My first day on a chairlift after the world shut down

My first day on a chairlift after the world shut down

Timberline Lodge is an amazingly unique place, a bucket list destination for most: Located at the base of Oregon’s iconic Mount Hood, it’s served skiers with access to the high-alpine since the 1930s. For me, however, heading up the road to Timberline is commonplace. While residing in the Northwest, working in the ski industry for the past decade, making the pilgrimage to Mount Hood has been a regular occurrence every spring and summer. So, why have I been fantasizing over nominal turns off the Magic Mile and Stormin Norman lifts, even without a terrain park to lap?

It started two weeks ago while reading a mundane announcement from Oregon Governor Kate Brown that outlined the re-opening of some state parks and a surprise announcement that “all ski resorts can open,” too.  In my current, ski-deprived quarantine, this was the sign of hope I needed. Compounding the need to get back on the hill for my own mental health, spring is also the time of year reserved for equipment testing—skis, outerwear, you name it—and some colleagues (including professional skier Eric Pollard) and I were in desperate need of time on the hill to validate a future product, further amplifying the importance of getting back on snow.

A quiet scene from Timberline’s re-opening on May 15.

On all standard accounts, this certainly wouldn’t be a memorable day of skiing. But as we all know “in these uncertain times,” as every television commercial has reminded me, these last few months put normalcy and the ski world quickly on ice. This particular—potentially forgettable—day at “T-Line” (local jargon) will become a benchmark for me, a small yet important moment instilling a sense of routine back into our quickly shifted lifestyles. It was the same but different, simple yet complicated. After what seems to be forever since skiing last, I got my fix of soul sliding over the weekend.

8:45 AM, Thursday, May 14

I find myself feverishly refreshing the Timberline Lodge website until… BOOM, it’s live: the reservation form available for an unknown (but small) amount of jonesing snow sliders hoping to get back on a chairlift. At 9:00 AM on the dot, I registered successfully—some kind of godsend. Later, I’d find out the ticket allotment of for T-Line’s re-opening was gobbled up in a blistering two minutes. It felt like finding one of Willy Wonka’s Golden Tickets, with an entire ski world coveting the opportunity.

The author’s “Golden Ticket” to ski Timberline.

This time around, skiing wouldn’t involve unlimited heli drops in British Columbia, bottomless Niseko powder or Norwegian midnight touring; rather, just a few slushy turns on well-manicured groomers at Mount Hood. The reality of pining for any kind of experience on skis has been quite odd, but it’s empowering to know the all-mighty ski carve, wherever it may be and however it is etched into the snow, maintains the heart of skiing, even after such a long time away from the sport.

9:00 AM, Friday, May 15

In the car on the way from Hood River, up Oregon’s Route 3, I admired rolling orchards, llama ranches and views of the monolithic Mama Hood. Toward the end of the winding Timberline Access Road, I run into the (expected) checkpoint to enter Timberline’s ski area. Greeted by, what I assume was a smile underneath the mask, was Steve Kruse, the general manager at Timberline and staple to the area. He’d be the first of many familiar faces—well, just eyes and name tags—I’d see throughout the day, each employee going above and beyond to make sure every guest was safe and informed.

The view of Mount Hood on the road from Hood River, Oregon.

There was a golf course-like atmosphere—notably calm—which was bizarre given Hood’s usually raucous springtime scene. Most riders, like myself, arrived early and there was no loitering around the lot or reconvening with friends, just skiers riding chairlifts and taking mellow. As we passed one another, we offered affirmative nods and smiles from under face masks, acknowledging a collective understanding that the opportunity to ski at Timberline was truly special and appreciated.

Required “PPE” for skiers at Timberline.
No chance to ride the chair with a stranger right now.

Can we call it Day One A.C. (After COVID)? Maybe, but the coronavirus will continue to rage for the foreseeable future, impacting everyone’s life in some manner. For now, we’ll just label my first day on the chairlift after the world shut down an extraordinary, same but different, day of sliding down snow. It was mellow, cathartic and invigorating to feel that familiar sensation of pointing skis downhill, something I hope every skier can experience sooner rather than later.

About the Author: 

Josh Malczyk is a skier and friend of FREESKIER magazine living in the Pacific Northwest who ran LINE Skis and Full Tilt Boots until recently to pursue something new he won’t tell us about yet. 

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