This story originally ran in the October 2014 issue of POWDER (43.2)
Lament all you want over pay-parking, three-figure lift ticket prices, faux mountain villages, and the $50 burger (and yes, that actually exists). For me, the demise of ski culture as we know it can be summed up with a five-inch piece of aluminum.
The wicket: created for one purpose but serving so many functions. For more than 40 years after a Killington employee named Martin Hanley invented it in 1963, the wicket was the preferred method for fastening lift tickets to clothing. Without it innovations such as waterproof/breathable outerwear would have been useless, for prior to the wicket, lift tickets were stapled directly to the jacket.
It's difficult to find another invention that has had a greater effect on...maybe not the sport of skiing, but on the people who do it. It changed how we looked on the street, how we collected mementos. For those who didn't live in ski country, a ticket hanging from the pocket zipper of a CB ski parka was a badge of honor. We'd stick them atop each other, carefully layered so each day was visible. We'd mount them separately, like a charm bracelet of ski visits dangling from our coats. Special days were clipped and hung from bulletin boards. And though its original purpose was to prevent sharing tickets, it created a culture of ski bums wandering parking lots with wire cutters, hoping to score a free afternoon on the slopes.
The wicket wasn't just a way to fasten a ticket. For more than three decades, it was the only way. But the wicket is so much more than a sticker-hanger. This thin metal strand has always been the first, and often the last thing skiers reach for when a MacGyver situation arises. It has worked as zipper pulls, hinge pins on boot buckles, and the little screws that hold sunglasses together; fixed snowboard and telemark bindings and cleaned out pipes; lanced blisters and blackened toe nails, and held the olives in off-piste martinis. It has stepped in when skiers needed a fondue fork or to hotwire a '67 Mustang. It's been a TV antenna, opened the SIM card slot on cell phones, restarted computers, and held the needle in place on turntables. And really, is anything cuter than a girl playfully wearing wickets as earrings while working the ski shop floor?
But alas, over the last 10 years the wicket, a half-century-long product of the Hanley Ticket Assembly, has rapidly been replaced by zip ties and RFID cards--cheap, valuable tools for hanging plastic or tracking skier numbers, but useless for virtually anything else. Much like the Mountain Village.
Just as safety straps gave way to brakes, someday, not a long time from now, we will chuckle at the thought of a sticker flapping off our clothes. Gimmicks and greed are bad; innovation is not. In the '60s, Martin Hanley had an idea to change how we access the lifts. It survived for five decades, and thwarted a million minor catastrophes along the way.