lifts and use up the extra time for a longer and much more civilized lunch break, some early après-ski, a shopping spree, a spa session or for discovering snowmobiling or a hike in snowshoes?

So, well before the last slow chairlift is slated for demolition, Deer Valley Resort recognizes that some chairlifts should, for the time being, remain in the slow lane if you need to share very long stories or if you want to relax your legs for more than just six or eight minutes. I’m not talking about the few beginner lifts that are found on Wide West or the short connecting chairlifts that are spread all over the mountain, but bigger lifts like Mayflower or Red Cloud. They both run in parallel with a much faster chairlift and will also get you to the top, giving you much more time to catch your breath, enjoy the vistas and smell the snowflakes!

Of course, if that story has made you really nostalgic about slow chairlifts and you can’t wait until this winter to experience these slow, classic machines, now is the time to jump on any of Deer Valley’s express chairlifts when they’re running at low speed during the summer season to accommodate mountain bikers and pedestrians; that way you’ll be able to fully enjoy the ride, marvel at the scenery and trade some really good stories, but don’t delay, summer will soon be over!