Vintage snapshots of chairlift riders making their way to the summit of Snow King Mountain in Jackson are fun to sift through. Smiling, happy people are getting their picture taken by an automated camera positioned 3/4 of the way up the hill.
The photo series spans the decades of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. What is most interesting about the collection is the reaction people have to the images. The comment sections of the websites where the photos appear is a study in generational perspectives.
Boomers barely bat an eye at the pics, maybe lingering long enough to see if they recognize an aunt or uncle. By contrast, Gen Zers and Alphas can’t even look at the triggering photos without an overpowering level of nausea and disbelief that such a death trap could have ever existed in the civilized world.
A Matter of Perspective
Go ahead, Google “Snow King chairlift photos.” Here’s the first AI-generated FAQ under “People also ask ...”: “Is Snow King chairlift real?”
It’s solid evidence the general internet-user population is in a state of skepticism over the legitimacy of the images.
No deep fakes here. To quote a line from “Seinfeld:” “They’re real, and they’re spectacular.”
Note that most of the black-and-white shots from the 1950s show single riders, an arm draped casually around the seat’s backrest or looped through the chair’s support pole. The single-chair lift was replaced with a double-chair in 1959, so photos after that feature two riders. By the mid-1960s and into the ’70s, the photos are in color.
One thing that spans the decades in the photo collection is the lack of a safety bar or any other type of safety restraint in any of the pictures. There weren’t any.
The perceived lack of security would have personal injury lawyers drooling and Gen Z and Alphas hunting for their safe places.
A Different Place and Time
“I clenched just looking at it,” wrote one Instagram user.
“Wouldn't catch me dead on that, even with a safety belt. Wish I grew up during those times though. Everyone seemed less worried about pretty much everything,” Joeybaggg posted on Reddit in response to the photos.
And Joeybaggg hit on something right there. It was a different time, and a different generation; one that seemed chiller about pretty much everything.
The generation that designed a ski resort chairlift without so much as an unconscious thought to safety bars was the same generation that drank straight from garden hoses, rode loose in the back of pickups and biked everywhere without helmets.
Sure, there were dangers they were blissfully unaware of like lead in gasoline, asbestos in buildings and nicotine in cigarettes. But probably the biggest reason a barless chairlift could exist in 1965 is because society wasn’t yet the overly litigious one it is now.
No easily obtained information about anyone suing over the resort’s lift system, or record of anyone falling out, surfaces until 2011 (a failed attempt to sue over a 7-year-old’s fall from a lift at Snow King in 2009) and 2021 (an unresolved lawsuit over a “moving chair” injury to Sabita Shrestha).
Snow King’s barless chairs fast-forwarded into today’s world make the resort look more like “Class Action Park,” which is the name of a film documentary about an actual park in New Jersey once considered as possibly the “most dangerous amusement park that ever existed.”
Reflection Of A Gritty Hill
It was never Snow King Mountain’s intent to tempt fate or personal injury attorneys. The old rickety chairs were just part and parcel of this scrappy little ski hill born of winter ennui in 1936. It was the state’s first official ski resort, by the way.
Neil Rafferty was the godfather of Jackson skiing. It was his tireless efforts that eventually brought a rope tow to what was then referred to as simply the “Town Hill.”
The lift was constructed using cast-off equipment from a Casper mining company and powered by an engine from an old Ford tractor.
By 1946, Rafferty put in a chairlift, this time powering the apparatus with an army pickup. Improvements to the chairlift were made along the way, but safety bars were not added until construction of the new Summit Lift in 1981.
Some ski resorts continue to operate today without restraining bars across the front of seated skiers.
Trick Of The Camera
If these old chair seats could talk they would probably echo the panicked screams of some of their earliest riders. Downhill skiing is dangerous enough, the ride up shouldn’t evoke similar trepidation.
But take a closer look at the photos.
Scary, maybe, at first. But to be honest, what you are experiencing is a trick of the camera called forced perspective. In reality, a drop from one of the chairs would not send a skier to the valley floor some 1,500 feet below.
At most, the chairs skim along the side of the mountain about 30-50 feet off the ground. In some places, as little as 20 feet separate rider from earth.
This home video taken in 1948 and provided by Mark Elliott on YouTube gives a better viewpoint for just what it was like to ride the old single chair back in the day.
Some will find it a more relaxing experience. Others will still say, “No way in hell.”