Last call; first pass
All is still in the mossy glades along the creek. It’s the deep, somber quiet that foretells winter.In Silverthorne, where I live, there’s a similar feeling in the air. Most of the orange cones have been put away. I can drive up Highway 9 toward City Market in Dillon and make it through the gamut of stoplights without getting backed up in traffic. In all the ski towns I’ve lived in during the past couple of decades, this has always been one of my favorite times of the year. It’s a pause. A chance to take a deep breath and prepare.In Taos, the fall was all about the first few curls of pinon-scented smoke tentatively rising from adobe chimneys. Apple and pumpkin vendors from the Rio Grande Valley set up shop along the main drag, competing for space with the chile roasters and jerky stands.The art gallery tourists disappeared when the first frosts came and Roberto’s Restaurant closed, usually sometime around Halloween. The owner was a ski fanatic who kept his place shuttered through Easter so he could ski every day.Sometime in early November the first big storm of the season would swirl across the mesa, gauzy, white-gloved fingers creeping across the sagebrush plain and then enfolding the Sangre de Cristos in a curtain of wet, heavy flakes that splattered hard against the dusty roads.After the first significant snowfall, we’d call the mountain to see about boot-packing the steeps. Every day spent side-stepping down the hill was worth a couple of lift tickets, at least. Often, Ernie Blake, the ski area owner, answered the phone (as he would all winter long). He identified himself as the "janitor," happy to give a personal and completely accurate snow report.Earlier in my ski bum life, in the late ’70s, I spent a year in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in Germany, working for the Armed Forces Recreation Center. There was skiing nearly year-round up on the Zugspitzplatt, a glacier on the flank of Germany’s highest peak. But that was just a short, flat run, so we persevered through the damp gray autumn, with seemingly endless days of rain, waiting for the cool, crystalline relief of winter.There were several American-owned hotels in the town, where the guests were segregated by rank. I worked in the General Patton as a housekeeper, getting up each morning at 4 a.m. for the first half of a split shift, vacuuming the dining room and setting up tables for breakfast. I made sure the lobby was neat, ashtrays emptied. It was a drag in the summer, but in the winter, I’d be done by 9 a.m. and ready to ski all day before returning for the same routine in the evening.I lived in a tiny room in the hotel, in reality a converted broom closet that had no window to the outside, only a small tilted vent that opened to a hallway. One night I was reading in bed when someone walked by and flicked a smoldering cigarette butt into my lap.Ah, the ski bum days!I bought my first season ski pass that year, counting out a couple of months worth of wages for the privilege. We went from the ticket office to the Hausberg, where the army had it’s own little ski hill. We sat in the burger barn and bar at the base area, paneled with army-issue plywood and decorated with posters of the grinning Mahre twins holding up their K2 710s. The beer was as cold as the rain that fell outside. We sat and swapped powder lies, and finally, at last call, the rain turned to snow, and the cold wind carried the promise of the season to come.Bob Berwyn is a freelance writer in Silverthorne, where he guards a box full of old season passes from at least 15 different ski areas.
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