In our quest for reach and coverage by the NYTimes and Huffington Posts of the world, we sometimes overlook less obvious, smaller, yet highly-relevant channels filled by passionate people in tiny niches.
Peter Landsman is one of those passionate people, and ski lifts is his niche.
A year and a half into his side-project, Lift Blog, Peter has taken the love of skier-movers to new heights and unlocked a hidden interest in these contraptions that, as you’ll read below, is much larger than most of us realize. I wanted to get his story, so I did. Enjoy.-
Gregg: Peter, what’s your story. Where are you from, where did you learn to ski, what do you do for a living, etc.?
Peter: I grew up in Seattle skiing on the weekends at Snoqualmie Pass and Crystal Mountain. Some of my earliest memories are riding a high speed lift for the first time at Stevens Pass and wondering about the word Doppelmayr on chairs at Sun Valley. I started working on a database of pictures and stats (manufacturer, length, vertical, number of towers, etc.) of different lifts when I was in 5th grade. The advent of the internet really allowed me to learn as much as I could about the lift companies and I studied the trail maps of resorts all over to find out what lifts they had. When I applied to college, I wrote my application essay about the lift database I had built, which by then included every ropeway in North America – 5,577 of them. I ended up going to school in Maine and skied my way through as much of New England as I could. The fall after I graduated in 2012 I went to Jackson Hole’s job fair and started as a gondola operator. I’ve been year-round at JHMR since then, operating the tram in the summer and supervising the gondola crew in the winter.
Gregg: What’s the right word for your relationship with lifts? Love? Passion? Fascination? All of the above? Whatever the word, when did it start?
Peter: Lifelong passion would be a good description. I really couldn’t say exactly where it started but it is almost as old as I am.
Gregg: Speaking of which, that surprised me when I first learned how young you were. So what did you study in school and why? With your love of lifts, was everyone assuming you’d do something like engineering?
Peter: I just turned 27. Email was my friend when I was younger and didn’t think anyone would take me seriously. I got Doppelmayr to send me their Worldbook every year and subscribed to SAM as a “ski area student” when I was in middle school to get access to their annual lift survey. My degree is in government. It’s what my older brother did and at 18 I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do except work at a ski resort. Interestingly, if you read my blog you know that more and more governments around the world are purchasing lifts for public transportation.
Gregg: What it is it about lifts, then, that drives a kid in elementary school to build his own database? What that fuels the passion? Can you put your finger on why you love them, or is it just sort of there and you can’t shake it? Is there anything else you’ve ever been this passionate about?
Peter: I was always kind of a nerdy kid interested in technology and good at researching things. I’m the type of person who gets on an airplane and finds out what model it is and where it was built. Lifts combine a lot of my favorite things…cool technology, skiing and the mountains. I work at the tram almost every day and when I go home I write my blog about lifts and check out other resorts on the weekends.
Gregg: Favorite 3 lifts in the world and why?
Peter: 1. Peak 2 Peak at Whistler. A 3S combines everything good about an aerial tramway with the efficiency of a gondola. Peak 2 Peak holds multiple world records and connects two world-class ski mountains with stunning scenery along the way. 2. Bridger Gondola at Jackson Hole. It’s the first lift I ever worked and although the tram gets all the fame, the gondola is a beast of a machine. With 2,700’ of vertical, it can move six tram cars worth of people in 15 minutes. The cabin storage facility that holds the gondolas at night is super cool and something most people never get to see. 3. Mt. Rainier Gondola at Crystal Mountain. A top-to-bottom lift is is a huge positive development at Crystal, where I learned to ski. A 14,000-foot volcano greets you at the top and the snow is usually deep on the way back down.
Gregg: For some ski area folks that have spent all day every day around lifts for 30 years, I think sometimes they’re surprised that something so common in their world is so novel to others. I’ve seen you share a few stats about your readership and site visitation that I think are a great illustration of a hidden interest in lifts that many industry people don’t realize. Can you share some key stats about your blog? Number of posts, most views on a single post, total pageviews, total monthly etc.?
Peter: My blog gets an interesting mix of industry folks, die-hard skiers and people who are just interested in the technology. I’m a year and a half in with 355 posts to date. Readership is growing and a good day sees a couple thousand unique visitors and a good month 75,000 page views. The most for a single post is actually one I wrote recently about Big Sky’s bubble six-pack that’s under construction. Big Sky shared it on their Facebook page and it has been read over 5,000 times. Anything about lift construction or upcoming expansions does well. I did an interview with Carl Skylling of Skytrac when Leitner-Poma acquired them and that caught a lot of interest.
Gregg: That really is impressive and, again, underscores the huge interest in lifts many folks just don’t realize exists. And props on that pace, 355 in a year and a half is incredible. What can resorts do to help your efforts? Is it photos? Is it access? Is it connecting you with the right people? Tech specs? Other?
Peter: Every day I work at the J.H. tram I meet people who want to learn how the machine works and take a tour of the motor room. Not everyone is interested but a certain demographic totally is. As far as supporting me, I love when resorts invite me to a lift-related announcement or give me a head’s up when a big lift milestone is happening. That is how the recent Big Sky post I mentioned came about, with a simple invitation from the marketing team. They gave me a ride up the hill to watch a helicopter fly lift towers and bought me lunch. Even just sending along some pictures or responding to my emails if I have questions is super helpful. I won’t name the resort that detained and questioned me for taking pictures of their lifts!
Gregg: What’s the goal for both you professionally and the blog? In other words, where do you want to be doing for work in 5-10 years and where do you hope Lift Blog will be when you get there?
Peter: I would like to see Lift Blog continue to grow with more people reading and commenting. I started Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts that people can follow if they are interested in what’s going on in the lift world. Leitner-Poma and Deasonbuilt Manufacturing are my first two advertisers and cover some of the costs of running around to different ski areas, which I am grateful for. Every lift is different and I would love to travel to more places to write about. I have never skied in Europe and want to visit what is really the heart of lift technology and manufacturing in the Alps. I enjoy sharing my enthusiasm about lifts with guests and co-workers at Jackson Hole and I’m not exactly sure what the future will bring. I have gained a lot of valuable experience in mountain operations and made some great connections in the industry through my blog.
Published October 14th, 2016 by Gregg Blanchard.