March 28, 2024

Everything is wrong with the Wilbere chairlift at Snowbird ski area in Utah. It is one of the three original lifts at Snowbird that opened in 1971. Mmm…our math ain’t great but we think this makes Wilbere 43 years old. They didn’t make high speed chairs back then so…it is slow. They didn’t make quad chairs back then so…it is a double. They didn’t make chairs with soft seats back then so…the seats are made of plastic slats. They didn’t make really long chairs back then so…it is short. 668 vertical feet short. (We grew up skiing lifts with greater vertical than that on molehills in western New York State!)

In addition, even though the base of the Wilbere lift is at the base of the mountain, there are no services there so… nowhere to buy tickets, nowhere to put boots on and nowhere to buy french fries or hot chocolate. And finally the history on the name of the lift is odd. It is named after Snowbird’s co-founder’s wife Wilma, whose nickname apparently was Wilbere.  Even though spelled differently but pronounced the same, how one doesn’t think of Charlotte’s Wilbur or Mr. Ed’s Wilbur when you think of the Wilbere lift we don’t know. (We will wait while everybody under the age of 60 looks up those Wilbur references.) Call us old and slow like the lift itself perhaps, but despite all these questionable attributes, we LOVE the Wilbere lift.

On a typical powder morning at Snowbird folks rush to catch the tram or one of the other lifts that will take them to or near the summit. And the masses also rush to the high speed, high volume lifts. The powder panic accompanying this rush to these lifts is exhausting and waiting for the lifts to open in frenetically charged lift lines is painful. We have had skiers walk over our skis and literally try to push us aside while yelling they have preferred status in the lift lines. We have all seen it, right? For all these reasons we avoid these upper lifts and the fastest lifts and head for good ole Wilbere on a powder day.

On a recent powder morning we joined about 20 other skiers and hopped on Wilbere as it opened. As expected, we found untracked deep snow. Snowbird quickly announced that all the upper lifts were open, and we were greeted only by the lift operator at the bottom of Wilbere after our second run. Bill and I lost count of how many untracked runs on Wilbere we had that morning. Our best guess was 10. As we finally moved on to other areas of the mountain we were confident that very few people had skied as much fresh powder as we had that morning. And maybe it is the western New York upbringing we both had, but we don’t mind if it comes in 668 feet increments.

That morning had special meaning for us. Bill’s ski season was coming to a close, and, even though Bill and I take thousands of turns together every winter, the last days are always a mix of appreciation for what we have had and sadness for its ending. We always assume there will be another year but as we age we have become fully aware that such assumptions may be mistaken. Less emotionally but nonetheless quite sad is that Snowbird has the audacity to be replacing the Wilbere lift!

In the name of progress Snowbird will be wiping out our powder lift. The only thing that will remain the same is the name!  Every other aspect of the new lift will negate all the things we love about the existing lift. The new lift will be a quad. Again math is not our specialty, but we think this will double the number of people on the terrain. There can be no question that the new lift will have fat cushy seats. And perhaps worst of all, the base of the lift will be adjacent to large parking lots and a base lodge. All those softies who need hot chocolate and warm boots can then load on the lift directly from the lodge and track out our hidden spots.

We all have our favorite ski lift(s).  Typically, like the Wilbere lift, our cherished lifts are older and slower and despised by most other skiers because of those questionable attributes. Over the years we have seen those lifts replaced by a more modern lifts. These new lifts are faster, hold more skiers and therefore put more people on the hill. And for all those reasons we hate them. This is just the story of one of our favorite lifts that is slated for the garbage heap, only to be replaced by a more modern beast. This unfortunately, however, is a common tale.

Now…if Alta ever tries to replace the Wildcat double lift…

Be Well; Ski Well.

conSKIerge co-founder

Kevin Dennis is a life long ski bum with a 34 year legal career on the side. Now retired, he skis 80+ days a year. While he lives in Alta UT in the winters, he has traveled extensively through skiing and has skied almost every major resort in North America (and many you have never heard of). He continues to hit the road often throughout the western United States and Canada and trips over the last several years have included ventures in British Columbia, Montana and Colorado. Whether you want to know about the behemoths like Aspen or Squaw or are interested in the road less travelled (Lost Trail Powder Mountain in Montana or Whitewater in BC anyone?), Kevin has been there, has an opinion and you will most likely have to tell him to shut up after a half hour!