The Ski Channel’s Favorite Lifts: Chair 23, Mammoth Mountain

Posted By: Zeke Piestrup on March 4, 2009 1:00 pm


Like a work of art, the meaning of Chair 23 is completely subjective.  To some it is intimidating, daunting.  Others see endless happiness.  Its meaning can be of the symbolic nature.  A rite of passage.  Chair 23, as all great art does, demands a response.
Now even if the interpretation is subjective, there are still technical requirements.  Chair 23 exceeds in all categories.  Eschewing pun, it has a giant vertical, a suspended road trip of 1,121 feet in six minutes flat.  And for any chairlift to be a favorite, Terrain Served is weighted heavily.
The terrain of Chair 23 defies any regimented routine.  As the snow changes so do the best lines on the mountain.  Each one is special in its own way.  One day its quick turns, hugging the high side of the quarter pipe ridgeline down Drop Out Chutes.  Another day, perfect Mammoth wind buff has set up a Super G course on Scotty’s Left.  And of course, on the big powder days, it’s pick a line, any line.  All of 23′s terrain is above the tree-line.  Wide open, steep, fast.  You are your only limitation.
Mammoth Mountain has a secret snow weapon: wind.  Night time winds blowing off the ridge tops, perform snow reconstruction that would make a plastic surgeon envious.  Mammoth wind buff, as it is reverently called, is created by high winds blowing over the ridges, depositing snow from the windward side of the mountain to the leeward face of Chair 23.  Dimples and acne scars removed, as an entire new, smooth face is constructed out of the old one.  Powder will always hold the top spot in the Snow Type Rankings, but Mammoth wind buff is not far behind.  If you catch a super windy day at Mammoth, rejoice for what tomorrow holds.
"Tomorrow" for me was a recent Friday.  Thursday’s winds had dawned a perfect ski Friday.  Sun, no wind, the deepest snow pack in the country, and an entire mountain of new snow created without the aid of a storm cloud.  Mammoth wind buff is one of nature’s greatest stories and Chair 23 owns the rights.
23′s features are a terrain park on the galaxian scale.  There are endless lines to be explored and perfected.  Chutes, hits, drops, natural quarter pipes, and runs wider than the sky above.  The varying snow conditions that develop between storm cycles all benefit different aspects of 23.  Powder days may be categorized as filet mignon, but who does not like sushi?  Or pizza for that matter?  Regardless of the date on the last snow fall, Chair 23 is serving it up, real tasty!
The terrain of Chair 23, as incredible as her credentials are, shares top-billing with the lift itself.   23 is a chairlift masterpiece.
The end station of Chair 23 would fit right in to Jacques Tati’s Play Time.  France’s most celebrated filmmaker, Tati created a vision of the future that looks the same as the top of 23.  But where Tati’s steel and glass world was stylized intentionally to feel cold and distant, Chair 23′s location, perched atop 10,825 feet, only heightens the natural wonders of its setting.  As bold as its design, the tinted glass structure deflects attention, reflecting the surrounding scenics.   On one side, the jagged, pointed Minarets canvas the outside of Chair 23′s structure.  Chairlift names today go beyond the non-distinctive nature of a simple number, but Chair 23′s name, and style, would fit right in to Tati’s world.
The artist of this creation has a story as unique as the design of Chair 23.  Yanek Kunczynski was a Polish immigrant and former ski racer.  He married the daughter of the founder of Squaw Valley, and founded his lift manufacturing company in 1965.  Kunczyinski’s overflowing passion and entrepreneurial nature made the eventual partnership with Dave McCoy, Mr. Mammoth Mountain, seem inevitable.  These were swashbuckling times, and Kunczyinski and McCoy both were men of great vision.  Kunczyinski is credited with bringing aesthetics into lift design, function merging with style.  And of all of Kunczyinski’s creations, Chair 23 is his masterpiece.  The end station is futuristically urban in style, standing center stage in an amphitheater of mountain tops.  With the convergence of urbanity and nature, Kunczynski created a glorious symbol for Mammoth Mountain.  One that is timeless, as all great art is.

Landmark symbols spawn surrounding folklore, and Chair 23 is no different.  Glen Plake, the madman on skis, is rumored to have launched out of the end station onto the chutes below no less than 11 times!
Special chairlifts hold memories specific to time and place.  Chair 23′s style and terrain are memory engraving.  A physical song of songs, a work of art, and a Ski Channel Favorite.


Zeke Piestrup ( More Posts)

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