Skiing As Craft: Last Chair

The best part of the day might just be at the end

It's just you out there. PHOTO: Christian Aslund

It’s just you out there. PHOTO: Christian Aslund

This story originally published in the November 2013 issue of POWDER (42.3).

“If you time it right, you can get last tram at 3:30, then haul ass to get last chair on Apres Vous at 4 o’clock. Then at the top of the chair you wait…and you wait…and you wait…” —Benny Wilson, Jackson Hole Air Force

The sun is gone, and so is the pressure. The day and all of its trappings—lift lines, bad attitudes, competition, logistics—have been replaced by the quiet calm of alpenglow. The snow is pretty much beat, but it's still chalky on the northern aspects, that bump line is still skiing hot, and the groomers are empty and as fast you want them. You're tired and probably ought to call it a day. The fatigue in your legs tells you to keep skiing past the bottom of the lift…downward with gravity to the path of least resistance and comfy shoes and home and real life.

But, hey, that chair is still turning. Might as well take one more. You ski right up without even stopping and, between shovel scoops, the liftie gives you a courtesy bump, sending you up the hill yet again into the late afternoon.

Or is it early evening? Hard to tell. Suffice to say it's 4 p.m. and there's not a single person behind you. The liftie made sure of that when he started flipping up the seats on the very next chair. Other than patrollers and the groomers (true night watchmen of the north), you get the final say on what the mountain looks like on this glorious day of freedom. That's true satisfaction. Taking the day deep and staying out late. Like a dog chasing tennis balls, tongue dragging and hips buckling, until he can hardly stand up. Just you and a few friends hauling ass on runs you've skied a thousand times before but that still make you smile. The chair never felt so good—a magical pleasure cruise providing the ultimate vertical climb and a chance to catch your breath. Might as well lower the bar and talk about sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. Though the topic's not nearly as important as knowing that the person next to you likes to ski just as much as you do.

The skiers scoping last chair are a different breed than their counterparts on first chair. The latter tend to have a weakness for over-sharing #every #tiny #annoying #detail #via #their #phones. Skiers on last chair, however, aren't out there to prove any point. They're just skiing, plain and simple. Most of the time it's locals. Maybe they had the morning shift at work, or kid duty, or maybe they've just been skiing all damn day and simply can't stop. But it's not uncommon to see tourists on rental gear, loving the hell out of those uncrowded slopes and milking every last penny out of that precious lift ticket.

At the top of the chair, the other liftie waves, happy that his day is finally done. You glide across the unloading zone and come to a rest at the edge of the cat track. The entire mountain spills out beneath you. There's no hurry. You got nowhere to be. Well, home maybe. Pay some bills. Hit the grocery store. Rather not think about that. Rather just look at the view. Distant mountain ranges all aglow in pinks and purples, like a painting by some famous artist whose name you can't recall. The lift suddenly stops turning. You thought it was quiet before. Now there's even more empty space in your ears. Finally it's time. Suppose you can't be up here forever. And so with a subtle shift of your weight, you let gravity take hold and off you go into the sunset.