From the moment we woke, outside was completely white. The kind of white that will only vaguely let you see objects within a few meters.
As usual I prepared for work. As a Lifty we don’t get to choose whether or not we go out. If the conditions are horrific, and we are on the roster, we strap on our boards and get out there. On leaving the accommodation there was no suggestion of heavy winds, only the usual calm of the mountain. I set off on foot to Eagle Chairlift (the usual meeting point for all of us Lifties in the morning) where we waited for all the appropriate clearances, loaded the chairs, and went off to work. But this was no ordinary chair ride.
At the base of Eagle Chair everything seemed normal. A little colder than usual perhaps, but nothing extraordinary. Our ascent began and very shortly I could hear the whistle of the wind. By half way up the Chairlift the wind was extremely heavy. All three of us on the chair were gripping the safety bar as it swayed uneasily in the wind. I remember looking at the chairs returning to the bottom swaying so hard that they were nearly hitting the Lifts columns. About three quarters of the way up, Milli (who was sitting beside me), had her helmet blow completely off her head and into the ‘never to be found again’ unknown.
Eventually we all got to the Top of the Chair and grouped by work buddies for the day (the lifts stopped immediately and went on a wind hold that lasted for two straight days). Milli and I were working at a Lift Station that was at the bottom of a blue and black run area, with some very steep terrain. We skated our boards across to the top of the run we needed to take and strapped our other feet in. The wind was horrible, as we stood up and pointed our boards down the mountain, the wind was smashing ice and snow so hard against us that we were being pushed back up hill. We eventually had to make the decision to unstrap our boards and start trekking down very steep and slippery terrain, straight in to the wind, dragging our boards with us. It took about 15 minutes worth of slowly struggling downhill for us to reach a point at which we could actually strap our boards on and get to work at the bottom.
Once we reached the bottom we were immediately notified of the wind hold situation. Basically it was too dangerous to operate the lifts in such extreme conditions. Unless you happen to be a Lifty of course.
During a wind hold, depending on circumstances, Lifties can end up doing a variety of things. During a wind hold at a bottom station with excessive snow means an entirely shovelling work shift. Unfortunately this was that shift, so we picked up our shovels and started digging. I remember the ice being so hard to break that we were using a hammer drill with a giant ice bit trying to break it up.
I remember standing at the base of the slope looking up the mountain. The air at the base was still but I could see the chairs swinging wildly in the wind above. Most notably I remember staring at the slopes as the high winds picked up all the fresh snow and carried it in wind currents, meandering it up the side of the mountain through the natural features and moguls.
This was one of the most extreme experiences I have ever had, it wasn’t very fun, but I’m so happy I was there to experience it.