Shane McConkey gives The Ski Channel a tour of chairlift KT 22 on one of his last day’s skiing at Squaw Valley. Washington D.C. Examiner No. 1: KT-22 Express Squaw Valley USA, Calif. No matter how beloved, a chairlift is not a cuddly thing. KT-22 Express at Squaw Valley USA, however, is so revered that it has a namesake mascot, KT the Bear, to handle all of the warm and fuzzy hugs. On the other hand, KT-22 dishes out tough terrain at the California resort. ‘The Mothership’ rises 1,800 feet Nicknamed “The Mothership” by locals, KT-22 climbs about 1,800 vertical feet in six minutes out of the base area. Owing to its location by the base, the high-speed quad lift often opens on powder days before the avalanche control work is finished in higher, more distant parts of the resort. On such days, local powderhounds line up early as if they are waiting for rock concert tickets. If it is possible for a piece of machinery, KT-22 does seem to have achieved rock-star status. Squaw Valley’s unique trail-map style that rates lifts, rather than runs, for their difficulty helps put the lifts in the spotlight. Not surprisingly, KT-22 is marked with a black diamond, the most difficult category for lifts at Squaw Valley. While a single-black diamond may be the official designation for the lift, many of the runs off KT-22 merit double-black expert markings by the usual standards. Name inspired by co-founder’s wife The name, KT-22, goes back to a famous story from the 1940s involving Wayne Poulsen, one of the area’s founders, and his wife Gladys “Sandy” Poulsen. With her expert skier husband watching from the bottom, Sandy reportedly needed 22 kick turns to ski down the peak. Wayne had been traveling in the Himalayas near the world’s second-highest peak, K2, and meant to tease his wife with the moniker for her shaky kick-turn descent. In an ironic twist, the peak and later chairlift’s name will always be associated with expert skiing. Although Sandy Poulsen grew up as a New York debutante, she adjusted to the rugged lifestyle of Squaw Valley in the early days of ski area. By the time of her death in 2007, at the age of 89, she was a revered figure in the community. Little did Wayne Poulsen know that his joke would become one of the most recognized names in the ski world. Ski journalist Steve Casimiro wrote in the September 2004 issue of Skiing Magazine that “KT-22 is the best chairlift in North America. It is the ne plus ultra of chairlifts, the archetype for what a chair could and should be… KT isn’t just a chairlift, it’s the gold standard for chairlifts.” The late freeskier Shane McConkey called KT-22 “the best lift in America” in a video tour he taped for The Ski Channel just before his death in an accident on March 26, 2009. About 1,200 friends and family of the Squaw Valley resident gathered on April 5 for a memorial service at the base of KT-22. In The Ski Channel series on favorite lifts, KT-22 picked up more celebrity endorsements from famous freeskier Scot Schmidt, ski racer Marco Sullivan and snowboarder Jeremy Jones. KT-22’s popularity with top skiers is not surprising, because the area has traditionally attracted top names in the sport. Skiers pushing the boundaries on lines once thought unskiable seems to be perpetual game of one-upmanship at Squaw Valley. The scene at Squaw Valley even inspired a book, “Squallywood: A Guide to Squaw Valley’s Most Exposed Lines,” by Dr. Robb Gaffney. The author, a psychiatrist by trade, now runs clinics for expert skiers, who are crazy enough– some might say– to try the lines in his book. Behind the hype about KT-22, the terrain lives up to its reputation by offering incredible variety. Looking to the right on lift ride, The Fingers is the first cliff band just above the loading station. On a powder day, skiers race for huge drops in The Fingers until the landing areas are tracked out by the area’s bevy of hard-core experts. For bumps, skiers head for Moseley’s Run, renamed in 1998 in honor of gold-medal skier Jonny Moseley, yet another star who honed his skills at Squaw Valley. The slope was originally called West Face even though it does not face west.