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Know the West

Lifties and ski patrol go head to head in Telluride


It’s a Telluride tradition: the annual St. Patrick’s Day lifties versus ski patrol softball game. To understand the magnitude of this yearly matchup, it’s important to understand the social dynamic of these two groups in any ski town.

Ski patrol is full of alpha males and females, talented and aggressive skiers—in general only skiers—who have an important and dangerous job: assessing terrain and providing medical care to injured people on the slopes.

Lifties, on the other hand, are your more traditional ski bums, and in Telluride they’re mostly snowboarders. The stereotypical liftie wears dreadlocks, smells faintly of marijuana and showers infrequently. These guys and girls have a mostly thankless and monotonous job, standing for hours at a time helping kids, tourists, and know-it-all locals get on and off lift chairs. They do the job because they love to ski or ride, and being a liftie allows them to do so every day.

Both groups are fixtures in ski towns. Anyone who’s lived in one can immediately peg someone as a liftie-type or a ski patrol-type, though, as with all stereotypes, there are exceptions. Someone who hasn’t spent much time in a ski town might lump the two groups together and call them ski bums, but here we know that they are, in fact, diametrically opposed.

The yearly softball matchup takes place at the base of Lift 7 on a large flat patch of snow outside ski patrol’s uber-secret private bar. It takes on the feel of any feel-good sports movie, with ski patrol playing the role of Team Iceland in “D2” or the Cowboys in “Little Giants” or the prep school skier kids in “Johnny Tsunami,” and the lifties serving dutifully as the lovable underdogs.

Both teams, and the 100-or-so locals (there was even a liftie from Vermont in the cheering section!) in attendance are drunk on Jameson and Guinness and skunked PBR from a keg buried in the snow, and the snowy field is painted with some kind of green dye and a giant shamrock in the middle. The lifties are in charge of the music, thank God, much as they are in charge of the music every other day on the mountain, with their speaker systems at each lift providing a soundtrack for Telluride.

All this—the Hatfields and McCoys duking it out for town bragging rights—makes for a great story. But what makes it a great spectacle is the requirement that players wear their skis or snowboards during the game. A pitcher from Team Liftie, one foot locked into his snowboard, lobs a softball to a batter from Team Ski Patrol, who knocks it into left field and begins skating, skis in V formation, toward first base. A liftie outfielder hops to where he thinks the ball is heading, dragging his snowboard along, reaches the ball and tosses it to second base, where the patroller has just sprayed snow on the second baseman as he skids into second.

The lifties contingent of fans on the first base side is louder and larger, but the ski patrol has a respectable number in its cheering section on the third base side. Fans come and go, and only once does a visiting tourist stumble upon this game taking place in Bottom’s wood.

“Hey, you’ve gotta check this out,” he tells his friend.

Nobody knows what the score is or what inning it is, but eventually the game ends and the teams come together around the shamrock in the middle of the field. Whiskey is passed around and the keg is killed. As darkness falls, the two teams stumble away from the field, no longer distinguishable.