Cable-splicing family woven into Aspen’s history
October 21, 2005
Justin Knight talks quickly Friday morning as he pounds together spliced strands of lift cable underneath the towers of Aspen Highlands’ new Deep Temerity chairlift.The splicing process of the 7,300-foot cable is an intricate one, but under Knight’s direction, a crew of 12 works with surprising quickness as it weaves together the two separate ends.As he talks, Knight, 28, mentions the history of his family’s specialized trade. It’s one that is uniquely connected with the history of lift-served skiing in Aspen.
Knight’s grandfather Aubrey learned how to splice cables after being hired by the Wire Rope Company in Saint Louis in 1927. After the family moved to a farm in Bowling Green, Mo., in 1945, Aubrey started his own splicing business on the side. That led to jobs splicing cable on some of the first lifts at Aspen Mountain. “Instead of driving out, I think he took the train everywhere,” Justin says of his grandfather. “Back then, you didn’t have the detachables. You still needed a lot of tools, but not as many as you do now. He could pack everything he had in a couple of toolboxes.” Knight’s father, R.J., bought the business from Aubrey in 1972. He then passed on the vocation to his two sons – Jason, now 30, and Justin – starting when the two boys were in high school.Since 1999, when he began to head up cable-splicing crews on his own, Knight has worked in places as far off as Australia and Colombia.
He’s also spliced cable all over the United States. After the job is completed on Deep Temerity – which likely will be today – Knight will fly to Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont for a job. After that, he’ll splice a cable for the new six-person chair at Mary Jane in Winter Park, then the new six-pack Village Express at Snowmass Village.”It’s pretty specialized work,” says Knight, who knows of only five other companies that do cable splicing for lifts in the United States. “It pays good. It’s pretty much spring, summer and fall. There is some work that we can do in the wintertime when the ski areas are opened. We usually go to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg [Va.] and Tampa [Fla.] every year during the winter time. There’s a couple of little other amusement parks that we do, but basically 99.9 percent of it is ski areas.”The Deep Temerity splice, Knight says, isn’t any ordinary job. And that’s not just because the lift – which has an average cable grade of 52 percent – is one of the steepest he has ever seen. The family business has enjoyed continued success because of the relationships Knight’s grandfather cultivated with American ski resorts in the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Aspen Mountain, and the three surrounding resorts that followed, are all at the top of that list.
“It mainly comes down to who the ski areas want to use and the Poma guys choose.” Knight says. “They usually keep you if you have a good rapport with the guys. As long as you do a good job, they’ll usually keep you around.”The crew working on the Deep Temerity cable splice is made up of five Poma employees and seven workers paid by the Aspen Skiing Co. Ron Chauner, Highlands’ mountain manager, says Skico contracted the Knights’ company, Knight Equipment, to do the job because of all the previous work the company has done at Aspen’s resorts.”I remember when he would come with his father when he was a boy just learning,” Chauner says.”I wasn’t probably doing much, other than running around,” Knight adds with a laugh.Knight says his father, now 52, plans to turn over the company to him and his brother some day, but not any time soon. His grandfather, even after selling the operation to R.J. in 1972, continued to splice cable into his 70s.
“I’ll just help the old man for a while and see how it goes,” Knight says. “I want to make sure it’s going to work and everything before it happens.”As it is now, Knight actually prefers the extra free time that comes from having three people available to head up crews on jobs around the globe. When he and his brother were learning under their father, it added up to a long work season – sometimes too long.”I actually just took up skiing a couple of years ago,” Knight says. “I enjoy it. Before, I was always gone so much, more so just because I would just go with my father. By the time I got home for the winter, I was ready to stay home. Now, since we’ve split up, I’ve gotten into [skiing].” Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org