Skiers share loving memories of Pallavicini lift in its final days at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area
Snow safety team gets creative to 'keep Pali alive'
ARAPAHOE BASIN SKI AREA — As Bryan Walker sat leaning on Arapahoe Basin Ski Area’s trademark mountain goat statues Wednesday, the Denver resident described what it was like to ride a 42-year-old, fixed-grip, two-seat chairlift for the first time in his life. It was Pallavicini on A-Basin’s reopening day.
“There’s something incredibly charming about an old-school ski lift, especially a two-seater,” Walker said through his mask. “For me, they have always been super enjoyable to ride. They can be a little tricky to get on sometimes. They don’t slow ’em down. But they are intimate.”
Standing near Walker on Wednesday morning in the base area was Peggy Hiller, A-Basin’s vice president of operations. She was taking a short break from scanning the printed-out raffle passes of guests at a hand-sanitizing station.
Compared with Walker’s one lifetime ride up Pallavicini, Hiller has ridden the lift upwards of 700 times. She is one of many A-Basin employees and diehard skiers who can paint the powder-filled picture for Walker of why that slow two-seater is so special and why A-Basin’s crew worked so hard through the COVID-19 shutdown to reopen Pali on Wednesday. It was to give the fabled lift a proper goodbye before it’s replaced this summer by another fixed-grip, two-seater.
For Hiller and the A-Basin family, having the lift spin a few final times after the shutdown meant so much to the people of Pali, like A-Basin Lift Maintenance Manager Rob Ware. He’s the man who’s kept the lift going in recent years and describes the top of Pali as “the center of the universe.” For Ware, Hiller and their spouses, a pair of couples who fell in love on the charming two-seater, it’s where they brought their children for the first time at 4-5 years old, having them hop on no matter how big the leap was for the little rippers.
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“I’ve seen all of them have that rite of passage,” Hiller said about her and longtime A-Basin ski patroller Keith Hiller’s kids, Gen, Abby and Mac.
The son of an A-Basin ski patroller himself, Ware was once a 7-year-old who had that Pali rite of passage with his father, Bob. More than 30 years ago, Ware met and fell in love with his wife and longtime A-Basin employee, Debbie, on Pali. It holds a place in his heart.
Ware is such an important part of Pali’s story that a decade ago he noticed the lift’s Chair 9, sometimes referred to as “The Party Chair,” had been painted silver. It was in honor of him. He’s one of 11 quarter-century A-Basin employees and members of the “Paliheads” — the unofficial group of a few dozen A-Basin lifers who nary miss a powder day on Pali — who have a silver chair in their honor.
Sometimes when Ware skis up to Pallavicini, if he notices Chair 9 will be coming around soon, he’ll wait for it.
This spring, guests will get the chance to wait for their favorite chair on the charming lift one last time. That’s thanks to the effort of Slopes Maintenance Manager Louis Skowyra and his team of snow safety specialists.
Pali also holds a special place in Skowyra’s heart. It’s where he hopped onto the two-seater with his father, Ray, when they’d vacation from Minnesota during Louis’ childhood. After graduating from college and despising a job in reinsurance, the Hillers helped secure Skowyra his first job at the Basin in 2006. He’s been there ever since, loving skiing Pali with Keith Hiller, A-Basin lifer Jim Gordon and other members of the Pallavicini family.
Two months ago, when Skowyra got the directive from A-Basin Chief Operating Officer Al Henceroth to “do anything to keep the Pali alive,” Skowyra and his crew worked on a daily basis to make March’s copious snowfall last through a warmer-than-usual spring.
While A-Basin canceled the Pali enduro ski-marathon tradition and a Pali going-away party, Skowyra’s crew tracked their snowcats each day on a couple of Pali runs down from the snow they farmed at the snow fences placed at the top of Pallavicini.
Down at the bottom of the Pallavicini ski runs they hoped to open when the governor gave the green light, the snow crew manicured the unorthodox The Void route from below the Black Mountain Express, above the recently-removed Molly Hogan learning lift and over to Pali. This week, all that patience and persistence paid off, with Pali reopening later than the lift spins in most years.
“There’s nothing else like it,” said Ron Kitchell, a half-century Vail local who proposed to his wife, Nancy, on the lift two years ago. “You can’t compare it to anything.”
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