THE HOLLYWOOD LINE
THE FALL LINE DROPS AWAY STEEPLY, at least 40 degrees at the crux. The top of the north-facing chute is full of bumps before it narrows into an hourglass-shaped couloir littered with rocks and stumps that don’t quite get covered up until late January. But none of those things really matter. What matters is that the run is directly beneath the chairlift. You can pretend not to care that everyone is watching. You’re cool like that. But there’s a reason you make those turns extra sharp as you center punch the choke as fast as you can, screaming out into the fan at the bottom as the hoots and hollers rain down from the chairlift above.
In the world of skiing, we tend to glorify far-flung places that exist primarily in our dreams, forgetting that some of the best skiing around is literally right under our noses. We romanticize the courage of going out of bounds, and heap praise on the stamina required to ply the backcountry. We traverse far and wide to ski a few scrappy powder turns along distant rope lines, when sometimes, all we really need is right there under the chair.
Because lift towers are primarily built directly on the fall line, some of the best skiing you’ll ever find is beneath the chairlift: Chairs 22 and 23 at Mammoth; Gad II at Snowbird; the Fingers at Squaw Valley; the Alta Chutes at Jackson Hole; the Challenger face at Big Sky; the Motherlode Chair at Red Mountain;
the Single Chair at Mad River Glen. These lines are fast, steep, and the crowds are often appreciative. Of course, the burliest lift line of all is the Mallory Route, below the Aiguille du Midi tram in Chamonix. Talk about one run to rock your world—if you have what it takes (not many do).
Every day all winter, somebody somewhere is skiing under the chair, sticking their butt out a little bit more, keeping their knees a little bit tighter, grunting a little bit louder when they hit a bump. It’s the glorious hallway of fall lines and freaks, moguls and mishaps, chalk and chowder, and the best place to walk the walk, without ever having to talk the talk. For everyone riding on the chair, you are the entertainment, you are the show. But thankfully, chairlift rides don’t last forever, and neither does your presence underneath it. It’s like Instagram before Instagram: scroll down and let it go, maybe give a thumbs-up if you like what you see.
If you happen to snag first chair the morning of a big dump, there is no better place to be than right back under it. No sidestepping. No bootpacks. No avalanche protocol. Just SFD. It also happens to be a bittersweet reminder to everyone riding above why they should not have hit the snooze button. Bitter because they are not you, and sweet because only a black-hearted cynic would fail to appreciate your joy as you go neck-deep into the fluff.
Of course, there are some people who simply won’t ski under the chair. No matter how good it can be, they will always avoid it. Too many discriminating eyeballs. Too much judgment. It’s like public speaking, or stepping up to the plate with the score tied in the bottom of the ninth. Some people don’t want that kind of responsibility. I suppose we have them to thank for farming stashes far from the maddening crowd, but conversely, I suspect there would be fewer daffies or threes without a sick little bump line under the chair. For if a daffy or three isn’t witnessed, did it even happen?
Perhaps the best part of skiing under the lift is the fact that it is impossible to fake it. Whether you are a hack or rock star, skiing under the chair forces you to own your ability. As passengers on the chair, it feels great to watch someone rip it, but it’s just as satisfying to watch another skier backseatin’ and not carin’. They are who they are, to hell what anyone else thinks. And in an era full of fakeness— fake snow, fake doobs, fake bacon, fake tans, and fake online personas—skiing under the chairlift is a jolt of authenticity that might just make 2018 a better place to be. That’s a stretch perhaps, but at the very least, it’ll serve as a reminder of what life is all about: family, friends, and soft bumps that explode when you ski into them really fast.
If nothing else, skiing under the chair is the quickest way to the bottom for another lap—a one-way ticket down the Hollywood Line.
Skier: Sam KuchWhitewater, British Columbia Photo: Steve Ogle