You know those days when you wake up and look outside and you’re less than even remotely eager to go outside and face the miserable cold? Lift operators, or “lifties” as they’re sometimes referred to, don’t have that luxury. They’re out there every day of the ski season, from Thanksgiving to Easter, often before sunrise until after sunset. For that reason I’d like to officially declare today “Lift Operator Appreciation Day.”
Lift operators are an interesting mix of old longtime locals and young vagabonds from all over the globe, male and female, international and domestic — each with their own interesting story. Introducing yourself and forming a rapport with the lift operators is an important part of being a ski bum. It bolsters that interconnected family feeling of being up on the hill all the time, and plus, it’s just being nice. As if you haven’t already noticed, skiers can be a hot-headed snooty bunch.
I’ve seen skiers arguing and fighting in the gondola plaza while jockeying for position on powder days, and even heard tales of ski-pole sword fights breaking out in the staging area. One time a skier took a full swing at me with his ski pole and hit me across the back of the legs and rump. I could’ve reported it to the ski patrol and in retrospect, probably should have. Maybe someday soon I’ll repay the favor.
Lift operators are excellent sources of information, as they are fed inner-sanctum employee-only classified data about every imaginable on-mountain soap opera. A carefully placed comment or question can yield some interesting tidbits for savoring on the lift ride to the top. I do some of my best thinking on the chairlift alone, with the bar up.
I find it irksome sharing a chair with a stranger that suddenly slams the safety bar down. It probably stems from riding Lift 2 over the Toilet Bowl on Buttermilk as a child — too small to reach the bar, and having to clutch onto the chair itself for dear life. Man, that thing used to come around the bull wheel fast. The lift operator would grab you by the front of the pants, lift you up and wham — slam you into the chair.
Lift operators are powerful and important. They can play a crucial role in giving their particular lift a theme, or a vibe, if you will. Some make sculptures at the base, draw elaborate pictures on the dry-erase boards, have good music cranking, or put out a trivia question to stimulate intellectual thought. My favorite lifts are the slow-speed doubles that actually challenge the lift operators to “load’ the skier onto the lift.
The Deep Temerity lift at Aspen Highlands sticks out, as it reminds me distantly of the old Loge’s lift. The crowd at the maze was always colorful and excited to ski the newly opened Steeplechase terrain. Eager shouts of “single?!” often rang out to those in search of an innocent chairlift companion, or something obscenely different.
The lift operator at the bottom of Loge’s was a real character. I was just a punk at the time, but still remember his technique and wacky banter. He used to grab onto the chair as it approached and skitched it as if sliding into home plate. He actually loaded you every time, as opposed to just letting the chair hit you — which by the way, is not the lift operator’s fault if it does. It’s your responsibility to actively sit into the chair — before it sits you.
What do lift operators know that everyone else doesn’t? I’m always amazed by how happy they are all the time. They seem to be the most consistently even-keeled group, and they don’t even get to ski. The have to stand there at the bottom of the lift and listen to everyone come through and tell them how “awesome” the skiing is, or in some cases, how bad it is. So one day this week, I decided to ask a lift operator at the bottom of Ruthie’s lift how he liked being a liftie.
He went on to shower praise on the Aspen Skiing Co., the locals, his peers and the job itself.
As I was whisked away on the high-speed triple (it used to be the first ever high-speed double that miraculously morphed back into a triple one summer), I silently marveled at the refreshing nature of my conversation with the lift operator.
His remarks were unbelievable in the sense that the usual response this time of the year is everyone’s “over it,” or in some kind of foul mood. Lifties rarely complain and no one ever tries to stick up for them. If someone did try to represent them, they’d probably be embarrassed and tell them to shove-off.
So next time you’re out skiing, let the lift operators know how thankful you are for them being out there every day, and if you have anything to offer as a token of your appreciation, now would be a great time to do so. It’s never too late to introduce yourself to a lift operator.
After getting to know them and seeing what a consistently positive outlook they have and the pride they take in the job, they definitely don’t have a horrible gig. Thanks to the lifties for another great season.
To reach Lorenzo, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.