A Mountaintop Concrete Countertop

a Mountaintop Concrete Countertop with the universal symbol for rescue

We asked Lynda Apple of InConcrete Custom Countertops and Design Elements if the precast tabletop her Flagstaff, Ariz., outfit produced for a ski patrol shack was the highest decorative concrete installation in America. Boy, did we get a response.

“First off,” she writes us, “I know for SURE we have the highest concrete countertop and custom concrete chair in Arizona. At 11,500 feet — I’m pretty darn sure we probably have the highest concrete countertop and custom concrete chair in the country — because most likely it’d be at a ski area and I don’t know of any other ski areas with lodges or shacks that high that, if they are fancy enough, don’t have granite, or if they are your typical ski patrol shack — well, they are lucky to have a picnic table in them.”

Who, why, how

Here are the whos, whys and hows. Apple and Michael Whalen, her husband and business partner, have been outdoor enthusiasts for most of their adult lives, working as river guides, hiking guides, ski guides and, most recently for Apple, as a professional ski patroller at Arizona Snowbowl, in the San Francisco Peaks.

Arizona Snowbowl - Elev IIThe couple’s enthusiasm for skiing and what Apple calls “our little resort” motivated them to help improve the Snowbowl’s “upper patrol shack,” where ski patrollers wait for emergency calls. “Whalen and I decided to make a new countertop piece for a new ‘bar’ that the other patrollers had put in — as they were just going to leave it as plywood or possibly tile it. Well of course, as a concrete geek — I could NOT have that!”

Templating the piece was a unique challenge, she says. On templating day, she dressed in full ski-patrol uniform and climbed onto the resort’s chairlift with a backpack full of tools, including some pieces of fluted polypropylene. “I got more than a few strange looks from guests who I’m sure were wondering what the heck those pieces of corrugated plastic could have to do with keeping them safe on the mountain,” she recalls. “Getting the completed template DOWN was even more fun — and most likely a perplexing sight for folks. There I was, cranking out my telemark (skiing) turns while trying to keep a 5-foot by 5-foot oddly shaped template from blowing around and breaking — I felt like I was skiing with a sail … all the while, looking, you know — as cool as possible.”

Design inspiration for the mountaintop concrete countertop

Apple and Whalen based their countertop design on a universal ski patrol emblem: the white cross on a red and black background. “My husband and I, both with art backgrounds, design all our pieces together,” Apple writes. “We poured the piece in three steps — first the white cross, let that set up well enough to pull the forms, than the red background, let that set up well enough to pull the forms, and then the black border. We used our basic sand mix and only did a very light grind on the piece.

“Delivering the piece was again — pretty funny. Noting again of course that the ski area is open and this is all happening in the middle of the winter. We’d also put the pressure on ourselves to complete it before ski patrol’s annual Full Moon Party.”

At the top of the mountain, the ski patrol has new concrete digs to keep them comfortable.

Challenges of delivery

The trusty chairlift helped hoist the finished concrete countertop up the mountain. “Four of us ski patrol loaded a chair with ourselves. We had the chair stopped while the lift mechanics, Whalen, and a few other ski patrollers loaded the top onto the next chair — tying it down securely. And then we had the chair started again while the other half of our ‘install team’ loaded up. Once at the top, those of us at the front kicked off our skis and waited for the countertop’s chair to arrive. We stopped the chair and unloaded the top as best we could, started the chair and waited for the rest of the crew (so they could) help carry it across the top of a run to inside the patrol shack. Happily, it fit in place perfectly!”

Finishing touches

To go with the top, Apple and Whalen cast a concrete chair emblazoned with the ski area’s logo. “Winds regularly top 70 miles an hour with much higher gusts not unusual — so finally there is a chair up there that has not blown away and does not need to be brought inside nightly,” Apple writes.

“Both have been huge hits. And because our ski area is open all summer as well for scenic sky rides — the pieces have been great, unique, year-round marketing pieces for us. Our logo is affixed to the wall behind the top, and to the back of the chair.

“We do all our work at 7,500 feet elevation. And although we are in a ponderosa pine forest, we are still in a high-mountain-desert/tundra ecosystem. We’re always having to pay close attention to humidity and the curing process since the air is so dry and thin here — on top of the dryness, our office and shop are located in an area that TYPICALLY can see 30-to-50- degree temperature swings in a single day. Lows and highs range from minus 30 degrees to 90 degrees throughout the year. …

“These conditions are considerations for all our work — both exterior and interior — so the two Arizona Snowbowl pieces did not really offer any extra challenges for our process or mix design outside of transportation and installation. How many folks have installed off a chairlift in the dead of winter, I wonder?”

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