It’s handy to have a backpack full of snacks, water, and sunscreen on the slopes, but is it safe to ride the chairlift with a pack?
The story has already achieved legend status. In January at Arapahoe Basin, a skier wearing a backpack got snarled up on the lift while unloading, sending him around the bullwheel, basically hung from the neck. Efforts to unhook the skier by building a human pyramid failed. Well, it just so happened that a professional slackliner was in the vicinity. (You can’t make this stuff up.)
He figured he could easily scurry up the lift tower, shimmy along the lift’s wire, and unhook the dude in distress. The slacklining superhero did just that, but couldn’t release the imperiled skier—who by now was dangling unconscious. So naturally, a ski patroller chucked up a pocket knife, which the slackliner caught—on the first try—and cut the poor guy loose, thereby saving his life.
It’s a frightening story. And one that has me re-thinking my backpack-wearing ways. Since my kids were young, I’ve skied with a pack, if for no other reason than to be armed with a wide variety of snacks at all times. At any given moment, even right after lunch, my kids will claim they are starving.
A few weeks after the A-Basin incident, I was riding a chairlift at Breckenridge and… when I went to dismount, I realized one of my straps was caught on the back of the chair. I had the presence of mind to just sit tight and ride around the bullwheel, which kicked off the lift’s safety mechanism. The chair ground to a halt. I unhooked the strap and hopped off. I was still only a foot off the ground.
It was an ignominious moment, to be sure. My youngest son happened to be at the top with his entire ski team. “Mom, you are such a Jerry!!!” If you follow Jerry of the Day on Instagram, you’d know this was no compliment.
I’ve tried not skiing with my pack, but then I’m constantly in need of some little something—sunscreen, neck gaiter, my inhaler—and I don’t have it. I was riding the lift at Eldora a while back and my pack soon became a point of conversation. “Did you hear about the guy who got rescued by the slackliner?” asked the skier sitting next to me. Indeed I had, I said. “And this may be nosy, but what do you have in there?”
So I listed it out for him:
- 1 turkey, bacon and avocado sandwich on a whole-wheat Kaiser roll
- 2 Mojo bars
- 1 apple
- 2 types of sunscreen (one for me; one for the kids)
- 1 lip balm
- 1 small bottle Advil
- 1 asthma inhaler
- 1 small bottle of fog-reducing goggle stuff and accompanying wipe
- 1 pair of mittens (I was wearing gloves)
- 2 packs reusable handwarmers
- 1 small Ziploc of feminine products
- 1 neck gaiter
- Car keys
- Prescription eyeglasses in a hard case (so I can see in the lodge)
- Ski straps
- Cocoa packets, VIA instant coffee packets, and herbal tea bags
- Duct tape
- 1 cowbell (my kids are ski racers)
He was was particularly interested in my sandwich.
Here’s another reason I like skiing with my pack. My pack has straps for carrying skis, so when I hike to the top of Tucker Mountain at Copper or hike out of Teocali Bowl at Crested Butte, which I did earlier this season, I can pop my skis onto the pack and hike hands free.
What’s inside my pack is also a statement on my life stage. Once upon a time, I had an avalanche shovel in my pack. Those were the days Before Kids. Now I’m more apt to have a stuffed animal sticking out of the back of my pack than an avalanche probe. And that’s okay. Though I once found a piece of ham in my purse (undoubtedly handed to me by a finicky toddler) and that was not okay.
Now that I’ve gotten used to skiing with the pack’s hip- and sternum-belt all cinched down, I feel kind of naked skiing without it.
I intend to keep skiing with a pack, but now I unclip the straps in the lift maze and swing the pack onto my lap for chairlift rides. This way I’m less likely to get caught on the chair for another embarrassing ride around the bullwheel—or worse. I certainly don’t want to be one of those unfortunate souls featured on YouTube, dangling off the chair from a backpack.
My kids would definitely not think that was cool.
And in case you’re intrigued by that ridiculous bear photo, see my blog post, The Fudge Factor.