When done right, mountain decor combines a love for all things alpine with a sophisticated yet comfortable aesthetic. Rely on a few too many woodsy cliches, however, and you get a house full of DIY ski chairs, antlers, and cowboy kitsch.
Fortunately, companies like Denver-based Ski Lift Designs are proving that upcycled ski furniture doesn’t have to be tacky. Instead, it can be downright inspired.
Founded in 2017 by three adventurous friends who grew up skiing, Ski Lift Designs takes cast-away chairlifts and repurposes them into what co-founder Jacques Boiteau calls “interactive art.”
The chairlifts come from “everywhere and anywhere,” especially small, local ski areas scattered across the country. When places like Washington State’s Summit at Snoqualmie or Arizona’s Mount Lemmon want to upgrade to high-speed, four-person chairlifts, the old double and triple fixed-gear lifts are discarded. Boiteau and his team travel from coast to coast picking up the vintage chair lifts—many of which date to the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.
Sometimes they find chairlifts in junkyards in cities like Spokane, Washington. Other times the Ski Lift Designs crew fly into Detroit, rent a U-Haul, and drive into Canada to save chairlifts from tiny ski areas like Ontario’s Devil’s Glen Ski Club. The on-going search, Boiteau says, is a “hidden part of the project I didn’t expect.” Deciphering the difference between a Hall Double Chair and a Heron Poma Double Chair is a bit “like a car,” Boiteau goes on, “If you have an eye for it you can tell what year they are and who manufactured the chairs.”
Once the ski lifts are brought back to Denver, Ski Lift Designs gets to work breathing new life into the aging chairs. A round of sandblasting removes rust and chipping paint, then they fabricate and fit mounting brackets to make the lifts usable in homes. A final round of powder coated paint—available in a range of colors—adds durability, after which the revitalized chairlifts are shipped to customers.
Unlike other ski lift furniture that “might hang crooked,” says Boiteau, his company ensures that each chair fits perfectly in each customer’s space. Chairlifts are “an engineered system that’s meant to hang on a free-flowing cable.” And while most customers use the chairs as a focal point, the lifts work equally well on a front porch as they do as a conversation piece in a home’s entryway.
A stand-alone chairlift ski bench from Ski Lift Designs costs $1,250 while a hanging double chair lift costs around $2,000. The company can also create custom chair designs; Ski Lift Designs hopes to expand into other furniture—think beds, office pieces, and refurbished gondola cabins—in the future.
Sleek lines, bright colors, and an industrial, modern aesthetic all elevate the lowly chairlift into an attractive furniture piece. At the same time, Ski Lift Design’s upcycled lifts tug on the heartstrings of skiers who remember the good ol’ days of skiing: when chairlifts were slow, snowstorms could be brutally cold, and the lift conversations could never be beat. As Boiteau remarks, “These chairs are such a cool piece of history, let’s do them justice.”