Marquee Image: Solitude is for families. And masochists who like no-fall bootpacks above the new Summit Express. PHOTO: David Reddick
I am an unabashed fan of slow two-person chairlifts. While nostalgia certainly plays a part, my love of lazy lifts has more to do with the fact that fast lifts tend to deteriorate the overall skiing experience. I was a terrible math student, but it's not hard to figure out that putting more people on the mountain at a quicker pace translates to less powder for everyone. Some resorts get this concept, most don't. Or at least they don't care, prioritizing the volume of human bodies (and thus, lift tickets) over customer experience. But as the world speeds up around us, slow lifts offer a comfortable opportunity to just chill and look at the view. These days, most lift rides are over so quickly you don't even have time to drink a beer, let alone get to know the person next to you.
A recent trip to Solitude, Utah, however, gave me a different point of view.
Two years ago, when Solitude replaced its old Summit double chair with a high-speed quad, it seemed like yet another sign of skiing’s attempt to join the rat race all of us so desperately try to avoid. As a kid, the Summit Chair was the first lift I ever fell in love with. It accessed steep terrain and deep powder, which to my pre-teen eyes and heart engendered a sense of wonder and freedom that set the hook for a lifetime of skiing. It was also a small chair, so you were always close to the person next to you. No chance the two of you weren't going to get acquainted by the time you reached the top. This lent itself to other pre-teen fantasies about maybe, one day, riding the Summit chair with a girl. Wouldn't that be the coolest?
But the new chair, I admit, is a significant improvement. Its new base is much lower on the mountain, which eliminates the need to take the Sunrise triple. This means you can get to the goods, well, faster. It makes laps into Honeycomb Canyon that much easier, and you can even ride it with not just one girl, but up to three at one time.
Since Solitude is still one of the most casual and non-competitive resorts in the U.S. that also serves badass terrain, you'll be sharing the lift not with freeride bros trying to pump their Instagram feeds, but with families who don't care much for hiking, sidestepping, or otherwise plundering pow.
Bypassing Sunrise, you can get to the Summit chair via either the Powderhorn or Apex lifts, further changing how people ski the mountain. For instance, skiing ropeline direct from the top of Powderhorn (a very fun, steep tree shot that, long ago, my friends and I called Halley's Haunt) now drops you right at the base of the new Summit.
If there's one downfall, it's that the new lift exposes stashes that were previously invisible. The chair now traverses the steep, technical terrain of Parachute, Middle Slope, and Cathedral (a run that wasn’t even on the map until a few years ago), putting them in plain sight directly from the chair. But it's still a trick to know how to access these runs--and ski them without getting cliffed out. And as has already been mentioned, most of the people who would be skiing this terrain are probably already over at Alta or Snowbird. Good for them.
From the top of the new Summit, terrain options remain the same. Fantasy Ridge and Evergreen, if you have the desire and ability to climb no-fall bootpacks, still access steep glades, mellow bowls, and rowdy, technical chutes. During POWDER’s Thread the Needle event, patrol had closed off these zones for a few days. When they did reopen the gates, it was game on, providing days-old powder stashes to a thirsty crew.
The best part was the one thing that hasn't changed about Solitude in decades, new lift or not: There was hardly anyone else around. Turns out that a fast lift in a slow place might just make sense.