This article is part of SKI’s series, “Why I Ski,” highlighting a diverse roundup of passionate skiers and what inspires them to pursue the ski lifestyle.
In 1967, a 22-year-old Chip Lambert landed a job instructing at Tahoe’s Alpine Meadows ski resort. Fifty-four years later, he’s a fully-certified PSIA instructor and Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows’ longest-employed staff member. He even has a trail, “Chip’s Challenge,” named after him.
In his more than five decades on the slopes, he’s had a front-row seat to the modern development of our sport, from its very early days to whatever period we’re in now. He’s seen equipment come and go out of style, new skiing techniques take root and evolve, and taught countless skiers how to slide on snow over the course of his career.
Safe to say, Lambert is a skier through and through. Here’s what’s kept him on the slope’s day after day, year after year, and decade after decade.
He found a way to do it cheaply.
In 1962, I moved from junior racing in California with teammate Spider Sabich to the University of Colorado where Bob Beattie coached a professional-caliber race team. When hopes of racing at the Olympic level didn’t pan out, another racer and I shifted to a goal of becoming instructors at Berthoud Pass in Colorado in order to pursue skiing as inexpensively as possible.
I did the same thing as a microbiology graduate student a few years later. Back in California, I started instructing at Tahoe’s Alpine Meadows ski resort, which I had become entranced with shortly after it opened when I was a junior racer.
Change keeps things interesting.
Five-plus decades of change is impactful. It’s challenging to experience the shifts in equipment and the necessary changes in your skiing technique. I started out racing on 215cm skis with a 70mm waist width and watched the changeover to shorter, wider skis with a more radical sidecut. I experienced the first plastic boots, the first snowmaking, new chairlifts, the freestyle movement, and a lot more.
Anytime there’s change you’re resistant to it to a certain extent. The new parabolic skis seemed like cheating because turning was so much easier. However, the new ski design produced a revolution in ski technique and teaching methodology that continues until the next significant innovation that doesn’t involve a snowboard.
In the end, a lot of this change has positively impacted the sport, which makes it easier to accept. It really shifted skiing from work to fun for me. I’m looking forward to the developments over the next 70 years…well, most of it.
Related: The Metamorphosis of Glen Plake
Because age is irrelevant.
I recognize that I ski moguls differently in my advanced lessons today than I used to, but my experience allows me to choose terrain that is challenging and satisfying to all students. I encourage aging skiers to keep challenging themselves, as long as it is fun and enjoyable, no matter their age. Most of enjoying the snow is mental, it’s not that damaging to your body. Albeit, I’ve had one knee replaced and another probably should be! I’m going to keep going as long as I can contribute, and I’m not anywhere near finished.
It gives you a community wherever you are.
Skiing becomes a way of life, and the people participating in that way of life are often your intimate friends. From early childhood friends who spent winter days with sleds, skates, or skis (no TV or snowboards), to my wedding at the Alpine Meadows chalet 35 years ago, many were the same friends playing with the same toys.
Having traveled the world with instructors from Alpine Meadows ski school, sharing the beauty, excitement, and challenge of the mountains, you become a family, especially when the beer is really cold after a particularly exhilarating powder day. Even when working in Saudi Arabia for five years, I returned to teach at least one class a year. Find your ski community and share adventurous and challenging experiences.
Helping others get into skiing is the ultimate reward.
Teaching people the movements in a way that they can understand is what I’m here to do after all these years. We instructors talk too much when students only retain a few key words. They tend to quickly forget key concepts after a lesson. In my classes, I have reduced the instructions to five words: Release the ski edges; Pressure the ski’s front; Transfer weight to the outside ski; Rotary (steering); and Reengage the edges to complete the turn. It’s great to have former students ski past my classes and call out “RPeTRR” while making well-shaped parallel turns. When I see students get better, it provides the satisfaction that I have done something right.
Because there’s no telling who you’ll meet on the chair or the slopes.
I’ve taught all sorts of fascinating people, and a lot of students have great stories. This year, a student proposed to his girlfriend in the middle of my lesson. We found a spot on the hill that was photogenic, took pictures, and the other students raised their poles when the ring was slipped on the finger.
I taught a student who was a ballerina, a circus performer, and had a Stanford law degree. She told me “this was the best lesson I’ve had in anything.”
Being a part of peoples’ lives for a few hours while teaching them makes me appreciate the sport even more. Some people have come back four or five years in a row for lessons with me, and watching them improve makes me love what I’m doing. That’s why I’ll be back for year 55 in 2022—it’s the satisfaction from teaching my students to achieve this ultimate dance form on snow.