Take a Seat: The 10 People You Meet on a Chair Ride

Skiing is the world’s most social sport. Where else can you sit down, and share stoke or a smoke (and maybe even secrets) with someone you hadn’t met five minutes before you got on the lift? Five minutes later, you do it again, with another complete stranger. All day long.

There is an unending realm of possibility every time you yell, “Single.” You open the door to an encounter that might last for just a thousand vertical feet, or for the rest of your life. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to catch a ride with the likes of the late great big mountain ski legend Shane McConkey, writer Spalding Gray and downhill gold medalist Bill Johnson, along with a veritable who’s who of ski industry bigwigs, powder porn film stars, and just downright cool people who made me think, gasp or laugh.

Being that I work alone as a journalist, I do tend to treat each and every new lift-mate like my own on-hill talk show host guest. That’s because other than skiing, or going to brew pubs, I don’t really get out of the house that much. So consider yourself forewarned if you see me in the liftline—if we do share a chair, I’m going to want to talk. And if you’re one of those skiers still trying to invent a personality, you might get added to my “People you meet on the way up” list.

The Local

I figure every third chair you ride, you meet someone who wants you to know (s)he’s been riding that chair longer than anyone else. The local was there in the worst winters, the best winters, and like some Ice Age shredder, rocking that line before there ever even was a lift. There’s no way to one up the local, no matter how long you’ve rocked a season pass. So just make up the name of some bar or local legend that never existed, and if the local claims to remember it… don’t even bother to call bullshit.

Party Man

The opposite of The Local, this is the guy who wants to make a Mardis Gras out of each and every lift. Whether he’s handing out stickers or moonshine or rock and roll lifestyle quotes, ese es familia ahora, and one of your new best friends on the slopes. Cheers, Party Man, you rock!

The Politico

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Nobody can agree on politics, unless they’re both not right. So why bring all that baggage to the lift? (Maybe because on a chairlift, if you start throwing punches, then you’ll both fall off). Whether it’s Bush or Obama or extra-terrestrial alien immigration, I’d like to reassure every on-piste pollster, if I’m skiing, I could give a pole plant about right, left or centrist—unless of course it’s turns you’re talking about.

Sick Line Sharon/Steve

Whatever the biggest line is on your local mountain, he or she just skied it. Want to know how steep/deep/hairy/icy/rad it was? Just ask.

Mr Pro

Oh, and they’ve got video to boot—including helmet, chest and ski shots. I’m not sure where all this fresh media is getting posted. But it does kind of feel like the cool club’s version of the NSA, with all these shredders constantly filming a permanent record of the kind of person to planet interaction that really matters in life.

The Entrepreneur

It’s fascinating to me how many people on a chairlift say they’re starting a business—pressing cider, turning coal into unicorns or inventing a revolutionary new way to test backpacks, parkas and ski boots. There’s no better place to give an elevator pitch (other than an elevator), so enjoy hearing all about their business plan while it lasts. There’s also no pressure to invest. And no better immediate return than that little patch of trees you just spotted that no one’s touched.

Kids

There’s nothing better than the stoke of young riders on the slopes. Best to just listen to them describe their excitement, because kids on a chairlift always say something more profound than any one of us could have ever thought to ask: “So we’re skiing on the clouds after they fell on the ground, right?” Yep. That’s pretty much it.

Old(er) Folks

Ditto. Nothing like grabbing a chair with someone who won’t spare one more minute for bullshit because they’ve seen enough snow days to be able to boil it all down to what’s really important in life: “Do you want to go left, or right?”

Miss Scoop

Sometimes, you do catch a chair with someone who is more than happy to share where the riding is the best. Northern exposures, southern exposures, tree-lines or runs patrol is about to open, this is your lucky on-hill equivalent of inside information, and almost always worth the time of following the lead who provided it (note to skier: if you see Miss Scoop in the bar after she turned you on to the best untracked pow-line, first-hit or unforgettable faceshot of the season, be sure to buy her a beer to say thanks).

Yourself

Let’s face it, sometimes riding single means just that, and you get that whole aerially ascending steel and foam-cushioned couch to yourself, complete with all the below slope psychology and on-hill introspection that comes with it. My advice? Enjoy it. Let the clouds be the clouds and the ravens be ravens, and let your mind wander to all the places it wants to go. These are the moments that cleanse your soul, with the wind on your cheeks and the world beneath your feet. In a couple minutes, you’ll be speeding across the snow again, bombing to the liftline for another chance. For now, just enjoy the winter sun on your face. It’s perfect.

Ride well. I look forward to having a seat with you on the lift!

Peter Kray is EO’s editor-at-large and co-founder of the Gear Institute (gearinstitute.com). His first novel The God of Skiing is due out soon.

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