Spring Melt + Mountain Towns East to West
After what seemed like a never ending winter, seeing new accumulation every week if not every few days, the dragging sunless days are seeing their end. It's hard to sleep in when everything the light touches is singing and calling you to come play. Summer daylight hours used to be my childhood taunt.
The thing about writing is that sometimes it doesn't happen, there are no words to share or thoughts to explore. Instead, it's consumed by every present part of existence that you choose to relish it now rather than later.
Mountain towns are an interesting environment to choose to call home. For most of us, our original draw to them has turned into a mellow obsession that is feeding our childhood aspirations of still seeking play. Do you remember the time when you were a child or a teen and you thought about how you wanted your life to look in the future? I was thirteen years old, standing in the rental line of Edelweiss' ski lodge, enamored by the folks who were tuning skis, setting up snowboards, and walking out in full uniform to go teach on mountain. Until then, the ski industry was just a glamorized page in a magazine I got every month. I knew in that moment that ultimately, I wanted to stay around the mountains simply because of their culture.
Living with a ski resort just twenty minutes up the mountain from my front door in Italy, traveling once a year to Southern Germany for a week long ski trip, and riding other neighboring resorts, my idea of a ski town was strictly European based and therefore very warped. Over there, the lift operators are older than my parents, you don't have ticket scanners or on-mountain guest service members, you buy your ticket and pray to god you don't lose the ski map that folds up into the size of a business card. It was quieter, less flash and far less flare, and you kind of knew exactly what you were going to experience on mountain because it was Europe.
The first American ski "resort" that I was actively at was in North Carolina and despite App Ski Mountain absolutely providing, it was still just rolling hills at best. I learned quickly about the "ice coast" and how rewarding it could be to wiggle up there after class to night ride. Sugar and Beech Mountain were also not the worst thing to exist but...then I learned about The West. Park City was one of the coolest ski towns I had ever laid eyes on and that was with seeing Breckenridge in the same first season out there. There was something magical about Park City, the endless seeming options for play, the bars that were all in walking distance or close enough to snag free transportation to and from. The winter had lured me in but the summer...oh the summer, it totally washed over me with such grace that I couldn't help but fall madly in love.
What I had not seen in the Colorado based mountain towns was the damage that had long taken over, making it seem as though this normality was what the town had always sought after. I learned over the course of three years just how much a mountain town could be affected by and could change under different resort ownership. The corporate takeover warped the town into another cookie-cutter village of Vail and drove out the folks that seek skiing for skiing and not for the experience.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming proved to be the hardest town to survive in simple because of how deep the housing crisis is there. I had been told by many, "if you can make it in Park City, you can make it at any resort town" and boy were those folk either severely ignorant or naive. You couldn't feel good a ski bum there meaning that money was such a concern 98 percent of the time that the other 2 percent you had left over, you threw yourself into whatever ski tour, hike, or self care practice you could indulge in. You worked to live and lived to work in Jackson Hole. But it taught me more than I ever could have learned about myself and what is worth handling because ultimately Jackson pushed me into Montana for the first actual consideration.
Big Sky is no exception to the realm of resort towns facing an affordable housing crisis. The housing provided by the resort itself has options and is a great route for people who want to work at the resort but do not want to commit to the area year-round or past a season. Just like Park City, the town is dog friendly up until you try to sign a lease, and you find yourself wandering back to the verge of homelessness. JK, there's always your car, silly goose. Big Sky is unique in comparison to the Colorado Plateau resorts in that the town does not have a "main street", a governing body or even mayor, or any restrictions on where you can/can't take your dog as far as watershed territory is concerned. The bulk of the jobs are with The Resort and with summer based landscaping/construction crews and a lot of folks commuting from Bozeman (which is by far the longest commute when comparing Park City, Jackson Hole, and Big Sky). We don't have major chain related places of business here and we certainly don't have a McDonald's anywhere close. Honestly, it's part of what keeps this town so worthwhile.
The reality of mountain towns, no matter where they are, will be that it was always be a less real type of reality. They are bubbles of existence that set incredibly ridiculous standards to match both the tourism needs as well as the local desires while trying not to drive out either population. Although slightly sad, it's totally necessary for towns like this in order to survive. Sometimes the shoulder seasons can see such quiet days that local business struggle. The bottom line is that these towns aren't just for anybody, they require a huge slap in the face multiple times in order to adjust, and most of them will only see those seasonal folks who will eventually settle down in a location where their rent is not their whole paycheck. Is there anything wrong with that? No freaking way. I think it makes you stronger as a person to have lived in a resort town, to understand the unrealistic parts of living in a place where people vacation instead.
As I watch Lone Peak lose her winter blanket with every passing day, I'm reminded of why I've chosen to glue myself to places like these. To walk around and know what it means to feel deeply grateful for your surroundings; to watch my dog leap with excitement at every new trail head and know that this is our very best environment for growth. Maybe it's childish to never want to leave the mountains behind but I guess the child within me still lives on, chasing the rocks of a new peak I haven't touched yet.