Its a pow day in Summit County, Colorado. The day starts early, setting up an extra long maze to accommodate the hordes of pow frenzied patrons that have already started milling around the base area. Fresh snow means preparing the lift platform for those who would rather not have fresh snow on the ground. Soon enough, the line has ballooned out of the maze and scuffles break out between over-stoked skiers. Fights broken up and the first rush of powder day traffic loaded up, now it’s time for the lift operators, aka lifties, to work the day away as they send hundreds if not thousands of skiers and snowboarders uphill to get the goods. Its not the hardest job in the world, but the lifty’s work is an essential and too often unappreciated component of skiing throughout the world’s snowy places.
Without the humble lifty, the frontline, the hand governs the bullwheel, the final human element in the complicated arrangement of pieces that conspire to get skiers to the top again and again, the ski day would go nowhere. As the last line of defense between novice skier and heavy machinery, we can all recall a not-too-distant time when a lifty whisked us from the path of an incoming chair. As beginners embarking on the path to intermediate-hood, a friendly operator slowed the fixed grip down so we could hop on the lift and head off towards the blues. For the shredders, a knowing nod and an ever-present Kinco clad fist bump awaits as the chairlift departs en route to our dream of new tricks or choice conditions. All the while, the lifty stands at the ready, dutifully supervising the loading stripe as we spend the day drowning our sorrows in chest deep pow.
There are, of course, droves of people that collaborate each and every winter day to present skiers with their favorite activity. The gallant ski patroller braving harsh alpine conditions while procuring safe slopes for all with explosions and emergency first aid, the friendly ticket scanner greeting guests and reading passes, the cat operators keeping the snow fresh during long starlit shifts. But the lifty occupies a unique crux within the ski hill microcosm. Unlike the patrollers, they are not featured on t-shirts or afforded the reputation of the “Hasselhoffs” of the mountain but, unlike ticket sales staff, lifties work outside in harsh winter conditions. To many, the people operating the lift simply blend into the machinery of the chairlift itself; they rarely offer even a passing glance to the underpaid lifty working through a blizzard.
Those that work as lift operators often share a goal (a destiny): to leave behind the bustle of the city or the monotonous landscape of the plains to chase the thrill of skiing, to start a life amid the excitement of a mountain town. Signing up as a lifty is often the first step towards decades or a lifetime in the mountains, and it’s a hard one. Without much compensation from their employers or consideration from skiers, the liftie spends their days serving others the dream that they re-built their lives around. Those in the know at least give a quick greeting or exchange pleasantries before loading up, but still wonder what can be done to brighten up the lifty’s day?
To help cure the later winter blues and bring a little joy to a ski hill near you, the 1st Annual Lifty Appreciation Day will be held Saturday, February 27th at ski areas around the world. Its an unofficial event so just show up with a few singles or a couple of brews to show your favorite lifty some love before the season’s end. Spread the word, bring some homies, and most importantly, go skiing! Just remember to keep those Tips Up For Your Lifty!