As dozens of double chairlifts are ripped from their moorings each spring and replaced with high-speed quads and six-packs, one of skiing's greatest charms is disappearing with them. This is a sport built on kinship, and nothing has done more to foster bonds among skiers than the double chair.
The double chair fomented the ice-breaking cry of "Single!" that led to many a romance and friendship. Unfortunately, the ability of flying-couch lifts to absorb crowds has made the concept of riding with strangers increasingly rare. Quads and six-packs routinely launch with empty seats as each group hunkers down within itself.Like shy kids, most solo skiers won't pair up and groups shun outsiders, preferring to cocoon with their companions. Lost is all chance for conversation between two strangers drawn to the mountains by a common pull. As a writer, I visit lots of resorts solo.
Until the advent of quads and those six-pack abominations, I met all sorts of funny, fascinating people on lift rides. Not anymore. Riding a six-pack as a single is as welcoming as dinner with my wife's classmates at her college reunion.
Proponents of high-capacity lifts like to boast about getting in all their skiing before lunch, leaving afternoons free for other activities. When did skiing turn into a Coney Island hot-dog-eating contest? Skiing should be treated as a fine meal to be lingered over. Why cram it all in? Is shopping for overpriced antiques and bargain-tagged Tommy Hilfiger seconds really an integral part of the sport?The proliferation of mega-lifts has also changed the dynamics of the liftline. Gone is the chance to catch one's breath, reflect on the run and, yes, play a little game of chance by picking which chute will get you to the front of the queue fastest. Today, double-loading mazes are designed for maximum efficiency, plucking and slotting skiers like so many chickens at a Purdue plant.
I join Jose Bove, the folk hero of France's resistance to McDonald's, in saying "Enough!" You may keep your stuffed, hyper-speed, La-Z-Boy lifts, but please leave enough of those love seats for us thoughtful and social creatures to enjoy.