It’s tough to do a tribute to an existing thing, a current workhorse. Yes, we can lump fixed-grip chairs together with skinny skis, 8-tracks, my Dad’s ’64 Ford Galaxy, any number of old-tech memories. But while a lot of the things that moved or fueled our past don’t shine as brightly when we revisit them in our present, the "old" chair is still giving us a less expensive* ride up the mountain, to do what we love do down the mountain, and keeping the trail less crowded besides. This yesteryear tech has useable unintended consequences like these (it can even act as a filter, keeping instant-gratificationers away from the terrain to which it delivers us).
My legs are a little older now, they don’t mind a slower ride to rest before the next run: my two best powder days last year were at fixed-grip gems Wolf Creek and Sunlight. I don’t remember any of us, on either day, regretting the chairs we rode, and lamenting what could have been had there only been a high-speed quad.
I am in no way pooh-poohing the high-speed chair. The more vert a chair has to cover, the more valuable it becomes. It also shortens time spent in the lift line and transports us to The Good Stuff zones faster: A-Basin has a great thing going with Black Mountain Express, it gets us up and away from the parking lot, and out to great terrain adequately served by slower lifts -- including our feet, if we are game for some hike-to.
But emptying out the lift corral quicker has its own unintended consequences: higher population density on the hill, and the aggravation and danger that accompany lots of folks pouring out onto the same space before the upgrade. That same clever BME lift can make for a busy day if you are a patroller at A-Basin, as you clear the carnage from Sundance, High Noon, and Ramrod!
Using my gut-feel-o-meter, it seems that chairs covering up to 1500ish feet of vert don’t really suffer if they are left as a one-speed.
Hmmm, perhaps this isn’t really an homage after all, nor is it a Luddite cry to “bring back the Model T!" -- maybe more like a reality check...
*The price of skiing will always go up; I have no data to lean on, but keeping places like Loveland, A-Basin (for the most part), Sunlight, Wolf Creek (mostly) on the slow and steady must help stall day ticket prices to under three digits, compared to the cost and complexity of modernizing.
*This article was originally published September 2016