Saturday, December 18, 2004
With the passing of the former Burgess Creek chairlift, I felt compelled to pencil in some of the history of that now extinct double chair. I suppose this is old-timers stuff, but I couldn't pass up giving the Gen Y group of skiers, which includes my children, a glimpse of what it was like to be a Burgess Creek lift operator 30 years ago.
Getting a job on the mountain was an incredible coup, in the early 1970s. We hopefuls sat in long lines on the sidewalk in front of the gondola building, waiting our turn at an interview. If you could weather the glares of Vi Fry, and survive the grilling of Dick Randolph and Jerry Patterson, you were in.
The winter of 1973-74 dropped snow in epic proportions. The upper mountain terrain was serviced by Burgess Creek, Four Points, and a lone poma taking skiers to the top of Storm Peak. There weren't many female lift operators then. Priest Creek had just opened and was run by a crew of women, but I was assigned to Burgess Creek.
Much of that winter was a blur of steady snowstorms, brooms constantly in hand as we whacked piles of powder off the chairs. Shoveling the lift maze was an endless task. When the lift broke down, we'd climb the tall snow banks piled up next to the lower lift shack and lead the long snake line of skiers in song. No high-speed quads then, so those lines were long. But we had the coolest customers on Burgess Creek. There were the hot doggers who danced down White Out, the main mogul run of the era, and the snorkelers who knew all the powder stashes, and even the first "monoskiers," who were the granddaddies of snowboarding.
Because BC was the only way off the mountain, we had to wait for every last one of those skiers who hid out while trying to extend their ski day. Ski Patrol sweepers were the last to load on our lift before we shut down. As the BC lift ops, we always made the last tracks of the day down Heavenly Daze. With no one around, the ski area empty and quiet, we took our time, lazily carving long S-turns across the slope. We were always the last ones into The Tugboat, which was our primary incentive for coming off the mountain at all.
We worked six days a week, which sort of wore on us as the winter went on. There wasn't an official LTV employee handbook back then to tell us how to behave. We would dare ourselves, in rides up to the upper shack, to stand on the back of the chair all the way up without vertigo pulling us down. There were many days when the powder was so soft and so deep, that when we loaded the skiers onto the chairs we pushed them from behind and then hung on. As the chair rode up, we dangled from the bottom of the chair, gripping the slats and screaming that those skiers had trapped us by sitting on our hands. Then we'd let go at the first tower, a hefty 15-foot drop, knowing that the soft cushion of powder would protect us, although we sunk to our chests.
I am glad I was young when skiing was still young. It is a sport I have made my livelihood from, a sport I have never left. In reading about the BC replacement, though, I felt good about being old enough now to have spent my youth back then, in the '70s in the 'Boat, during skiing's adolescence.
Here's to the next 30 years of Burgess Creek.
Nancy Henry Story