Fixed chair 1170x538.jpg

It’s tough to do a tribute to an existing thing, a current workhorse. Yes, we can lump fixed-grip chairs together with skinny skis, 8-tracks, my Dad’s ’64 Ford Galaxy, any number of old-tech memories. But while a lot of the things that moved or fueled our past don’t shine as brightly when we revisit them in our present, the "old" chair is still giving us a less expensive* ride up the mountain, to do what we love do down the mountain, and keeping the trail less crowded besides. This yesteryear tech has useable unintended consequences like these (it can even act as a filter, keeping instant-gratificationers away from the terrain to which it delivers us).

My legs are a little older now, they don’t mind a slower ride to rest before the next run: my two best powder days last year were at fixed-grip gems Wolf Creek and Sunlight. I don’t remember any of us, on either day, regretting the chairs we rode, and lamenting what could have been had there only been a high-speed quad.

I am in no way pooh-poohing the high-speed chair. The more vert a chair has to cover, the more valuable it becomes. It also shortens time spent in the lift line and transports us to The Good Stuff zones faster: A-Basin has a great thing going with Black Mountain Express, it gets us up and away from the parking lot, and out to great terrain adequately served by slower lifts -- including our feet, if we are game for some hike-to.

But emptying out the lift corral quicker has its own unintended consequences: higher population density on the hill, and the aggravation and danger that accompany lots of folks pouring out onto the same space before the upgrade. That same clever BME lift can make for a busy day if you are a patroller at A-Basin, as you clear the carnage from Sundance, High Noon, and Ramrod!

Using my gut-feel-o-meter, it seems that chairs covering up to 1500ish feet of vert don’t really suffer if they are left as a one-speed.

Hmmm, perhaps this isn’t really an homage after all, nor is it a Luddite cry to “bring back the Model T!" -- maybe more like a reality check...

*The price of skiing will always go up; I have no data to lean on, but keeping places like Loveland, A-Basin (for the most part), Sunlight, Wolf Creek (mostly) on the slow and steady must help stall day ticket prices to under three digits, compared to the cost and complexity of modernizing.



*This article was originally published September 2016
About author
Height: 5’8” - 5'10” depending on leg in use

Weight: 190 lb

Years skiing: 10ish

Days per year: 50-70

Home mountains: Loveland, Copper

Preferred terrain: Powder. Failing that, off piste. Failing that, groomers for zoom and technique progression.

Skiing style: Power

Preferred ski characteristics: Directional (flat tail), minimal early rise in the tip, shorter-radius sidecut -- call it 20m or less, thereabouts. I prefer metal for its ability to iron out irregular surfaces, and a tip that doesn’t deflect in crud. Also, If we initiate turns by releasing out of the old turn, and tipping our skis into the new, then the tip should assist with that; give me positive response and feedback, not reluctance and vagueness. My reference skis are WC SL skis for frontside, Blossom White Out and Kästle MX78 for mixed days, and Salomon Q-Lab for pow.

Boots: Fischer Vacuum RC4 150, with major mods for a ~2" leg discrepancy. Because of this, I pretty much cannot demo boots in a meaningful way.

About me: Typically, I ski the I-70 corridor (I have passes for all of it), but I have the freedom to storm chase anywhere within an 8-hr drive of Denver metro. Often, it's taken me to Wolf Creek, Aspen, Sunlight (one of the best gems in the biz), and Park City. I crave pow! Failing that, I seek crud, bumps, and endless progression of skills. If we can suck at a higher level today than we did yesterday, we're doing it right.


I hope the author of this piece doesn't object if I piggy back with a few of my favorite photos of vintage or memorable fixed grip chair lifts I have ridden? Some of my photos go back a decade or more, but I believe most lifts depicted are still in operation except as noted. Please correct me if you spot an error. I've tried to spread the love and include lifts from various parts of the country. Thanks, Jim Kenney

I think the first photo in the above Homage is lift 7A from Taos, NM. Here's one I took in 2012 of this same cozy and steep center pole fixed grip double chair.
taos fixed grip best.jpg

Blue Knob, PA holds a special place in my heart. My first day of skiing took place there in December 1967. This fixed grip double chair was installed when the ski area opened three or four years before that and still carrys big Steelers fans up the hill!
blue knob steeler fan fixed grip.jpg

This is the Red Dog fixed grip triple chair at Squaw Valley, CA. This picture does not do full justice to the acrophobic qualities of this chair! It gets really high off the ground at certain points.
squaw red dog fixed grip.jpg

This is the Albion center pole double at Alta, UT. This photo is the newest of the bunch and was taken 2 Apr 2020 on a skinning ski outing.
alta albion liftline fixed grip 2 apr.jpg

This photo of a fixed grip Riblet double chair on the backside of Red River, NM was taken in 2012. It has since been replaced with a quad chair. This terrain is notable because it's a scenic, green circle trail pod set at a relatively high elevation on the mountain.
red river fixed grip.jpg

This is the remarkable fixed grip Single Chair at Mad River Glen, VT. This chair dates back to 1948 and was lovingly restored in 2007 to function much as it always has. I took this photo in 2010 on my very first ride ever on the lift.

