A farewell to Great Bear’s old red chair lift during its final two weeks

Eye on KELOLAND

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — It’s nearly the end of an era at Great Bear Ski Valley.  The old red chair lift has just a little over two weeks left before the city will begin the process of taking it down to make room for a new one,  wrapping up its 40 year run.

“Great Bear has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars getting ready for this ski year, the biggest investment is this chair lift,” a KELOLAND news reporter said in a 1981 news report. 

Great Bear’s first ever chair lift was built in 1981 at the then privately owned ski park.

“The discussion was, we need a chair lift to make this place go,” Bill Taylor said. 

Sioux Falls attorney Bill Taylor was one of the city’s ski enthusiasts who helped fund the roughly $250,000 project.

“The people who invested in it, they knew that it was a big risk; they went forward with the idea knowing they would never get their money out of it. The whole idea was to preserve the place for the community,” Taylor said. 

“They’re great, it’s really done a super job, its great,” one of the first skiers to use the new chair lift in 1981 said during a KELOLAND News story. 

The community response was huge when the ski lift first opened, a vast improvement from the old rope totes.

“Everybody who’d ever been there, knew that instead of wrecking your gloves with a rope tow, a chair lift was the modern way to go and it was very nice,” Taylor said. 

“I remember riding that chair and I thought, wow that was a lot better than the old rope tows we had a few years ago,” Dan Grider said. 

Dan Grider learned to ski at Great Bear in the 70s. He’s had decades of great memories with the old red chair lift, but as general manager of great bear for the past 29 years, he also knows its had some not-so great moments.

“People have fallen off the chair, with varying degrees of injuries,” Grider said. “We’ve had to evacuate the chair… and you do it one chair at a time, with the ski patrol and the lift operator, one chair at a time, so there were a lot of really chilly people by the end.”

“I like going on the chair lift and skiing down the hill,” a young skier said back in a 2012 KELOLAND news report. 

But for the past four decades, the red chair lift has been a sign of success for generations of kids learning to ski.

“She went up the chair lift for the first time this year, it was a huge moment for her,” Taylor said. 

Taylor took his kids and now takes his grandkids up the Great Bear chair lift almost every weekend.

“It’s kind of scary for kids the first time they do it because the chair is fast and that particular chair is old and it comes around and picks you up fast,” Taylor said. 

“A lot of people joke that if you can ride this chair lift, you can ride any chair lift in the country,” Grider said. “Its got that middle stem in the middle of the chair, people have been knocked down by that chair more than once, then of course you’ve got to unload that chair.”

Those imperfections will soon be replaced by a new and much improved chair lift.

“It’s going to be a lot different, the new chair is going to be white and have some galvanized steel with some blue trim,” Grider said. 

“The new chair lift will be fabulous, so much more efficient, easier to load, easier to unload, smoother,” Taylor said. 

While there’s a lot of excitement over the new lift, there’s also some sadness in saying farewell to the old red chair.

“We had a lot of debate about the color of the chair lift when it was built,” Taylor said. “I think it came from the factory red and I think that’s just the way it turned out.”

With so many memories, many people aren’t ready to let the old red chairs go. And they may not have to. An auction is already in the works that will allow some people to take home a little nostalgia.

“I believe there’s going to be a public auction in the fall,” Grider said. “People want them at the lake cabins, in their back yards, on their decks, so there’s a lot of interest in getting a hold of these chairs.”

Crews will begin the work of dismantling the chair lift on March 15th, making way for the groundwork and eventual installation of the new lift. Great Bear plans to make a time lapse video of the whole process.

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