Chairway to Heaven: The Upside of a Life on Lifts

Austen Diamond
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I recently had a disappointing conversation with a friend of mine as we rode the chairlift past our home resort’s obligatory Panty Tree—that iconic tree adorned with all types of undergarments. I asked how it was possible to remove one’s underwear while riding a chairlift. The mechanics of the operation have always fascinated me. Not only do you have to get the underwear past your pants, you then have boots and a pair of skis to deal with. On top of that, you’re sitting in a moving chair that’s suspended above the ground, and it’s freezing outside.

I shouldn’t have asked. She explained to me that the bras and underwear that decorate our local Panty Tree are probably carried to the mountain in the owner’s pocket specifically to decorate the tree. Bummer.

After passing this tree for what seemed the thousandth time, I began wondering about how much time I've actually logged riding up mountains. I actually sat down and did the math. Over the past 32 years I’ve spent approximately 87,500 minutes riding chairlifts, trams, and gondolas. That’s two full months of my life traveling up frozen mountains. Occasionally, a lift ride is just miserable. Icy winds, badly aimed snow-makers, falling chairs, and carelessly lowered safety bars can all turn a lift ride sour in a hurry.

Despite the occasional discomfort, however, the chairlift ride is the single most underrated aspect of the ski (or snowboard) experience. Aside from delivering skiers to the top of the mountain quickly and easily, the lift serves several critical functions. It’s a chance to pass around high-fives and relive an amazing powder run. It’s a chance to regroup after being battered in the terrain park. It’s a chance to grab a snack or perform a safety check. It’s even a chance to do your good deed for the day—let some tourists in on a secret stash.

The Panty Tree
The Panty Tree Austen Diamond

Smooth operators can use time on the chairlift to throw lines at lovely, powder-junkie ladies, and the overly ambitious can use the chairlift ride for a little corporate networking. Of course, we all use our time on the chairlift to daydream about jumping off the chairlift. (My wife even told me recently that she daydreams about shoving me off. That’s understandable.)

And, of course, the lift can take you past the Panty Tree.

Most importantly, though, the chairlift is the boardroom. The lift is where you and your friends put together your plan for a perfect powder day. We often show up at the mountain with a vague idea of what we’ll ski, but the crowds, weather, and snow conditions force us to make changes on the fly. That’s where a five-minute break in the action becomes crucial. In a sense, the lift ride is the most important element in the endless search for the perfect powder day.

Nobody goes skiing just to ride the lift, but we’ll all have to ride it, one way or another. So we may as well try to appreciate the chairlift for what it is. After all, we don’t pay to ski—we pay to ride the lift.

As for me, I refuse to believe that all those undies were carried to the mountain just to be used as decoration—it just doesn’t seem right. I hold tight to the belief that somehow, someone figured out a way to take their drawers off mid-lift-ride and toss them, bare-assed, into the tree. I may try to prove it can be done someday myself. I sincerely hope you aren’t there to see it.

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