Should You Work For Vail Resorts?

Vail's Blue Sky Basin

Or: Why I Worked for Vail (and Why You Should Work For Vail Resorts Too)

guest contribution from a ski town friend. They wanted to remain anonymous. But for those of you considering a season as a ski bum, with Vail Resorts in Vail or elsewhere, I hope the perspective’s helpful!

Although there seems to be a lack of snow nationwide, the 2016-2017 Ski season is about to kick off. Some resorts, such as Arapahoe Basin, are unbelievably already in full swing. People, just like you and me, from all over the world are therefore looking for ways to get their very own taste of some champagne powder – without paying $1000 for a season pass. Or maybe you’re like I was and have never skied or boarded before but are ready to give it your best shot. Either way, there’s an alternative to buying a pass.

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A Day in the Life

[ed. note: ski town content is finally resuming, courtesy of a friend in Vail. He’s a great writer and a better ski bum than I. His writing will run alongside my travel content as we move towards a more diverse magazine. Hope you all are enjoying your winters!]

Wham!  A slap of the snooze button and a groan, I’m awake at 5am.  Time to video chat with the now ex-girlfriend in Bulgaria, it’s already 2pm there.  After a shower and a quick breakfast I’m out the door by 6, just enough time to walk to work for my 6:15 shift.

I breath in the crisp Rocky Mountain air and start walking through 6 inches of fresh snow, thinking to myself – ‘Damn, too bad I’m not cruising this fresh powder instead of serving breakfast to tourists. . .’

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Soon after I get to work I devise a plan to get out early. Sure enough, where there’s a will, there’s a way.  Working fast and talking faster, I’m out the door by 8.  Smell ya later, it’s time for some much needed snowboarding.  I’m heading back home and a friend, let’s call him T, excitedly calls me and asks if I’m going to shred the gnar.  Fuck ya.  Back home by 8:30.  A quick snack and the addition of some very warm socks later and it’s time to head to the village.  We meet up at Gondola One and by the looks of things, we’re among the first skiers on the mountain.  Hells Yes.

Excitement builds as we are comfortably lifted up the mountain in the padded and heated gondola.  Gloves, goggles, face mask, powder skirt and a pounding heart.  The trees are laden with fresh snow, and in some places, ice; a real winter wonderland.  The doors open, we strap in and off we go.  Cruising thick stacks of fresh snow, running my fingers through it as I’m rocketing down the mountain parallel to the ground.  I catch air and boom! A shot of cold champagne powder slams into my face, nearly choking me. In the ski world this is called a face shot.  In this town if you’re not taking fresh snow to the dome, it’s not a powder day.

If you’ve ever surfed before, riding fresh powder is very similar, however, I ironically think that snowboarding is much more fluid.  The waves are moving and pushing beneath you, exerting their force on you, but with snowboarding everything just flows.  It doesn’t matter how you move your board, it’s like sliding down whipped cream.  And the best part is that wiping out is fun.  Ever jumped into a pile of waist deep snow?  Might as well be falling onto a pile of feathers.  These are the days when you drop cliffs and try crazy tricks.

The deep snow also has a very surreal calming effect.  Sound is dampened and being surrounded by an entire world of white allows you to drift into a totally different plane of reality.  It’s just you, the mountain, and your board.  In some ways snowboarding has been one of the most spiritual experiences of my life (the exception, by far, being DMT).

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T and I meet up at the bottom of the lift, giant, stupid grins spread across our faces.  A fist bump later and we’re traveling up the mountain again, this time on an open chair lift, cold air on our faces, shouting playful encouragement at the skiers below us.  T looks over at me; ‘safety meeting?’  ‘You know it.’  We cruise into the trees, find a nice smoke shack to post up in and spark a bowl.  Taking full advantage of legal marijuana has been one of my favorite parts about living in Colorado.  At times I smoke too much – Ha!  But blazing up on the mountain (among other things) is always recommended.  I always feel a bit more connected to my board and the mountain after inhaling a bit of ganja and usually end up pushing myself just because I’ll get into sketchier situations, say ‘fuck it, let’s do this’ and flow through them.

