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Chair #57

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China Peak is a quaint, family-friendly ski resort in the Sierra Nevada mountain range northeast of Fresno, California. At an elevation of 8,709, China Peak was founded in 1958 and holds a very special place in my heart. In 1971, at the age of 14, Dad taught me to ski the bunny hill on that beloved mountain. I felt all fancy in my puffy blue snow suit that my parents gave me for Christmas as my dad patiently helped me master that bunny hill and eventually took me up the daunting chairlift to the top of the biggest mountain and what seemed like the longest ski run in the world, Academy. After those initial trips with my dad, over the years I have enjoyed many, many trips to China Peak with my hometown friends and eventually with Sassman, my husband, Tim, during which we taught both of our children to ski! That beautiful mountain holds so many fond memories that I will forever embrace. 

You can only imagine my excitement the moment I saw the post on Facebook that my beloved China Peak was selling a line of circa-1970 ski lift chairs. I just had to have one! When sale day came, my oh-so-patient Sassman and I hopped into the truck at 4:00 a.m. to make the three-and-a-half-hour trek from Stockton to China Peak. I could not miss out on the sale of a lifetime and needed to make sure we would not be last in line! Apparently, not everyone was as excited as I was! Arriving at 9:00 a.m. we saw only four people in front of us, a pistachio grower, a contractor and a few other nostalgia enthusiasts. 

It was finally our turn to go pick out the chair! I searched until I found number #57, commemorating my birth year and first car, a red ’57 Chevy Bel Air that I wish I still possessed. Ah, my ski lift chair, with weathered green paint and a funky flip-up seat. It was exactly how I pictured it, as vivid memories of past ski days began swirling around in my head. We loaded it up and off we went.  

Finally back home, we dragged the very heavy and awkward chair to the side yard, amidst my collection of used bricks, a wheelbarrow filled with mulch and garden tools, terra cotta pots, way too many pots, and the tomato plant in the wine barrel; will it produce at least one good tomato this year? I stood there staring at this 12-foot chairlift, wondering how are we (notice Sassman has now reluctantly become part of this whimsical project) going to make this into a swing? This project was outside our skill set. To keep this project moving, I needed to gather some engineering ideas from others, make a plan and get it done.

Our buddy Greg Ratto helped us cut the pole down from 12 feet to 9 feet. This would make the entire project more doable. He then built a 14-foot steel frame, carefully welding together an upside-down U that the swing could hang from.

To memorialize China Peak, my son Aaron used the logo from the ski resort as inspiration for the topper design, while master welder Matt Cunningham, Precision Landscape, Lodi, created the beautiful mountain scape. He cut out and welded the mountain peaks and inserted frosted plexiglass, allowing the light of the moon to shine through, creating the illusion of glistening snow. Finally, installed in a 3-foot-deep concrete base, the design allows a gentle swing, creating a relaxing spot to sit and enjoy the garden.  

A variety of stickers, including China Peak, Pipe Dream Sk8co and Shaver Lake, adds a little whimsy to the center pole. The finishing touch is a lush white snow garden on the mountains behind the swing. Visiting what seemed like every nursery in the county, I strolled up and down the aisles, gathering and placing white snow-like flora into the cart: daisies, alyssum, candy tuft, white roses, dusty miller and sturdy geraniums. Adding driftwood and grey pebbles at the feet, we began creating a snowy mountain backdrop that could be enjoyed all year! 

Quite the conversation piece, the ski lift swing is now one of my favorite spots in the garden. It’s a sweet place where I can sit quietly, sip my coffee, and enjoy the morning sun. More often than not, I think about my sweet dad and our wonderful memories that began at China Peak. It’s such a joyful way to start my day!

In addition to winter activities, China Peak has a wonderful lineup of summer concerts and activities. For further information, visit