Anyone who's chatted with friends or strangers on the ride up the mountain knows that memories are made on chairlifts.
Denver-based Ski Lift Designs now helps people recapture that nostalgia.
The company refurbishes old chairlifts from ski resorts across the U.S. and Canada into bright, functional furniture such as benches, swings and headboards.
The startup was born in 2017, the idea of three Denver friends and now business partners - Jacques Boiteau, Matt Evans and McCall Perry.
"We'd been kind of working on the idea for a year and a half before that and decided it had legs," Boiteau said. "My friend Matt Evans and I drove down to where he's originally from in Tuscon to see some chairlifts at a resort there.
"We thought, 'These would be really cool to have in our backyard, in our house.' But when we got back to Denver, we found a chairlift is not so easily installed at home. It takes woodworking and fabrication skills. We found there was no one out there doing this kind of thing well."
They couldn't find a company converting chairlift seats into furniture full-time. So while continuing their day jobs, they started making a few chairs a month.
"Every project you complete is another place for people to see your work, another opportunity for marketing. What's interesting going through this startup is you learn a lot as you go," Boiteau said.
The company showed steady growth through 2017 and is off to an auspicious start for 2018.
"We're getting to a point where the business is proven, and I would say it's comfortable demand right now. We're planning to keep growing," Boiteau said.
The three founders plus one metal fabricator are the company's sole employees.
"We are all still currently working in our day jobs," Perry said. "This is definitely our passion project."
Ski Lift Designs recently was asked to do an installation near the Super Bowl. Target Corp. built a lodge-style store in Minneapolis to serve those in town for the game and had Ski Lift Designs build four triple chairs to hang from the ceiling. That was exciting, Perry said.
The lineup this year has a few new chair styles, including triple chairs.
"We have started working on new mounts, including one that hangs from the ceiling and can spin 360 degrees. We're diversifying our products. Originally we sold just to homeowners in Denver, but now we're getting interest from nationwide," said Perry.
The core of the business is vintage chairlifts.
"We don't re-manufacture or rebuild," Boiteau said. "All our chairs have stories in a past life. It creates a challenge to get chairs. We go for a few different manufacturers that we think have good looks and good lines. It falls into an art aesthetic."
They seek out certain older lift manufacturers, including Hall Ski-Lift Co. of New York and Heron-Poma from Colorado, traveling and trucking back their finds.
"You don't get much more Colorado than the 10th Division and Bob Heron of the Heron-Poma Lift Co. He built the first chair at Aspen after the war (World War II). There's a lot of history here, a lot of connection to Colorado," Boiteau said.
Each chair is customized, and customers are told from which resort and manufacturer the chair came.
The caked-on rust or layers of aged paint are sandblasted to the original steel. Modifications and height adjustments are made, and a mounting bracket is added. The chairs are powder-coated and baked at 750 degrees for a durable finish. The chair is paired with a seat style, which may be custom wood, and an installation kit before it's shipped.
Each chair weighs about 150 pounds and can hold about 600 pounds. The company encourages people to have a licensed contractor install the product.
"What you pay for is a chair that's right for the application," Perry said. "We can do anything, if the customer brings the idea. We're working with a client right now to put in a leather firewood holder. And we've done booths for a restaurant."
"It's kind of what you dream up, whether you want a cup holder or a bunk bed," Boiteau said. "We're in early talks with a hotel chain in Colorado to put chairs in their lobby."
The crew needs four to six weeks to complete a custom-built product, from start to delivery.
Ski Lift Designs has no showroom, but it can digitally show how a product will look in a client's space.
Prices range from $1,500 for a standard bench to a $3,000 custom wood seat chair.
"We're trying to brand them as interactive art. This is more than a piece of furniture. It really is art, but you can sit on it, it's functional. Individually, the chairs have history. They're a conversation piece," Perry said.
They also bring the mountains and ski culture to the home or business.
"A lot of people in Colorado now moved here for the mountains," Boiteau said. "And we're not lucky enough to be living in Aspen or Vail. It's a great feeling to bring that to your house in Denver or Colorado Springs. Skiing is unique in that it's a sport you can enjoy with other people. When you hop on a lift, you talk. For us, it makes it a unique product,.
"Some customers will say, 'I remember in college when I rode up the lift with this girl ...' Everyone has a story. We've met several people who've fallen in love or gotten engaged on a chairlift."