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Ode to The Ski Town Job

What we do to make it work.
By Tracy Ross
posted: 12/22/2011
Ski Town Job
Photo by: Casey Day

Of all the jobs I could have chosen during my first season as a ski bum, I picked mountain host because it sounded the most glamorous. Nevermind that I was 28 and the job paid $7 an hour. My co-hosts and I were chosen from an ambitious crop of college drop-outs who rivaled—in faked earnestness—competitors on The X Factor. Sure, we could have picked jobs that repaid our Stafford loans. But who could resist the red-and-teal uniform jackets or the special privilege of leading drunk resort employees in the annual Christmas Eve candlelight ski parade? Not we.

If patrollers were the skiing world’s coagluants, we were the blood that kept it pumping. Our tasks included “assisting guests, performing mountain tours, and conducting lift-line organization,” which I mentally edited into “show off for tips, pretend to be a ski instructor, and boss anyone who doesn’t look local in the bus line.” Karma should have crossed my tips and made me break my femur, yet I escaped by occasionally being helpful. When, while nursing a hangover at the guest services desk, I reported a highway closure, people actually did seem to appreciate it.

It was, of course, all about the skiing. Before coming to Colorado, I’d staked out in Alaska, where, if you don’t live in Girdwood or own a ski plane, you don’t actually do much shredding. While hosting, I’d arrive for the on-mountain tour, wait five mintues, and then—if the greasy Germans or fat-calved Texans didn’t show—lap the Alphabet Chutes for hours. Nobody knew it was me, because I’d ditch my coat in a treewell. I did this four days a week, and on the fifth, sixth, and seventh days, when I wasn’t working, I skied Berthoud Pass, which brought me to my second epiphany: the backcountry.

Over the course of that season, I cleared $4,800 and skied 150-plus days. But the job, and its wage, delivered goods of a much higher value. Because I made so little, I decided to try my luck as a writer. Now that I could really ski, I could legitimately beg my way onto assignments at magazines like this one. Tiny blurbs led to stories with bigger paychecks. Now I’ve written a book that draws on some of the experiences I had ski hosting. It’s funny how things come full circle. Thanks to that first glamorous but poverty-inducing ski job, I can now afford to ski all winter—without clocking in on anyone’s corporate time card.

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