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Basch: First chair is a fine and sometimes sleepless thing

  • Skiers and snowboarders stand in line for the debut of the new Spruce Peak Triple at Sunday River in Newry, Maine. Many skiers sacrifice sleep to be among the first in line. MARTY BASCH For the Monitor



For the Monitor
Monday, December 18, 2017

Getting first chair is a badge of honor among diehard skiers and riders. Whether it be first chair of the season or first chair of the day, being whisked up to first tracks on a corduroy carpet is worthy of bragging rights in ski country.

But getting first chair on the inaugural run of a new lift invites even more cache.

Take Jeff Olivier of Scarborough, Maine. Olivier, a season pass holder at Sunday River, tends to be at the eight-peak resort on opening and closing days with his son, getting in plenty of skiing in between.

A couple of weeks ago, Olivier drove his son from the suburbs of Portland to Boston for a Saturday show at the Wang Center. After the show, the two drove back home getting there around midnight.

But Olivier had Sunday River on his mind because the new Spruce Peak Triple lift was scheduled to open for the first time at 9 a.m. on Dec. 2. So instead of getting a few hours sleep before loading the Jeep for the ride to the River, Olivier packed his ski gear and hit the road at about 1:30 a.m. for the two-hour drive.

Once there, he decided to skin his way in the cold, clear darkness to the base of the lift.

He was the first one there.

So what did he do to kill some time?

“Then I decided to sit in the chair and sleep for a couple of hours,” he said.

So he did.

When he awoke, he wasn’t alone.

Deano Gilbert, a 54-year old full-time master electrician from Greenwood, Maine was there as well. The sun barely awake, the season pass holder rose early and was in the parking lot at 5:45 a.m. A guy who skis a good 100 days a year and is quick to point out he was on the first chair of the year at Sunday River’s Locke Mountain when it opened November 11 and also got first chair on the Chondola at South Ridge when it started for the season,

“I just love it,” Gilbert said about his first chair obsession. “It’s what we locals do.”

Shortly after 9 a.m. that morning, with scores of skiers and riders in line, the two were in that first chair as the crowd cheered.

The new $2.2 million dollar Doppelmayr lift replaced the old lift that had to be replaced after a maintenance manager noticed damage to the top unloading terminal in the summer of 2016.

The lift, which cuts the ride time from 11 to 8 minutes, extends 1,207 vertical feet from the base of Spruce Peak to the summit. It contains 145 chairs that can carry up to 1,480 guests per hour at a rate of 500 feet per minute.

“It’s great having the lift back on the mountain,” Sunday River president and general manager Dana Bullen said. “Spruce Peak is much happier to have a lift on it and skiers on it.”

Two of those skiers were Wade Seebeck and Corinne Dooley of Glen, an unincorporated community in Bartlett.

The pair, season pass holders who also ski about 100 days a season, also made a conscious effort to be among the first to ride the lift. The two rose at 6 a.m. and were out of the house a half hour later. Their jumping off point for Spruce was Barker Mountain and they were on the high speed squad soon after it opened at 8 a.m. Then they made their way to the base of Spruce to stand in line for about an hour.

They like Spruce, opened in 1986, for its wide, open corduroy cruisers.

“We’re excited for the new chair for sure,” Seebeck said.

“There is no place we would rather be right now,” said Dooley.

But for all those dedicated snow lovers who made early plans to be at Spruce that morning, sometimes coincidence enters into play.

Jake Stephan fields young racers at King Pine in East Madison. Every year the race director holds an early season race camp for the youngsters at Sunday River. They were there to train.

However, his racers told him about the new lift.

“The kids wanted to come, Stephan said. “They said the new chair is opening so let’s go get in line.”

So that they did to earn some bragging rights in their young skiing lives.