For better or for worse, I’ve been doing seasonal work for a few years now. There are plenty of drawbacks – moving frequently, near constant job searching, etc. – but one aspect I do appreciate is the break winter provides. My last season was pretty intense; camping from April – November in Vermont is nothing to sneeze at. When winter rolled around, I was pretty stoked to live indoors with such luxuries as ovens and showers and with two of my dear friends from VYCC. But, once the tools and tents are packed away for the winter, what’s a seasonal trail worker to do? The savings put aside from not having to pay for housing or food during that time only get one so far.
In previous winters I’ve worked outdoor retail. As great as being surrounded by the latest gear is, I generally only could get part-time work, and retail can be a bit soul-crushing at times. I was headed back in this direction for this winter, but when a half-hearted joke that I should be a lifty at a ski area turned into a real job, I found myself in mid-December in a grungy lift shack, scared of the double chair spinning outside. Turns out I should have heeded my fears of that lift a little more because after running quad chairs all winter I managed to misjudge the timing of that double and bump my head into a chair! But the stitches are out, the (mild) concussion has healed, and now the snow is starting to melt. Time to reflect.
Being a lifty was a bit of an eye-opening experience. For all my years of skiing, I never paid any attention to who was loading me into the chair. If you had asked me who a lifty was, I’d tell you it was probably a burly dude in his young 20s with a beard and duck-taped work gloves wearing a hoody with a snowboard on top of his beater Jeep. Turns out it’s a surprisingly diverse group of men and a few of us women loading you onto chairs. Also, haven’t seen one pair of duck-taped gloves… yet. But we are wearing hoodies.
I also had no real conception of how complicated chair lifts can be. Especially old ones with all their quirks. I have a lot of respect for the lift maintenance team who spend their winter climbing over machinery and up tall towers in all kinds of weather to keep the public safely headed up the hill. And a lot of respect for the lift operations supervisors putting up with all of our B.S. (So-and-so can’t work with so-and-so!) (Ugh, Joey is late, again!) (Is Sally going to show up today?) (Etc.) and driving on their snowmobiles everywhere in the freezing cold making sure we have everything we need. Cheers, y’all.
I also learned that the best skiing isn’t on the maps or sometimes isn’t even lift-serviced. This winter I discovered alpine touring. I got myself a crisp new AT setup with some Liberty twin tip skis and a set of those slick Dynafit bindings. Coupled with a set of climbing skins, some bright orange Scarpa boots, and a friend to show me around, I was able to find some incredible lines and fresh powder out there in the woods. Heck, where I work, there’s a substantial backcountry trail system where you don’t even have to leave the property. I don’t think I could have found a better place to get into backcountry skiing. I had this misconception that backcountry skiing started out where resort skiing left off: that it would be essentially like a triple black diamond trail or you’d be getting yourself into avalanche territory. Turns out that’s completely wrong: there’s plenty of mellow, low-angle tree skiing to be done. There’s also a solid culture around backcountry skiing here in Vermont. It’s a bit secretive: I had no idea how many people I knew with AT set-ups until I got my own, and I sure ain’t telling you the locations of the lines I’ve skied. One hang-up I’ve had with traditional resort skiing is how artificial it can feel sometimes and backcountry skiing gets me back out in nature where I belong.
So that’s how to do it, folks. Get thee to your local ski area’s job fair in November and make it happen. Work on your trails ’till the snow flies, spin chair lifts ‘tlll the snow melts. Or be ski patrol. Or sling burgers in the cafeteria. You’ll figure it out. See you on the slopes. Or off-piste?