Winning the season’s first ski run isn’t easy. Colorado’s ‘Kings of First Chair’ have done it for 31 years

Listen Now
3min 41sec
Stina Sieg/CPR News
Nate “Dogggg” Nadler, left, and “Trailer” Tom Miller, second from left, ride the first chairlift of Colorado’s ski season for 31st winter. Alongside them are Chad Otterstrom and Anthony “Ant” Uglade. They’re bursting through a banner at Arapahoe Basin, the first ski area to open for the season on Oct. 29, 2023.

Colorado’s ski season is officially here. Arapahoe Basin opened Sunday, in the middle of a snowstorm no less, but there was still a long line of excited skiers and boarders waiting to hop on the chairlift. Many had been there for hours. 

But the guys at the front of the line had been guarding their spot around the clock for two days. 

Nate “Dogggg” Nadler and “Trailer” Tom Miller have nabbed the “first chair” of winter in Colorado for more than three decades.

“A few days in line is always well worth the wait,” said Miller, smiling in his low-key way, on the cold night before opening day.

Snagging a seat on the first chairlift of Colorado ski season is more than a waiting game. Nadler and Miller brace against the freezing wind, armored with hand warmers stuffed anywhere they’ll fit. Protecting your spot in line hinges on constant vigilance to guard against another skier or boarder eager to steal the glory. To ensure that doesn’t happen, Nadler sleeps on the freezing ground right under the lift. 

“Let the snow fall upon me,” he said.

The friends have been winning first chair since they were teenagers. Nadler and Miller were inspired by an old man named Elmer who used to always get the first chairlift at Loveland Ski Area, but the pair have made the first chair tradition their own and perfected their approach. That includes limiting how much they eat and drink.

“People that have been out here with us for hours and hours, they missed that spot in line because they took that last bathroom trip,” Miller said. “We cannot afford to let that happen.”

There have been a few hiccups in pursuit of the first chair.

In their decades of being the first to hit Colorado’s slopes, there has been one hiccup: a year Nadler was absent due to wedding planning on the East Coast. He likes to say he was there “in spirit,” however, with his friends wearing t-shirts printed with “Staff Nate Dogggg First Chair.”

The two have also experienced a few first-chair scares like that year Nadler was waiting at one ski area for a whole day when he saw a stomach-dropping social media blast from another resort: It was sneaking in, opening first in just an hour.

Nadler jumped in his Jeep and got down the road before making a terrible realization: “Holy crap-oly, I left my snowboard at the other chairlift.”

Nadler remembers screeching his tires and driving it back so fast the Jeep was “crying.” Somehow, he made it before the lift started spinning.

Sure enough, though, there was already one person waiting in line. Luckily, it was a four-person chairlift. “Still got that first chair, but gosh darn it, we were scared for it,” Nadler said. “We were scared for it.”

The anxiety actually starts at the beginning of every winter.

The two boarders carefully check the forecast, drive past ski areas to look at snow levels and analyze local gossip to gather clues about which Colorado resort will open first. The urge to be there first never gets old. 

“It’s that burning desire,” Miller said. “If you have something in your life that you are so inspired to do that will bring a tear to your eye, that’s what this is for us.”

These days, the two friends don’t do it alone. Miller’s mom and Nadler’s wife will stop by and give the men love, support and soup. They’ve also amassed a large “first chair family,” including one guy this year who came all the way from Florida to ride the lift alongside them. 

Stina Sieg/CPR News
Members of the "first chair family" stand in front of Black Mountain Express chairlift at Arapahoe Basin on Oct. 29, 2023. From left, is Nate "Dogggg" Nadler, "Trailer" Tom Miller and their friend Zac Baker, who rode second chair.

On Sunday, Nadler and Miller’s preparation and dedication paid off again: They say next to each other on their 31st first chair as it burst through a large banner declaring the official start of Colorado’s ski season.

The friends each held up a finger declaring they were No. 1 yet again, the people boarding behind them started chanting, “We’re No. 2! !” then “We’re No. 3!” 

One day, any one of those snowboarders and skiers might seize the first chair crown. But not this year.