Oh my heavens, what have I done? This refrain played in my mind for the first six weeks after I finally moved to a ski town. I was 34 years old and living like a camper in a small room sans bed in a house with people I did not know. Most of my friends in New York, San Fran, and L.A. were living in comfortable homes with beloved mates and kids, doing lunch over the latest globally influenced gourmet cuisine, managing their investments, and climbing some career ladder. My investments? I traded what little I had for some traveling cash and a big four-wheel-drive truck with a nasty habit of stalling on right-hand turns.
When I was a kid, my parents trundled us off to the local mountains every weekend and holiday. In adulthood I found that I preferred a mountain vista to a new Volvo, a bear sighting to a high-status husband, and fresh tracks to a high-income career. But it took me a long time to set myself free.
I knew I wanted to pull the plug, but I didn't know where to go. Truckee? Jackson? Steamboat Springs? I picked up a copy of Small Town Bound, which helps urban emigrants bridge the gap between fantasy and reality. I made a list of what I wanted: Skiing, sunshine, easy access to a major airport, great skiing, better quality of living for the same amount of rent, nice people, more great skiing, good public library, peace and quiet, not too deeply landlocked. I perused travel books and read magazine articles. I researched quality-of-life statistics, ranging from number of sunny days to average cost of living. I came up with some new ideas: Bend, Oregon? Bellingham, Washington? Hood River, Oregon?
I went to Whistler first, though-a temporary step designed to soothe my ruffled spirit while I figured out what was next. In the beginning, it sucked. The weather was gloomy; I didn't see even a patch of sky for three solid weeks. I did everything alone. I was older than most ski-town transplants, and people my age were both wary of newcomers and set in their social groups. When I went out on the mountain, my ostensible raison d'être, it wasn't even that much fun. My body hurt from hefting heavy boxes, driving 1,500 miles, and sleeping on the floor. Worse yet, I didn't know where to find the goods.
Then one day it finally happened: I popped through a wet and mournful, low-lying cloud into a glittering, high-altitude heaven, a world of craggy peaks, crisp sunlight, fresh dollops of white on thick green boughs, and diamonds twinkling in the snow. Everything began to turn around. I made friends who, like me, think it's normal to travel the world in search of natural beauty and adventure, to drop everything for a powder morning, to value experiences above possessions, and to pursue unconventional ways of living in the name of bliss. Many of them are also self-consumed hedonists, but they're nice people-and they showed me some great places to ski.
Why did I move to a ski town? I think about this as I sit on the end of a deserted dock in late fall, water around me on three sides, golden-leafed trees ringing the far shore, snowcapped peaks filling the sky. I think about this on winter mornings, when I wake at dawn and roll over to check the night's snowfall out windows I need never shutter because the vista is all snow and hemlocks, mountains and space. I think about it as I bundle up thoroughly and jog into town to get on the lift and strategically elbow for fresh tracks. When powder billows all around me and euphoria fills my bones, I know: Of course! That's it! I moved to a ski town to ski!
North Conway, New Hampshire
A Town for all Seasons
Park City, Utah
Best of Both Worlds
Viva South Shore
Snowbound Cow Town
Taos, New Mexico
Urban Ski Center
Rails to Trails
STORIES ON MAKING THE MOVE:
Profiles of Success
A local reminds a newbie that living in a ski town isn't new to everyone.