Chairlift

One of the 225 chairs on the Bell Chairlift sits in the sun on a recent afternoon.

A chair from the Bell Mountain lift that went missing last month was returned on Thursday, after Aspen Skiing Co. pleaded that without getting the chair back it could not run the classic Aspen Mountain lift.

Someone called the SkiCo’s administrative offices Thursday morning to report that they knew where the chair was, company spokesman Jeff Hanle said. That person, who did not provide a name and was not asked to identify themselves, informed the company that they would drop the lift seat off near the bottom of Lift 1A. 

“It is currently being brought up the hill and reunited with its friends,” Hanle said Thursday afternoon.

SkiCo on Wednesday announced that the 250-pound chair had gone missing from the area near the top of the Bell Mountain lift. The chair was removed from the line so a “work chair” could be put into place that allows maintenance staff a place to stand and access their tools while moving on the lift line. The standard chair had been left off to the side near the upper lift shack when personnel realized it was missing.

Hanle speculated that the chair was likely taken by someone from the public who drove up to the top of Bell Mountain to “watch a sunset and have a beer.” That person likely thought the chair would look great in their backyard or garden and didn’t realize the implications of its absence.

The 33-year-old Bell lift, a fixed-grip double chair with a center-pole attachment, must have all 125 chairs to function, due to weighting and balance issues. SkiCo’s plea, sent to the media on Wednesday, warned that the lift would not be able to run without the chair and offered anonymity and immunity to anyone who came forward.

“The skiing and riding community would very much appreciate the return of the chair ... no questions asked,” the company said in its Wednesday statement.

Hanle said that the company received around a half dozen other phone calls from people who have chairs from other old center-pole lifts — Sheer Bliss at Snowmass or Upper Tiehack at Buttermilk — who offered to give those up if they could serve as a suitable replacement. It’s unclear whether those chairs would have worked, Hanle said, and fortunately the company didn’t have to find out. Nevertheless, the calls represented a “kind offering” from someone willing to give up a cherished accessory, Hanle said.

The Bell lift is something of a novelty on Aspen Mountain except when the gondola is unavailable, when it provides a crucial link for getting skiers up the mountain. It also sees heavy use in the early season when there is not enough natural snowfall to open the top of the mountain, because Aspen’s snowmaking system ends near the top of the Bell chair. 

When the mountain is otherwise under normal operations, the Bell chair opens mainly on sunny spring weekends. The 17-minute-plus ride time gives those on the chair an excellent vantage point of the bumped-out Bell Mountain slopes and the crowds still line up to get a seat on the lift for the Bell Mountain Buck Off, an annual closing day tradition, where skiers en masse line up at the top of Ridge of Bell and ski down at once at 1 p.m.

Curtis Wackerle is the editor of Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at curtis@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @CurtisWackerle.

Editor