T and I do a few more runs, zipping through the trees and traversing most of the front side of the mountain.  But soon enough, the munchies kick in and it’s time for the classic chicken & bean burrito at La Cantina, a very ski bum budget friendly Mexican bar not far from the slopes.

Then it’s time for the 10 minute walk home, a game of zombies with the roommate and a freshly cooked meal before getting ready to wake up and do it all over again.

 

This is my life.

I’m very excited to share it with you.  Stories of adventure, drugs, danger, love and life decisions.  Battles with depression and coming of age.  The joys and turmoils of a fast paced life.  The behind the scenes of what it really means to be a ski bum.  Of letting go and allowing life to take you where you need to go – whether it’s dropping out of college to follow your dreams or opening your heart to another human being.

I live, work and play in the resort town of Vail, Colorado, where everything revolves around the snow.  Whether it’s good or bad drastically affects the tourism business and can mean the difference between a lucrative season or going out of business.  For example, I-70 – the interstate that connects Vail to the rest of the world – causes millions of dollars in losses every time it is shut down.  That being said, living in a resort town allows you to make amazing money with very little experience; really, only the skill of being able to talk to people is required.  It also means 5 star meals and fresh seafood in the middle of the Rockies.  And, working for the company Vail Resorts means that you have the opportunity to snowboard 7 days a week for FREE.  Really can’t beat that.  Stay tuned.

 

– C

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Like it, love it, hate it? Tell me what to write about next in the comments below.

14 years later, “Powder Burn” Still an Accurate Depiction of Vail

Daniel Glick Powder Burn Review 2015

A longtime Vail Valley resident recently lent me a copy of Daniel Glick’s 2001 book “Powder Burn: Arson, Money and Mystery on Vail Mountain.” This eighty-year-old woman and I had just finished up a dinner at the Northside Kitchen, a local favorite in Avon, CO, just down the road from Vail.

This woman had built one of the very first houses in Avon. In the beginning, she stood alone on a plain, a modest house with a huge yard, next to the scenic Eagle River. A highway ran past, a few hundred yards away, but that was a small price to pay for the unique mix of solitude and accessibility.

Now her house is almost impossible to find, if you do not know where to look for it. It sits squashed between huge apartment complexes and hotels, shrouded by a wall of shrubbery. Beaver Creek ski resort looms above, a ski resort even more exclusive and boutique than Vail. People come and go all around. Most of them probably do not even notice her house— assume it is simply another luxury rental with an absent owner. Vail Resorts has built its empire around her, suffocating her views and her community in order to house as many impressionable young workers and incredibly rich tourists and as they can. The idea of a private plat existing in between all that artifice is laughable. I’m sure, if they could, Vail Resorts would buy her out for an exorbitant sum of money, and call it a win.

But she was there first; and she has no plans to leave.

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Chair 10 — Highline Express

Vail Double Black Highline Moguls

Vail’s Chair 10 is a perennial favorite with locals. Located to at the Eastern border of Vail’s frontside (far-left on the trail map), Chair 10 services black and double-black mogul runs. (It is also the quickest way to Two Elk Lodge and China Bowl; a little-known secret).

Chair 10 Trail sign Vail

For the dedicated mogul skier, there is no better terrain on Vail Mountain than Chair 10. There is rarely a line at the base, allowing for endless laps on endless bumps. If you opt to follow the liftline down the double-black Highline run, prepare for cheers (or jeers) from spectators on the lift evaluating your performance.

Gore Mountains in Vail, ColoradoChair 10 also provides some of the best views of the Gore Range which can be found anywhere on Vail mountain.

On a powder day, Chair 10 can provide a mellow and empty alternative to the always-too-crowded Back Bowls.

Why the ski town is seductive

Vail 2015 World Championships Fireworks

On the amazing appeal of doing nothing.

A ski town is a place of perpetual adolescence.

This fact becomes clearer to me every second I remain in Vail, Colorado. People do not come to a ski town for any particular reason besides looking for something new. People do not come to these places with goals, and as long as they remain, one must assume that things have not changed.

The ski town is simple. All you really need to know is right there in the name: “ski town.” People come to these places to ski, to adventure, and to make just enough money to string things along. If you’ve got a job, a ski pass, and enough for that next six pack or bud sack, what else matters?

