Skiers riding the Windsor chairlift at Mount Ashland may have wondered a time or two about those names engraved on the backs of the chairs. Who are they?
You might call them the patron saints of Windsor, a group of enthusiasts who donated toward the chairlift's installation — sparing skiers a treacherous one-fifth-mile ride to higher terrain on a T-bar.
In 1979, individuals, businesses and organizations donated $2,500 each to install the chairlift after the T-bar had been destroyed by ice and snow three years earlier. In exchange they received 25 ski passes for the next 25 years. A maximum of five passes could be redeemed per year.
"It was work to ride (the T-bar)," said retired Circuit Court Judge Loren Sawyer, one of the donors.
T-bars are steel T's hung upside down from a moving cable. Each arm of the T is a couple of inches wide and about three feet long. Skiers in pairs would glide in ahead of the bar for their ride, like today's chairlift, but that's where similarities ended.
Skiers had to sit precisely on the narrow T arms and balance cautiously while their skis remained in contact with the snow. The 1,000-foot ride gains a total of 450 feet in elevation, said Lift Manager Malone Knudson. Riders would use tracks left by previous skiers, but once a ski came out of a track a rider could be in trouble.
"You could get dragged if you fell and the lift operators didn't see you," said Sawyer. "Some people would roll to the side. There would be a big pileup if they didn't get it shut down in a hurry."
Riding with his children was a challenge, Sawyer recalled. He had to place the bar behind his knees so he could hold his child on the other side.
Many of the donors' names are engraved on the chairs. Other engravings exhibit a sense of humor. "Eric's Severance," for example, might indicate the donor's passion for replacing the T-bar. Another proclaims "Seater's Love," a possible reference to skiing — or the comfort of a seat on a chairlift. There's a sign for the Jolly Boys and one for the Rogue Snowmen, a former local ski club.
People joined together to share the passes, said Sawyer. An engraving called "SKIMADS" represented a group of women, he explained.
Families and individuals are numerous among the signs. One for Dick Strellman is followed by Evelyn Strellman on the next chair. The Cota Family and the Afseths also are represented. Another family sign lists five first names. Memorials are also present.
Business signs include the still-thriving Rogue Ski Shop and Ashland's Inside Edge ski shop that closed 20 years ago. Omar's restaurant is still in business, but Callahan's is on hiatus while the lodge near the ski area rebuilds from last year's fire.
A Town & Country Chevrolet & Oldsmobile sign doesn't reflect Olds' demise three years ago. Pat & Mike's Building Supply has moved to the west side of Medford.
P-M-L Forest Products is no longer listed in the phone book, but Timberland Logging and KOGAP are still in business, even though the wood products industry has declined.
Ashland's Fortmiller's Department Store and Provost Furniture are also gone, but their names are seen by skiers every day of the season as is the still-publishing Ashland Daily Tidings.
The chairlift campaign was the idea of then ski-area owner Dick Hicks of Grants Pass. Hicks had sold his 16-store Richard's Food Center chain earlier in 1977, and bought the area Dec. 1 of that year.
"We just needed the facility," said Hicks. "There wasn't any way to serve the skiers."
Several signs are linked to Hicks. One is for his father, another for Richard's Food Center, and a third that reads Dick and Letty Hicks Family.
Hicks sold the ski area in 1983. It became a community-owned ski area after a successful fundraising effort in 1992.
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at email@example.com.