The faces you see in the T-bar line at Breckenridge comprise a cross section of society unlike any I know of. It's part of the reason why the maze feels so at home to so many people.
On a given weekday, good snow or bad, you bump into plumbers, carpenters, photographers, property managers, forestry workers, firefighters, ski techs and, of course, some of the world's most famous pro skiers and snowboarders.
They are all dressed in their unique gear - some in grubby old jackets and tattered pants scrounged from the dumpster, others in shiny new digs provided by sponsors or scored on shop forms -- but their sense of place unites them.
With few exceptions, people who ski the T-bar are into lapping steeps. They covet the windloaded snow that accumulates in Horseshoe Bowl two or three times as fast as it does elsewhere on the mountain. They know about the natural coolers that keep the turns soft and fresh in the trees below the bowl, often three or four days after a storm has moved east.
There is not a lot of favor to be gained in the T-bar line for moves that delay the overall process. If you fall down in the loading terminal, chances are someone's going to recommend you go to the back of the line, as well they should. If you're moseying along as a single, you can count on being approached and then accompanied to the top by any number of local diehards,
who would rather eat burning poop than watch someone ride the T-bar alone on a crowded day, powder or not.
The T-bar line is a place to see people you know; to find out where the snow is skiing well. It can be stressful sometimes, jockeying for position in the maze -- especially early on deep-snow mornings, when it feels like half the town is there.
I once was waiting for the lifties to open the maze on a 10-inch day, with my wife Larissa standing next to me. I was eyeing other people to gauge their commitment to beat us to the front, fidgeting and staring, when Larissa said: "Stop doing that. You're making me anxious. We'll get there, don't worry."
To which I responded: not a word. Among the many unwritten codes that govern lift lines like the T-Bar's, you mustn't talk about your strategy or even admit that it exists. When the lifties dropped the ropes a few minutes later, we tore off like starving hyenas toward the front, pursuing the coveted first T. We ended up third, and I spent the ride defending my fervor to Larissa and trying to explain why our No. 3 T-bar was worth her anxiety.
One run down the bowl solved that problem.
-- Devon ONeil