The Ski Town atmosphere reminds me a lot of college.

I moved to Vail with my girlfriend immediately after we graduated university. It sure beat moving back in with our parents, and as a lifelong lover of the outdoors, I couldn’t complain about living in the Rocky Mountains, either. The place would be a stopping point; a brief interlude in which to ski and seek out our passions. We’d had our share of people and parties, penis and pussy; college gives you all that, backgrounded by education.

Vail offers the same things, but backgrounded by skiing.

I can justify the college experience, but not the ski town one. Maybe college seems more justifiable to me because it was the first time I found myself in that sort of young wild and free atmosphere. But in my own head, I tell myself it’s okay because, statistically, a college graduate will earn twice as much money over the course of their lifetime as someone who never attended university. In college, no matter what else you are doing, you are at least working towards something.

In a ski town, you are working towards nothing.

Many of the young people who move through these places have not gone to college, or have graduated college long ago and left their ideals far behind. The people who move through these places are lost and wandering. They make lots of money and they spend lots of money. They are rich in experiences, but poor in futures. They are a new class of American drifter.

These are not bad people.

These are good people who enjoy the fruits of the earth and value their bodies more than any Wall Street accountant in New York. Before all else, it is important to establish that people in Vail are happy.

The pervasive happiness is what makes it so very difficult to do anything of substance in this town.

We work towards long-term life goals in order to feel fulfilled. We do it to impose a sense of progression on an ultimately inconsequential and random life. We do it to create happiness, long-term fulfilling happiness of the sort that your grandparents might talk about.

Gratification in a ski town is quicker, and more primal.

Someone once described snowboarding to me thus: “no matter what’s wrong in your life, no matter how badly you failed that test, no matter how many guys your girlfriend cheated on you with, when you’re on that mountain, none of it matters.”

This ode is surprisingly apt— I hope the similarities to the way a drug addict might lovingly describe his substance do not go unnoticed.

When there is instant gratification a few steps from your door, it seems a shame to waste it. And snowboarding is not a bad drug. I firmly believe in the transformative power of outdoors fitness. It has the power to change lives and improve people. This is part of what makes it hard to do anything else in a ski town.

I have 50,000 words of a book to show for my junior year of college. I can now ride double black diamonds; I have that to show for living in Vail. Both are solid achievements. They both took dedication, time, and hard work. I grew from both experiences.

Here, I was going to explain the difference between the two milestones; yet, even sitting at a keyboard with the explicit intention of separating the two, I can’t do it. I cannot explain why one of those experiences should be more worthy than the other. I know, in my heart, that writing the book is the “better” accomplishment. It might, maybe, make me some money some day. But probably not.

Maybe I feel that way because writing a book is more societally acceptable.

Ski culture lives off to the side of mainstream America. Many people from all walks of life enjoy downhill alpine sports such as skiing and snowboarding, but usually for no more than a weekend or two a year. Even the people who spend every possible weekend in the mountains are looked down upon by the hardcore skiers who make their homes in these resort destinations.

“Ever since Vail Resorts moved their headquarters down to Broomfield, it’s just all wrong,” a middle-aged Vail local told me on a chairlift. “They’re all weekend warriors now. They just don’t understand about this,” he said, gesturing to the expanse of fresh, weekday powder shining below us.

Ski enthusiasts and ski bums are a protective group, but they’ll welcome anyone who genuinely wants to share their passion. Anyone. It doesn’t matter how many drugs you do, how much your family hates you, or how short your resume is: a ski town will take you in. Ski towns will accept you for you. And realistically, you can live in a ski town forever without ever changing one iota, as long as you can stand doing the unskilled work of washing dishes or helping people get on chairlifts or serving people food.

In a ski town, there is no push to improve yourself off the mountain.

But ultimately, isn’t all of a human life in pursuit of arbitrary goals? What makes a house in the suburbs and a $80,000 a year job any more valuable than a mountain apartment and a job you can leave at the base of the gondola?

People here in the mountains are direct, grounded, and in pursuit of animal passions. Put to paper like that, this lifestyle is both seductive and scary.

I can see why some people choose to stay here for decades.

But to me, it just feels a little off.