Riding a ski lift, or waiting in line to board it, may have inspired as many marriages and relationships over the past 70 years as ever originated at an après bar. Cupid’s ski endeavors, though, haven’t been without bumps. The ropetow, for instance, was less an opportunity to meet Miss Beautiful than it was for Mr. Wonderful to come to her rescue after the rope hurled her onto the snow.
The T-bar, as seen on a 1950 cover of Love Magazine, was a far superior conveyance for sparking romance. So effective was the T-bar at matchmaking that it came to be known as the He-and-She Stick. For one thing, the couple had to coordinate their hands, backsides, and skis for a steady ride up the track – perhaps, who knows, acting as a nifty indicator of physical compatibility – or at least providing a good excuse to hold on tight.
The He-and-She Stick might even have helped predict the height of offspring should romance lead to marriage. When riding a T-bar, the trick was to select an uphill companion whose posterior was approximately at the same level as yours. The notoriously short Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the sex therapist, who skied at Belleayre in New York’s Catskill Mountains, was in the liftline one day seeking a suitable seat mate. A shortish man appeared, and they rode up smoothly together. He later became Dr. Ruth’s husband.
The arrival of the chairlift just before World War II made uphill travel faster and more comfortable, but its single seat did nothing to promote on-hill romance. Mercifully, the two-seater became standard in the 1950s. Romeo and Juliet could now soar upward together – talking, laughing, and yes, even exchanging the occasional smooch. Overnight, the double chair made single! a loaded liftline exclamation. One can only speculate about the hormonal surge experienced by the first man to hear that seductive shout from the lips of the blonde in the Bogner stretch pants at the head of the line.
The monopoly of the twin loveseat, regrettably, lasted only until the 1960s. Engineers, indifferent to its romantic value, focused with cold efficiency on transporting more passengers uphill. With the arrival of triple chairs, quads, and even six-seaters, the potential for mid-air romance vanished. Multi-seat encounters generated all the heat of drawing-room conversations.
The gondola, when it first came into wide use about 40 years ago, presented a challenge to skiers keen on finding an après date, though when not in heavy use, it can – it’s been told – become the equivalent of a cheap motel room. Meanwhile, if the past is prologue, the future of boy-meets-girl on the lifts will keep evolving.
John Fry is the author of The Story of Modern Skiing, about the changes that revolutionized the sport after World War II.
- SKI MAGAZINE, FEBRUARY 2009