With Alex Lopez, Gerry Lopez, and Leah Dawson
Words and photos: Shaun Daley
Let me level here; I'd never scored first chair--not once. In fact, in two decades of snowboarding I don't think I had ever seen it take off from the base. But on every day of the season, at every local there is a first chair. Nobody owns it. First chair is everybody's, and I was about to be introduced to it by Alex Lopez.
It was in the heart of an all-time Pacific Northwest winter. Low elevation, cold, deep snow, and sun; Mount Bachelor was the place to be, and I happened to be there. A couple days in, I caught word that Alex was going on his sixth or seventh day getting first chair. It sounded like something I'd like to be a part of. So it was set. At sunrise in the Mount Bachelor parking lot, I was to meet Alex, Leah Dawson, an inspiring professional surfer, and A-Lo's pops, Gerry Lopez. He needs no introduction. Dawn patrol was in effect.
While en route, the roads we were empty, the mountain glowing under early light, and the full moon lingering above the horizon. Things were so quiet and still. When I pulled up to the lodge there was one truck in the lot, Alex's. There, him and Leah were eating oats and sipping warm drinks. We made our way to the base of the lift, where Gerry joined us to set the boards at the front of the line, securing our spot.
It was clear that my assumptions about getting first chair were all wrong. There was no anxious rush or race to get the chair, to get the best, to brag about it on any Insta-Twitter-Book. This early morning routine is simply how Alex, Leah, and Gerry prefer to experience snowboarding. They like the quiet morning, calm pace of no traffic, soft light, and starting their day with snowboarding as medicine. This dawn patrol exercise seemed so Hawaiian. I suppose when snowboarding with arguably the best Pipe rider of all time, his son, and a lady pushing surfing in its graceful form--all of whom have spent plenty of time in The Islands--it makes sense.
Alex didn't just rush to the lift and wait for the chairs to start spinning. He pulled up his sleeves and helped the lifties do their morning prep labor. He was moving gates, setting posts, and running ropes for no other reason than to help. At 8:55, the bell rang, the gates opened, and Alex, Leah, and Gerry loaded up with one other friend. First chair, again. Crazy to me, normal to them.
It was at the second lift, which takes you to the summit, that Alex did something that would change this story. When we got there, we were first in line. While waiting, a gentlemen behind us set to ride up Chair 2 was telling a story about how he had been trying to get first chair all season to cross it off his bucket list. He'd continued to set his alarm earlier and earlier, but kept missing it. Alex overheard and insisted this stranger take his seat to the summit alongside Gerry. While this man rode up the chair in front of us, fulfilling his dream and taking selfies with Gerry, Alex turned to me with an "OH NO" apology. "Did I just ruin your first chair story?" On the contrary, I assured Alex, he did not ruin the story by giving away his seat on the second lift. If anything it made it better. Style comes in many forms; Alex has it on a board and in character. Both forms we can learn from.