Apparently the double chair near the base area has a real name that appears on trail maps and lift lists, but we prefer to think of itself simply as “the First Lift.” That’s because it is, on several levels. Decades ago, before ski resorts were even a thing in this part of the world, an intrepid enthusiast cobbled together a tractor and some long ropes to tow skiers around. The brush he cleared so they could skid uphill on their long wooden skis stayed back, and later, when folks realized there was money to be made in skiing, they extended its corridor to set the towers for the First Lift.
The First Lift only carries skiers about six hundred vertical feet, and on paper, its location doesn’t make much sense. Its base is the lowest area at the resort, and most of the lift falls below the most consistent rain line. It tops out just below the loading areas for the mountain's “real” lifts, so there’s no obvious reason to spend much time there. You’ve got to skate from the top of the First Lift to load anything that will take you higher, so why bother?
The First Lift is never featured in resort marketing materials. Nobody ever shoots glossy photos in the terrain it serves, no one would make a big fuss if it were to be replaced with a high speed quad, and no one credits it as their favorite lift at the resort. That’s all fine by the First Lift. It was built in the 60’s, it doesn’t need any extra hype or responsibility. It knows its place.
As the resort has grown they’ve had to scratch in more parking lots further and further down the hill. Now it’s four long, icy sets of stairs from the lowest lot to the base area. So skiers in the know, instead shuffle across the parking lot to where the groomed snow forms an abrupt edge with the plow piles and click in there. The lot spits out three poles down from the top of the First Lift, and you can stack a good few groomer turns from there to the bottom of it. Then it’s less than ten minutes back up to the top. For most skiers the choice is easy: climb endless icy stairs in ski boots, or ski 500’, ride a lift, and then unload near the ticket window. That’s why the First Lift is still here.
But it’s not just here to help some skiers avoid a hike. Park crew rakes out a few boxes and jumps under the lift line. Plenty of firsts go down under those chairs. First 360’s, first slides, first 270’s off, even a few first backflips. Sure, there are bigger and better parks higher on the mountain, but there’s something less intimidating about learning new tricks just a few hundred yards from your car.
It used to be that there was an unspoken rule that nobody would ever check your ticket on the First Lift. It was designed to get you to the real skiing after all, and if you wanted to ride a lift to the ticket office instead of hiking, who were the lifties to stop you? That meant folks who couldn’t afford a day pass would sometimes come up and just session that First Lift. Families would teach their kids how to ski on it. First wedge turns, first hockey stop, first carve, first time following the wiggle through the trees.
And it’s not just about the skiing. The First Lift has served as an introduction for so many other things. Plenty of now-professional skiers made their first turns under it, sure, but the ride back up is just as seminal. Those poorly-padded chairs have played host to plenty of other first as well. First dates that led to love, to children that will learn to ski here. First time experiences in the mountains that will help set a lifelong love of winter. First broken hearts and first season-ending injuries. Children who were introduced to skiing by this lift will go on to be ski photographers and writers, others will work as lifties, park crew managers, and more. This lift builds skiers, builds people.
As another season starts the First Lift groans a little as they fire it up and grease its joints. The bullwheel grumbles a little under the load, but still turns true. On the backside they’re clearing and digging and pouring and setting to put in a brand new lift. People will mourn the chair it replaces. But here, next to the parking lot the First Lift still spins. Every day this winter it will swing chairs through the loading area, pause for a second as the lifty holds back the chair, and then scoop up another pair of skiers for a lifetime of firsts.