Being New in a Ski Town

You arrive in November and need to find a job, a room, a free season’s pass. Be upbeat, not needy — remember that the snow will come and so will everything else. It has to.

When you poster the town with your resume, remember that this has been done a thousand times before. You are not the first. In a town like this, your degree means nothing; you are a newcomer, and that is all they need to know. This is not about being snobby — buying a post-powder beer for someone who might leave as soon as the snow melts is not a wise investment.

Just as you begin to feel desperate, you will surprise yourself and become outgoing, chatting up everyone from the girl at the coffee shop and the guytending bar to the woman who sits down next to you on the free bus shuttle and who, lo and behold, has a daughter your age with the same exact name. She will decide that you deserve her beneficence for this small bit of coincidence.

The woman, let’s call her Edith, will lean her head back and close her eyes when you tell her you’re still looking for a job, a room, a free season ski pass. She will seem like she is going to take a nap, but will then suddenly open her eyes and clap her hands and, looking at you, say, “I’ve got it! My neighbor’s son just decided to move to Another Ski Town, so Rick will need someone.” Then, narrowing her eyes and smiling wryly, she’ll ask, “Can you shovel roofs?” And, even though you hurt your back a few years ago and have been sleeping with a pillow under your knees ever since, you smile broadly and nod.

You still don’t have a free season pass, but Edith also happens to mention that So-and-So is leaving town for the winter— “Heading to Costa Rica, or somewhere” — and needs a house sitter, but they live way at the end of the road that isn’t plowed and you’ll need to hike through snowdrifts carrying your groceries in your backpack. It all sounds perfect to you, so you finally move all your stuff (two backpacks, three pairs of skis, a Rubbermaid tub of ski gear and a duffle bag) from the back of your pickup into the spare bedroom downstairs.

The snow begins to stick, and even though you’ve only been able to take laps on the hill across the road from the ski area, the one that everyone has been fighting over whether to put lifts on it or leave to those freeloading backcountry skiers (that would often be me), and even though your back is so stiff in the mornings that you have to stretch in bed, before even getting up to pee, your life in this ski town is coming together. You’ve made friends with a couple of the guys at work, who give you a hard time but not as hard of a time as they could, you practice your Spanish with the day workers who show up now and then, their fluid language seeming alien in this valley of negative temperatures and bright snowscapes.

In February, just as the ski area finally opens the steeps, one of the guys at work mentions that his buddy, a lift op, got fired for smoking weed in the locker room. You climb down the ladder, unclip your harness and hitchhike up the hill, where you walk straight into a job as a lifty. A free season pass.

The rest of the winter is spent doing what it is that you moved here for — skiing, making friends on the lift, taking laps on that hill across the road after work, drinking beer as your face finally thaws from the wind, so you can do something other than smile. That is, if you wanted to.

Abigail Sussman recently acquired another pair of skis and can now claim to have a quiver. She lives in Gunnison, CO (well, mostly).

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