An unusual 22-year quest includes Mt. Eyak’s historic chairlift

Peter Landsman of Jackson Hole, Wyoming spent 22 years documenting every ski lift in the country, including Mt. Eyak Ski area. He described Cordova’s lift, which he visited in the summer, as one of the most difficult to reach. Photo courtesy of Liftblog.com

How many chairlifts would you guess there are in the United States?

Well, Peter Landsman, a lift supervisor at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, in Wyoming, recently completed a 22-year quest to ride, photograph, and document every one of them.

While discovering the magic number was 2,381, the one he tagged as most challenging to document is right out our backdoor.

In his pursuit of this unusual hobby, he answered the question of which were the hardest lifts to get to with this: “The Alaska ones. Mt Eyak outside Cordova, which is not an easy place to get in the winter.”

“So, I ended up going there in the summer,” Landsman said. “It took, I think, from here, six flights, six airplanes to get there. For one chair. They have one single chairlift.”

And actually, he didn’t get to ride on it.

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“I didn’t even know he was here,” Mt. Eyak Ski area manager Dave Branshaw said, who like many Cordovans, is off chasing something other than powder during the summer.

“I wish I would have known,” Branshaw said, who fishes commercially. “I could have given him a ride, and also, told him all about the history of our lift. It dates back to 1939. It came from Sun Valley, Idaho, and was one of the first chairlifts ever operated in the U.S. It also is the oldest one still in use. I’m sure that would have intrigued him.”

Landsman fell in love with chairlifts as a toddler skiing in Washington state, and at age 10 began documenting the length, age, and capacity of lifts at Crystal Mountain, Snoqualmie and Stevens Pass.

It evolved into a two-decade quest, in which he has documented, photographed, and ridden on almost every one of the, and that includes single chairlifts, gondolas, trams, platters lifts and T-bars throughout 480 resorts around the country.

“Twenty-two years. I can’t quite believe I’m finished,” Landsman said, while sipping an IPA at a new brewery at the base of Jackson’s Snow King Mountain ski area after a 12-hour shift as a lift operator.

Landsman spends four days a week on the lift crew at family-owned Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Then it’s off to check out ski lifts, often visiting five to 10 per week.

Hmmm. IPA lovers are already excited about the prospect of a new brewery right here in Cordova.

I bet the Sheridan Ski Club could entice Landsman to come back and ride Cordova’s famous single chair lift on a day of endless summer, with barbecued Copper River salmon and frothy local craft ales to follow.

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Dick Shellhorn is a lifelong Cordovan. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 50 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016 and 2020, and third place in 2017 and 2019. He also received second place for Best Editorial Commentary in 2019. Shellhorn has written two books about Alaska adventures: Time and Tide and Balls and Stripes. Reach him at dshorn44@gmail.com.