Chairlift Chats

Warm Conversation 100 Feet Up Proves the Table isn't the Only Place for Family Discussions

Being born and raised in Colorado has allowed me to be close to our state’s majestic mountains. It has also afforded me the opportunity for plenty of chairlift chats, which have granted me a grateful, thankful heart. A chairlift chat is the valuable time you spend talking with your family, friends and fellow strangers while riding the chairlift to the top of the mountain, to then ski or snowboard down.

I was only 4 years old the first time I got to ride a chairlift, also called a tow-bar or T-bar back in the day. I was learning to ski at St. Mary’s Glacier Resort, an amazing place that opened each year over Thanksgiving break that only cost our parents around $3.50 a day to take us skiing. It was the most perfect place to learn to ski, but sadly, it closed in 1986. My initial chairlift chats amounted to talks with my mom, sister and dad about how not to fall off when getting to the top and or let the T-bar hit you in the back of the head. At that age, it was very heart-pounding to think that could happen. These talks drifted into dreams of being the next big Olympic skier, what mom packed for our lunch and lots and lots of giggles, belly laughs and complaining about our goggles fogging up. My family was here each Thanksgiving, and our chairlift chats were a big part of it.

Soon, the nature of our chairlift chats evolved. Our family moved closer to Keystone, Breckenridge and A-Basin toward the end of my elementary school career. Our chats occurred there now, with wonderful night gondola rides allowing for even more conversation. This is where the big stuff was discussed. Would I be allowed to go to a dance with a certain boy? Was I going away for summer camp this year? This is where I spoke with my mom and sister about what it meant to become a woman and where I realized that one-piece ski suits weren’t always a girl’s best friend. This is also where my dad opened up about his childhood, laughing and having more fun because he was on a chairlift and work couldn’t find him on a mountain.

By middle school and through high school, we were skiing all over Colorado. My dad even found a place called Sunlight Mountain Ski Resort outside of Glenwood Springs. We thought of it as a true hidden gem. It’s still a gem, but it’s not as hidden these days.

By this time, the subject of our chairlift chats consisted of what we wanted to do when we were older. Would we always be this close ski family, or would we drift apart? We felt safe on the mountain, with the chill in the air and the sun, snow and sleet—or whatever God had in mind that day—on our faces.

During this time, I learned what it was like to watch a parent lose their parent. After a day of skiing, we trudged back to the cabin to receive a call informing us that my paternal grandma had passed away. Although we packed it up and headed home, I clearly remember the chairlift chats from earlier in the day. My dad was the chattiest he had been ever on the chairlift, talking about his mom and the funny things she used to do when he was a kid.

As one might expect, when college rolled around, the chairlift chats occurred less and less. As young adults tend to do, we left the nest. My sister and I were starting our own lives and families, and my parents were getting older and not wanting to go skiing as much. Our time was spent on the hustle and bustle of life and no longer on the chairlift that acted as an icebreaker for our family discussions. 

Despite the passing of time, each year at Thanksgiving—the true start of the Colorado ski season—I am now sitting on that chairlift with my husband, children and friends feeling thankful. I shed a tear or two the minute we plop onto the chairlift that heads up the mountain for our first run of the season. I feel utter joy at the thought of my family’s priceless chats in the chairlift that were such a big part of my life on Thanksgiving. Then I shed a few more tears of joy just knowing that the tradition continues.

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