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Ode to Chairlift Anonymity

To hell with the internet; a ski resort is the best place to reinvent yourself.

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Once or twice a year my friends Jeremy and Blake would don blue jeans, gaiters, and novelty teeth and borrow snowblades and rear-entry boots from the Summit County rental shop where they worked. West Virginia natives both, they’d ride the lifts just to horrify tourists with tales of raw redneck mayhem. In every one, someone ended up naked and stranded in the woods. Most of the stories were made up. I think.

Me, I prefer to spin my lies without props. Get on a chairlift with strangers and you’ll likely end up nattering on about what a great city Chicago is or giving out a dinner recommendation. You’ll never get those 10 minutes back. You have options, though. You can make small talk, stare at your skis, or, like Jeremy and Blake, lie your way into 10 minutes of entertainment.

On some rides, I’ve pretended to be Jan, personal Austrian ski instructor to the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, who was visiting Jackson Hole with his retinue, complete with a team of tossable dwarfs. “Ze prince is at ze shpa,” I’d say. “Zo I am frei-skiink today.” I’ve been an assistant chef at the Rockefellers’ personal enclave at Grand Teton National Park. “You want to know what’s weird? They actually eat oysters Rockefeller at least once a week.”

I try to base my lies on some shred of reality. Stories do exist about the crown prince and his dwarfs visiting the valley, and the Rockefellers really did have a fully staffed ranch in Grand Teton National Park. (It was turned over to the National Park Service in 2001.)

The most believable lie, though, is someone else’s reality. One season my friend Carrie decided to ask her chairlift partners to tell her a story of getting caught having sex. For most, it took a little coaxing. “Oh, come on,” she’d say with an impish smile. “Everyone has a story. And it’s not like you’ll ever see me again.” Apparently everyone wants to confess something scandalous to a stranger and then ski off into the crowd, because the stories poured forth: in the airplane bathroom when the stewardess knocked on the door; in flagrante delicto on the roof of a parking garage as 30 nursing-home residents looked on. When it was her turn to share, bored with her own story, Carrie would merely assume the lead role in an earlier chairlift confession. Then, the chair coming into line with the final towers, she’d clear her poles, raise the bar, and ski off into anonymity behind her mirrored goggles.

Three Long Lift Rides to Get Your Pinocchio On

1. Sugarloaf, Maine’s West Mountain Chair, 22 minutes
Topic: How you retired as a wealthy sub-prime mortgage broker.

2. Squaw Valley, California’s Silverado Triple, 15 minutes
Topic: “I have 10 days to live, and today is my first time on skis.”

3. Vail, Colorado’s High Noon Lift, 11 minutes
Topic: Your role as T. Boone Pickens’s executive assistant.