Lifty 101

You’ll have to get up pretty early to beat a lifty (a lift operator) to the ski hill; this is true for most ski hills but especially so for Fernie. Lifties, along with the maintenance guys, are among the first people on the hill, with an early start of 6:30am. Lifties get the chairs spinning early so ski patrol can get to work doing avalanche control, or as the locals here call it – the Fernie alarm.

All employees on the ski hill are important to its smooth running, but it’s safe to say that without lifties, the hill simply couldn’t function. Lifties are the ones who stand outside in all types of weather. They are the ones who work whether it snows, rains or is minus 30. It doesn’t matter, the lifts will always be spinning and the lifties will always be bumping chairs.

Being a lifty is not a glamorous job. No one does it for the money, they do it for the free ski pass, the chance to ride everyday and the camaraderie of working with a close-knit crew. Some of my closest friends are the ones I met working lifts in Colorado and Fernie. You’ll find all sorts working a season as a lifty, from the Aussie farmers to the English graduate, to the engineers, the writers, the photographers, the chefs, the lawyers, the ex-cop. Lifties come from all walks of life and you’ll meet them all on the hill this year.

On some days the employee bus won’t make it passed the lower parking lot and the lifties are left to tramp through the snow to the maintenance hut where the lifty boss is waiting. A lifty, along with the ticket checkers, are often seen as the first line of defense – the public face of the ski hill. You’ll meet a lot of people bumping chairs (the art, yes art, of slowing a fixed grip chair down allowing guests to save their calves and knees for the slopes) on the White Pass. People who are positively frothing on life and the fact they were among the first, if not the first, to drop Currie Bowl. You’ll soon learn about what is known locally as the Currie 500; everyone claims to be the first to drop in.

However, as a lifty you are in the privileged position of seeing some awesome sights as well as being exposed to some of the more idiotic acts that grace any ski hill.

Let’s start with the awesome. As a lifty you have the chance to ski fresh lines before the sun has risen. You’ll experience the sun peeking over the mountains, her warm rays heating your frozen face. You get to enjoy the most epic sunrises for a moment, before returning to digging out your lift. Perhaps best of all, you’ll get to see Fernie Ski Patrol in action. I have sat at the top of the White Pass countless times as patrol heli-bomb the Timber and Currie headwalls, watching as the cornices and overhangs rip away and cascade down the slopes, often sending an avalanche deep into the respective bowls.

Now the idiotic. When there is snow, people sometimes forget things such as the fact that they are around a lot of fast moving and heavy equipment. A huge part of a lifty’s job is training people on how to get on and off a ski lift safely. Pushing buttons is not all a lifty has to worry about. A lifty must watch the guests from the moment they stand in the corral, the transition to the load line, the bump and then watch the chair until it exits the station – all the while preparing for the next chair load of powder-hungry skiers. A ski lift can be an intimidating and dangerous place, especially for children. As a lifty, don’t be afraid to slow or stop the lift. But also learn to read a newbie’s body language – it’s pretty easy to spot the ones who don’t have a clue on how to load. Rental skis, new jackets and shiny helmets are a dead giveaway. But it’s your job to show them how. It keeps you on your toes and makes for an interesting day.

Stay tuned for more about life as a lifty, from epic first track runs to work and endless ride breaks on those quiet January days, to the powder day it seems everyone is shredding but you. See you in the lift line, and remember to smile at your lifty.