Sunlight lift operator enjoys one cool job |

Sunlight lift operator enjoys one cool job

John GardnerGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. Everyone knows Steve Bingham as “Hippy Joe’s brother,” said Jan Dean, a guest services employee at Sunlight Mountain Resort. When people mistake them, “He always responds, ‘No, I’m Steve. Hippy Joe is my brother,'” Dean said.The brothers Bingham share a place in New Castle and are both lift operators at the resort.Steve’s workday begins around 8 a.m. with a cup of hot coffee and a snow shovel. He always makes first-chair of the day, when he’s working.The lift operation crews’ first priority is to make sure that the lifts are fully operational and running safe. Being responsible for the safety of hundreds of skiers every day was daunting at first, but he’s come to grips with it.”It was tough,” he said. “Having to worry about the safety of someone else and trying to make sure that they are enjoying themselves at the same time … you don’t want someone to get hurt.”Lift operators have a list of actions set by the American National Standards Institute they’re responsible for before the first passengers get a lift up the mountain. For instance, chair lifts have brakes which have to stop the lift within a specified distance in case a passenger falls off. The lift operators have to check the brakes every morning to ensure the brakes are working properly.And if a big storm came in overnight, then he’ll have some snow to move from the loading or unloading zones in the morning.That’s where the shovel comes in.”Being a lift operator is not just standing around all day,” Steve said.This being his fourth season as a lift operator, he’s an old pro.”There isn’t really a typical day here,” Steve said. “There are a number of things you may have to do on any given day.”

Other duties include aiding ski patrol during an accident, act as a part-time instructor as they hand out advice to beginners coming through the lift lines. Part-time trainer for new employees coming to work at the mountain, and they should know the mechanics of the lift in case it needs to be fixed in a pinch.There is a maintenance crew that fixes the lifts, but Steve said that they appreciate it if you can give them a detailed description of what the problem is, so it can be quickly fixed. Bingham added that sometimes he’s even a part-time baby-sitter.In a loose sense.”You’ve always got to keep an eye on the kids and the beginners,” he said.

Despite all the responsibility, he still has plenty of fun at work. And makes time, as most resort employees do, to at least get in one run during the day.There’s a rotation of operators that gives everyone an hour break during the day, he said.”You can eat lunch, take a nap, or whatever,” Steve said. “But if you want to take a run you have to consider that it takes 20 minutes to get to the top. So you have to make it a good run because you won’t have enough time to make it up again.”Steve confessed that some employees may take a few extra minutes than prescribed, but it’s all good.”It’s a pretty relaxed job, really,” he said.Lift operators are separated into three crews, each with a crew leader like Steve. Lift operations manager Travis Tucker said that it can be difficult to keep good workers around because of the seasonal nature of the position, but he’s kept Steve coming back.”The good guys I try to keep around,” Tucker said. “He’s one of the best. A man of many positions.”The brothers Bingham grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area, but have found the Roaring Fork Valley the place they want to call home.”He’s (Joe) the reason that I moved here,” Steve said.Joe is also the reason that Steve went to work at Sunlight.”Everyone knows Joe,” Steve said.Living and working with a sibling, however, can be taxing. But Steve does have a way to “get away,” so to speak.For him, his place is at the top of the Primo lift. What he refers to as the “King’s seat.””On a clear day with a blue sky, you get a great view of Sopris,” he said.Occupying the “King’s seat” brings added responsibility to an already lengthy list. The operators manning the higher posts on the mountain have to sweep the mountain at the end of the day to check for anything out of the ordinary.”Each person takes a path and you basically just comb the mountain to determine that everyone is down,” he said. “You want to make sure that no injured skiers are lost in the trees or anything.”He still doesn’t complain about having to put in a little more time on the mountain. After all, time on the mountain is still time on the mountain.That’s just his outlook.

Contact John Gardner: 945-8515, ext. 16604jgardner@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

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