Lift 2 at Loveland, CO is a fixed grip triple chair that is an important gateway lift to this sometimes overlooked, but always fun Front Range ski area.
loveland fixed grip.jpg

This is the Scott chair, a fixed grip triple at Alpine Meadows, CA. It's a steep ride and unfortunately an inbounds avalanche fatality occurred beside this lift in January 2020.
alpine meadows fixed grip.jpeg

Stowe, VT has been greatly modernized in recent years, but there are still vestiges of its venerable past including the fixed grip Lookout Double chair.
stowe lookout double.JPG

You can't do a tribute to fixed grip chairs without mentioning the Pallavicini double at Araphoe Basin, CO. It serves some of the burliest bump runs in the nation. I think there were plans to replace it with a new fixed grip double this offseason, but I don't know if that is still happening?
arapahoe pali chair.png
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Thanks for this...this...really cool. Love seeing the old ski artifacts that connect us to the past and the amazing/iconic resorts that they exist at.
Is that Sunlight, the rider giving the V sign and the "Pugski" sticker on the center pole? I have ridden that lift many times! Nice photos, both authors.
The fixed grip double is rarely the image you see in a slick brochure, but it is often the magic carpet that serves up the terrain we came to ski. They are the yellow school bus of our sport; very few decent skiers who haven't spent hours riding them.
Thanks for the read. Good Summer fare.
Niseko, on Hokkaido Island, Japan, still has some fixed grip singles. They're on the top of the exposed volcano and often closed due to wind. We got to see them evacuate one of the singles one day...they're close enough to the surface that the patrol used long poles to pass the lowering ropes over the cable so the stuck riders could put a loop under their arms and be lowered to the surface. The chairs have a simple flat, square plywood seat...they're nicknamed the pizza box chairs.
At the expense of reviving a dead thread, this is one of the many reasons I appreciate Dodge Ridge in Northern California. These pictures are an ode to the smaller, family-oriented ski resorts. Thanks!
At the expense of reviving a dead thread, this is one of the many reasons I appreciate Dodge Ridge in Northern California. These pictures are an ode to the smaller, family-oriented ski resorts. Thanks!
There is a difference between "dead" and "timeless", this is a timeless discussion.
I don't have pictures so I guess @Jim Kenney will have to show up with his camera one day, but the the Burfield fixed grip quad at Sun Peaks is one of the most loved/hated chairs on the Continent.

The original Burfield Chair is named after one of the founders and was a centre pole double installed when Tod Mountain (original mtn name) opened in 1961 with just the one chair. It was replaced in the early 90s with the current fixed grip quad, over 10,000 ' long and serving 2984' vertical, (and some of the best terrain on the mountain). It takes 22 minutes bottom to top and the spacing between the chairs is 30 seconds so if you are skiing with more than 8 people, then you are bringing your own lift line. The original 2 seat Burfield took 18 minutes but was slowed to a 20 min ride for its last 15 years of operation to save wear and tear and prolong life. In all likelihood current Sun Peaks' Burfield Chair is the longest, slowest quad in North America and maybe the world.

Most skiers who are new to the mountain ride the 22minute Burfield Chair once and never return, hence the hate. However the purpose built Sun Peaks Village with its high speed quads, shops and hotels is a couple kms down the road from the Burfield base and because of that the Burfield Chair is now less busy than it was in the 80s before all the Sun Peaks development, hence the locals love.
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Burfield, 22 min plus frequent stops.
redeeming feature is mid station,
if the snow is decent below it's the best place to get off.
when it isn't load there.
Most of my favorite lifts in Western Canada (excluding Whistler) are fixed grips. Paradise at Louise, Red at Castle, Motherload at Red, White Pass at Fernie.

Fixed grips work alright if they are on steep terrain and don't cater to beginners. Fixed chairs that cover flat terrain always seem super slow. Chairs that stop or slow for beginners are even worse. I avoid the Elk Chair at Fernei and the Ptarmigan Chair at Louise. Getting out of the base at Red can be a pain too!

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