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No matter when it comes, First Chair always comes first

November 29, 2016 | 0 Comments

No matter when it comes, First Chair always comes first

The only way to describe the excitement of opening day is that it’s like Christmas. A childlike excitement builds for months in the fall as temperatures drop and plans are laid. At some point, the lifts have to start turning, and thus the magic of the new ski season begins.

For so many reasons. It drives our passion for the sport itself, for resort life, for new gear, new styles, and allows hundreds of thousands of ski area employees to clock in for the season and start making money, further fueling the stoke and sustaining the mountain town economy and lifestyle.

I have a buddy, someone I used to be really close with, and I often wish we still were that close, who logged more than 87 consecutive first chairs in one season. Now that’s what I call stoke. He had his picture on the cover of the Vail Daily four years in a row for getting first chair of the season and he was on first chair at Vail’s Lift 4 more than 350 times. When he worked at Breckenridge, he was first chair on Lift 9 everyday for two straight seasons.

My old roommate from Steamboat Springs, during some of my personal prime ski bumming years, has logged 24 season passes at resorts including Purgatory, Wolf Creek, Brighton, Copper Mountain and Steamboat. These are the people that inspire and in many ways, fuel our industry.

How many days did you ski last year? I bet most of you have a number, at least a rough number, in mind.

As we celebrated opening day at my home ski area of Eldora Mountain Resort this week, another mentor of mine, at 60 years old, told me he’s had 40 season passes, and about as many opening day appearances.

It’s that kind of dedication that makes me proud of my life’s work. And of course there’s stories like this around the country, from Big Sky to Squaw Valley, down in Taos, and back east where it all began in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Pennsylvania and New York, at every mountain large and small where our clan gathers each winter.

A memory popped up on Facebook this same week, reminding me of an article I had shared from the Mountain Gazette, where I’m a contributing writer and devoted fan for the last 25 years or so, ever since I graduated high school and ran away to Colorado.

Long time MG correspondent Bob Chamberlain wrote on a black and white photo from the Mad Dog in Aspen, Colorado, 1966: “Here’s Pierre, taking stock of his life. He’s got the job on the Mountain, with plenty of time to ski, a place to live, and his honey to take out dancing when he wants, and enough change in his pocket to have a beer or two in the bar. This is it. So here he is, contemplating the seasons still to come, and wondering how long he can continue to do this, how long before too many people make it impossible. And what about Taos, when will it be time to move on? To keep this happening, this life. Because this is The Life.”

The Life. No matter how much time goes by, how many of our friends move to the suburbs to work in some dreadful office, no matter when the snow comes, because it always comes, this life remains a constant. Christmas eve. The day before opening day. When the skis and boots and gloves come out and most of the bikes get tossed aside (this is why I don’t fat bike, because ski season is ski season, and Ullr frowns upon biking during ski season. You worked and rode all summer, saving money and strengthening the legs for opening day).

This same week SIA released its annual Bible of all snowsports industry numbers, its 2016 SIA Snow Sports Market Intelligence Report, the most comprehensive report on the 2015/2016 snow sports market available anywhere.

The report, free to SIA members, is meant to give SIA stake holders a complete and detailed view of the snow sports market, and each category and channel within it in order to understand and evaluate changes in pricing, unit and dollar volumes, regional differences, to identify participants, trends and more.

Last year the snow sports retail market brought in $4.7 billion, off just one percent from the year prior overall. Specialty sales out west were up 16 percent, a welcomed contrast to sales in the northeast that lost 14 percent from the 2014/15 season.

Freeskiing grew four percent, and overall 11.6 million skiers and 7.6 million snowboarders made their way to the nation’s resorts, burning enough calories to offset more than two billion après beers.

No matter when the snows come this year, and we know that they will, I hope the optimism of opening days renews your passion for the sport, and stays with you well into spring, when we can pull out our closing day costumes, dust off our bicycles, and start the cycle all over again.


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