Vail’s Chair 5 comes alive
VAIL – Vail pioneer Pepi Gramshammer stepped off the new High Noon Express Lift Friday morning and could hardly believe what he had just experienced.
“Can you believe this – 48 years,” Gramshammer said. Forty-eight years – that’s how long it’s been since he arrived in Vail and contributed to the creation of both the ski resort and the town. His wife, Sheika, who has been in Vail with him the entire time, was by his side again on the chairlift Friday morning. She joked with those waiting at the top of the lift that there’s no more powder back there, now, referring to a lot of the criticism the long-planned lift has received over the years from skiers and snowboarders who worried the high-speed quad will just mean more people will track out the Sun Up and Sun Down bowls.
“At first I was a little worried about it,” Sheika Gramshammer said. “The changes of it, that we’re going to miss the powder, but I don’t think so – I think we always going to find powder, we’re just getting faster to it now, I guess.”
Pete Seibert Jr., the son of the late Pete Seibert, the founder of Vail, looked on with a huge smile as the Gramshammers and Vail pioneer Morrie Shepard, and his wife Suzie, celebrated the first ride on the new lift. Seibert Jr. knew his father would have loved to see the new lift.
“I think he’d love the continued improvements on the mountain,” Seibert Jr. said. “I think it’s wonderful that Pepi, Sheika, Morrie and Suzie rode that chair. Those guys are fantastic. It is a legacy. They’re pioneers, and people sometimes forget everything those guys went through to bring their families here to start the ski area.”
Janet Testwuide, whose husband, Paul, was one of Vail’s pioneers, waited at the top of the High Noon Express lift, also known as Chair 5, to greet the Gramshammers and Shepards. Testwuide was with the Tiara Ladies, a group of women who have been skiing at Vail together for decades. They watched the new lift run and remembered all of the times they’ve gotten stuck on it in the cold wind.
Testwuide said the lift has been so controversial for so many years because people think the powder will get skied out, but she’s not so sure the lift has much to do with that.
“The powder already gets skied out really fast,” she said. “This way you don’t have to be strategic about getting that extra run in. There are so many great days when (Chair) 5 is awesome skiing, but the lift takes a long time. Everybody kind of hates to see change, but I think this is a great one.”
The change is part of the natural evolution of the sport of skiing, said Art Kelton, who first came to Vail in 1965.
“It’s what skiing is all about today,” Kelton said. “If you want to ski real slow and have old lifts, go over to Alta (Utah).”
Vail Resorts’ executives obviously are of the same mind that improvements to the mountain are what make guests want to return to Vail, as evidenced by about $80 million in improvements, including the new Chair 5, across the company’s five resorts in 2010 alone.
Vail Mountain Chief Operating Officer Chris Jarnot said the resort didn’t want a perfect powder day experience to be tarnished by long, slow-moving lift lines that often formed at the base of Chair 5.
“We felt it was time, past time, to make this change and improvement,” Jarnot said. Jarnot smiled as he told the crowd gathered at the top of Chair 5 Friday that Pepi Gramshammer skied the terrain now served by Chair 5 before there were any lifts at all in Vail’s Back Bowls. Jarnot said it was an honor to have him there for the inauguration of the new lift.
Pepi Gramshammer said he’s happy to see a lift that will allow people to get more runs on that terrain now.
Morrie Shepard, who is 85 now and still skis about 40 days a season, said he’s just happy to still be around to see the latest improvement.
“(Vail) has changed so much that I really need a map now,” he said. “But it’s wonderful.”
Morrie Shepard thinks the new lift will certainly change the complexion of the Back Bowls, agreeing with some of the critics of the faster lift that the terrain will get skied out more quickly now.
“We rode down today (on Chair 5) and we stopped at the bottom and waited a while, and then they let us come up. By the time we left the bottom there were maybe 200 people waiting at the bottom to get on the lift already,” Morrie Shepard said. “That’s signs of what’s to come.”
Seibert Jr. said the new lift will no doubt help get skiers out of the bowls – and back into them – more quickly.
“Chair 5 was one of the original three lifts at Vail, so for it to go to where it is now is fantastic,” Seibert Jr. said. “I can’t wait to see what happens next.”
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