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Ski blog: Vail ski bum turns DC law student

Matt Dannals
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyMatt Dannals spent four years in the Vail Valley, then moved to D.C. to begin the next chapter in his life.
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I first decided to move to Colorado’s Vail Valley after I saw the movie “Aspen Extreme” (the story of two friends from Michigan who packed their bags to move to Colorado) for the second or third time when I was in college. I made a decision then and there that when I graduated I would move to the mountains of Colorado to pursue my passion for skiing and the mountains.

I made the move in the fall of 2002 to Avon, CO (the town at the base of Beaver Creek) and immediately fell in love with the area and the people. The town consisted of people from all over the country, some young and some old, who instantly became my great friends. There were people like me – straight out of college – who wanted to escape to the Rocky Mountains before entering the real world. I planned to stay for a year and then return to North Carolina to attend law school. Oh how plans change.



Opening day at Vail that year came with a foot of fresh snow with the Back Bowls open (the Back Bowls rarely open on opening day). I had many powder days that year and one in particular that extended my stay to four wonderful years. A friend of mine and I were walking on Bridge Street in Vail after a great day of skiing.



I asked him if he wanted to stop at The Red Lion for a beer. He said that he needed to go study for the LSAT (he too was thinking about law school). I turned to him and said, “You’re not going to law school next year.” He responded, “Yeah you’re right, let’s grab a beer.” I knew then that I wasn’t going to law school next year either. And so it was that one year turned into four (My friend is now a member of the Beaver Creek Ski Patrol).

Such was the carefree lifestyle in what we referred to as fantasy land. We went out to bars or hung out at friend’s houses almost every night. It was like college, but without the classes. You woke up to get fresh tracks on a powder day. Follow it up with apres at a slope side bar, go to bed, and do it all over again the next day. I loved the Vail Valley lifestyle. Many people I met had been out there doing it for years. It was hard to get by sometimes, the cost of living was high and the wages low, but such was the sacrifice you made for living in a place where everyone came to vacation.



My first summer came and I discovered that this was not only a skier’s paradise, but also a golfer’s. I got a job as a caddy and was able to play for free on the nicest courses I had ever had the opportunity to play. The weather in the summer is great, especially for someone who grew up in the humidity of the South. People say that you move to Vail for the winters and the summers keep you there. I can definitely attest to this being the case.

Though the golf and skiing in the Vail Valley contributed to me staying for four years instead of one, it was really the people that made me stay. In my first few months I met the people who would remain my friends for the next four years and after. We met at work and most of us were new to the area that fall.

We made an instant connection of true friendship which is hard to find in this world. Two of these people had just moved from Hawaii after spending eight years there following high school. They brought a little Hawaiian culture with them and introduced me to the term “ohana”. It means friends that are so close that they are like blood relatives, even though you are not related.

We experienced everything together, from the tragedy of deaths in families to the joy of the birth of child. This kind of friendship made it very easy to stay longer, year after year.

As great as things were, something was still missing. My family had instilled a great since of service in my life; that we owed for our fortunes in life to give something back. For a while I thought I could do this in Vail, but it was not to be. If we lived in a perfect world I would still be in Vail today, and would not be writing this now. Though I had a since of this it took the guidance of a few friends, some in Vail and some not, for me to realize that I was supposed to move to Washington, DC.

This began in the fall of 2005 when I visited a friend in DC. I walked into his apartment and the first thing he told me was that he and his wife were going to use this weekend to convince me to move to DC next spring. I’ve known this guy for the better part of 20 years (we built tree forts together as kids and I was in his wedding) so I knew he was serious and that I should consider it.

I had a great weekend and loved DC, but when I returned to Vail I wasn’t sure if I wanted to leave. This all changed about a week later when I talked to my boss about a promotion.

My boss at the time was, and still is, the greatest guy I have ever worked for. He expected things to get done, but also liked to have fun. We’d go skiing during work on powder days, talk about politics and other issues. It was more of a friendship than a working relationship. About a week after I got back from my DC trip we met to talk about a management opening in our office. He told me that I was the best person he had ever had in my current position, but that he didn’t want to hold me back. He felt that I should move to DC and go to law school.

At this point it got through my thick skull that someone was telling me to move to DC. I believe and have great faith in God, and I realized that he was using my friends in Vail and DC to convince me to move to DC. At that point I made what would be the most difficult decision in my life; I would be leaving the Vail Valley the following spring for Washington, DC.

So here I am now, a year and half after leaving Vail. The transition has been tough. Life in DC has not been easy, but it has been good. I have worked on a senatorial campaign, interned with a congresswoman in the United States House of Representatives, and am now working at one of the most respected trade associations in town.

I think about Vail a lot and miss all the wonderful people I met there, but I do not regret the decision leave. I will always cherish the time I had in Vail, but we unfortunately do not live in a perfect world and therefore I have come to realize that there are important things that need to be taken care of.

I am going to go to law school in the next year or two, and hope that I will be able to contribute to the policy issues that we are going to face as a nation in the years to come. At the same time I can’t wait to get out to Vail sometime soon for a week a good skiing.


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