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Getting Uphill Isn't as Fun as Skiing Down

A Survival Guide to Chairlifts, Rope Tows, T-Bars and Other Cold-Weather Tortures

By Ira E. Stoll, Crimson Staff Writer

When you see the advertisements or brochures for ski areas, they always show people gracefully schussing down the mountain.

"Down the mountain" they show. "Up the mountain" they usually leave out.

But you'll spend at least half of your time at scenic, snow-covered Mt. Brokenleg--half of the time that you aren't drunk in the lodge, that is--getting up the hill.

While skiing is fun, easy and even sporting enough to qualify as an Olympic sport, getting up the mountain is more of a challenge than getting down, especially for the uninitiated.

The most common method is the chairift, a mechanized contraption which carries you in an open seat hanging from a cable about 50 feet off the ground. The cable moves, the chair moves and you move up the mountain. It sounds ideal. With chairlifts, as with just about everything, however, the reality isn't as good as the ideal.

What really happens is something like this: You have five seconds to get into position. You stand on a black line, waiting for the chair to arrive behind you. The chair wallops you on the back of the knees, hard, and you plop down in a cold puddle of slushy water. You're scooped up off the ground, and you reach to pull down the guard rail. You drop a mitten, then you drop your ski pole. The mitten and the pole land in a stream which runs through a steep, roped-off area.

You look at the person sitting next to you and realize he looks very much like the escaped convict with bad breath you read about in the morning paper. You look down, and you remember you are afraid of heights.

Getting off the chairlift, you fall down, and the chair smacks you in the back of the head. You pass out, and the people in the chair behind you ski over your face.

So much for the chairlift, a relatively advanced way of getting to the top of Mt. Brokenleg. Remember, people stand in long lines in the freezing cold for the privilege of riding on a chairlift.

You'll find shorter lines at the T-bar, a less advanced way of reaching the summit. There are very few T-Bars remaining at American ski areas, so if you find one, it's probably old and dangerous.

Try it anyway, just for the challenge. On a T-bar, you don't sit on the upside-down wooden T that gives the lift its name. If you just kind of lean, you'll get a gentle ride up the hill. If you sit down, you'll fall, and the people behind you will fall as they try to get out of your way. People have died.

Another way to get up Mt. Brokenleg is the rope tow. About this ancient contraption, I have very little to say. Rope burn. Back pain the next day.

There are other, sexier ways to get to the top of the mountain. The helicopter will get you to unpopulated summits where the perfect run--or avalanche--awaits. When you tell your friends about helicopter skiing, they will be impressed with how rich, or how dumb, you are.

The snowmobile method is environmentally unfriendly. It also leaves you with the problem of how to get back your snowmobile after you leave it at the top of the mountain and ski down. (With the helicopter, you hire a pilot to meet you at the bottom of the hill.)

Finally, you can use your own energy to get to the top of Mt. Brokenleg. This method, also known as walking, is favored by macho ski team members looking to build up those leg muscles. It also comes with the territory in cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Using your own energy to get up the hill is natural, environmentally friendly and relatively risk-free. It will allow your to enjoy the winter beauty at your own pace. And it will save you the 25 bucks you would have spent on a lift ticket.

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