Chairlift Chatter Part 1
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*Picture thanks to Rich B.
By Bill Fetcher

Mar 95

We ride lifts in order to ski, not the other way around.  Despite the secondary role
accorded them, ski lifts, more than anything else have made skiing enjoyable by
taking the work out of getting up hills. This series of short articles will attempt to
trace the development of ski lifts with regard to the nation and the state of Colorado.
I’ll try to be as historically accurate as possible. My sources include Abbott Fay’s
“Ski Tracks in the Rockies”, Ezra Bowen’s “American Skiing” plus a pretty good,
though not infallible memory. Corrections and updatings are appreciated.  “About”
(1960) will be taken to mean within a year or two of that date. “Recent years” can
mean from ten to 15 years ago. Despite my gearhead tendencies I’ll keep these
articles fairly non-technical. And if you haven’t figured it out, the alliterative titles
were prompted by the COSA Good Times “Chair Chat” gossip column. For the
summer months I expect to digress from the ski lift theme and deal with other
aspects of Colorado history such as the early railroads.

Offering comfort, safety, a chance to relax and (in recent years) speed, the chairlift
can be considered the greatest boon to recreational skiing, winning out over all other
types of lifts. It was not always so. In 1936 Sun Valley, Idaho opened. It would be
America’s first destination resort, defined as where one is expected to spend at least
one night due to distance from other population centers. There was a need for a lift
suitable for medium and large slopes.  Rope tows were out of the question. Aerial
tramways of the Jackson Hole variety, in use in the Swiss Alps for a number of
years, were impractical as well as expensive. Enter the world’s first chairlift that we
will deal with next month.
The Tram at Jackson Hole, WY *