Outdoor Prolink editorial intern Julia Ben-Asher is a Jersey/Pennsylvania native who semi-accidentally worked in Glacier National Park, Montana for the summer after college. She now lives in the adventureland of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where she works at the daily newspaper’s copy desk at night and during the day likes to ski, snowshoe, hike, bike, play volleyball, hammock, draw nature, teach toddlers skiing, and nap. Her 5-year plan includes international backpacking, the PCT and a puppy.
Photos from Julia Ben-Asher and Stacy Wren.
1.“First Snow” is a bigger deal than Christmas. No matter where you are, strangers will be buying shots for all and making snow angels in the ¼ inch of powder on the ground.
2. Events that border on absurd — the continent’s largest firework display, a balloon festival at the base of the mountain, a Winter Carnival activity in which children ski race each other off of snow ramps in the middle of main street while tied to the back of a speeding horse, a bicycle bar crawl in which all of the hundreds of participants all wear mustaches — become commonplace.
3. If you weren’t a gearhead before you moved here, you quickly are becoming one.
4. You probably ended up here by accident. Maybe you showed up to ski for a day then quit your job and moved here a month later; maybe you happened to use a downtown gas station as a pit stop on a cross-country road trip and decided this was the end of the journey.
5. You’ve had at least one deep life talk on the free public bus with a stranger, and have probably sung karaoke there too.
6. This happens at least once a week: zooming by you in a flash of attractively fitting ski clothes, someone’s caught your eye and you wonder if they’re heading to the same lift when they make a turn and you see their actual face and realize they’re at least three decades older than you’d thought. It’s not that your eyeballs don’t work; the entire county just happens to be in absurdly impressive shape.
7. City-dwelling friends and family imagine your life as charmed and as the cover of an outdoors magazine. Sometimes you do, too. You get a ridiculous number of vacation-seeking visitors and quickly learn how to be a host.
8. You don’t refer to times of the year in month or date, but by seasons; this includes two different “mud seasons.” That’s just what time of the year it happens to be, no questions asked.
9. Your definition of the word “weekend” is also subjective. To most of the world, that means Saturday and Sunday, but to accommodate all the people stampeding this way each Friday night, most people who live here full-time enjoy unconventional days off. Being a resort town, there are at least a few somethings going on every night of the week. There’s a mug at a local coffee shop featuring a grumpy cat proclaiming his hatred of Mondays, which is ironic because Monday, or the restaurant worker’s Saturday, is a chunk of the population’s favorite day of the week.
10. Further complicating schedules, you work two jobs. At least two, but maybe more. Especially in a small town, that means that if you teach a three-year-old to ski in the morning, there’s a decent chance you’ll be the one fetching bread and water for his parents at their dinner out later, and a not-impossible percent that, a few hours after that, when you bump into them again at the bar, their shoes will be the ones you’ll accidentally slosh some of your drink onto.
11. It also means that there’s a lot less stigma about working in the service industry. People aren’t ashamed of where they work. There are also plenty of people wearing many hats: your host at the sports bar is also a lawyer taking a break. Your server at that schmancy restaurant will be launching his eco-business next month, and her busser is coaching a significant chunk of the next generation of superpipe Olympians.
12. Stereotypes of other spheres are also obliterated. The guy in the absurd neon ski suit with the “bro” and “dudes” overflowing from his sentences is an organic chemist. A local bus driver of a six-mile loop has traveled the world. The ski school six-year-olds from Mexico are enthralled by the snow and excel at making ski pizzas while their classmates from Idaho and New York collapse and cry because of the cold; the toddler with the pink tutu over her snowpants and a purse full of Chapsticks zooms by four-year-old, will-be-jocks-in-a-decade. That guy in a wheelchair? He’s won more X Games medals than miles most people can run before thinking their lungs are falling apart.
13. Though, that’s not to say living representations of stereotypes don’t exist. As the wintertime population doubles with tourists, or “guests,” the human landscape becomes less generic than typical small-town Northwest Colorado. You notice that several stereotypes, laughably often, ring true — mostly concerning which nationalities won’t tip and the skiing abilities of those who ski in jeans.
14. Since the jobs and lifestyle are so seasonal, things are a lot less stable. People come and leave and maybe return — but maybe not — constantly. Sometimes friends — or you — will take advantage of the generous vacation time built into the seasonal work life to go kayak to Antarctica or move to Hawaii. Since so many people leave during the off-seasons, though, all friends evacuating for sunnier pastures feels pretty gray for those ski-towners who are, for whatever reason, committed to living here year-round. But still, after a few years of living here, you’ll have a nearly unlimited number of floors across both hemispheres to crash on.
15. Since everyone has been the new kid in town, most people are more open to meeting new people. Invitations to yurt trips and dodgeball teams are casual and frequent. Going for a ski or a hike with someone, or helping them dig their car out of a plowed-in parking spot, is the ideal way to make a new best friend.
16. But for the time you’re here, the fun parts and weird parts and worst parts add up to a sparkly experience that you wouldn’t trade for anything. At least, until your next adventure.