Photo Essay: The Mountaintop Patrol Shack

The enduring appeal of an overlooked piece of the ski experience


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There it sits, at the summit of nearly every lift-served ski area, the humble patrol shack. Utilitarian and improvisational, ramshackle and freighted with a blue collar exclusivity, they’re part clubhouse, part command center, part backyard treehouse of our youthful fantasies. They’re essential to the lift-served skiing experience, an overlooked counterweight to the cavernous lodges anchoring the lift system far below.

In my decades of skiing, I’ve only been inside of two lift shacks that I can remember. Once at Aspen Highlands to buy the complicated $10 strappy thing that I used to hoist my skis onto my back for the hike up Highlands Bowl. The second time at Belleayre, after my daughter crash-landed off the summit quad and rose with cartoon-character stars and tweety-birds circling her head (she was fine).

Everywhere I ski, I take photos of the patrol shack. There’s a freewheeling timelessness to them that I find irresistible. I like things that are simple and understated and somewhat artistic and patrol shacks are all of these things.

I’ve visited 38 ski areas during the 2020-21 ski season. Here are photos of patrol shacks at 15 of them. For the remainder, I either forgot to take the photo or I overlooked the building. In rare cases, they didn’t have one. Due to Covid travel restrictions, I mostly skied New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania this season, and these were my favorites:

Oak Mountain - Jan. 22, 2021

Song - Jan. 26, 2021

Elk Mountain - Feb. 3, 2021

Shawnee (Pennsylvania) - Feb. 4, 2021

Victor Constant - Feb. 11, 2021

Toggenburg - Feb. 12, 2021

Willard - Feb. 19, 2021

Royal Mountain - Feb. 21, 2021

Hunt Hollow - Feb. 26, 2021

Bear Creek - March 12, 2021

Roundtop - March 12, 2021

Mountain Creek - March 23, 2021

Belleayre - March 31, 2021

West Mountain - April 2, 2021

Plattekill - April 3, 2021

I’d love to see your favorite patrol shacks. Just reply to this email to send my your photos. If I get enough, I’ll put together a future post featuring them.