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The last ride

Tamara Miller
Shane Macomber/Vail DailyRussian native Larisa Dirkzwager said her job as a lift operator at Beaver Creek has helped her master English.
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BEAVER CREEK – Today may be the last day Adriana Hernandez ever sets foot on Beaver Creek Mountain.It’s sad, Hernandez said. She has been a regular fixture on the slopes for months now, even though skiing isn’t really the reason why. Hernandez is here to work, specifically, as a cashier at the Spruce Saddle Restaurant on Beaver Creek Mountain. Hernandez will take money back to her home in Costa Rica. She will take back a few e-mail addresses, which belong to the friends she’s made here. She’ll also return with improved English speaking skills, sharpened on co-workers and customers, both of whom have made her smile and stressed her out, sometimes all at the same time.”People here are really nice,” Hernandez said. “I’ve liked that.”That’s what makes it a little bit harder to say good-bye to her friends, many of whom she has worked alongside at Spruce Saddle, she said. Closing day for Beaver Creek Mountain is today. In the next week or so, the friends will go their separate ways. Thousands of seasonal workers who work in Eagle County will be doing the same thing. As the local ski resorts begin to close, those workers will be left with some decisions to make.Some of these workers will try to stick around for the summer, hoping to put off their return to the “real world” just a while longer. Some will go home, or make a new home somewhere else. Others will stay here, pick up another job for the summer, because that’s what they’ve been doing for years.Sticking aroundKelly Pyka’s days are numbered at Base Mountain Sports in Beaver Creek. The shop will close up later this month.This was Pyka’s first season working at the shop, but she knows the routine. The six-year Avon resident works as a golf professional at the Cordillera Golf Course during the summer. The months between golf seasons have been spent doing various winter jobs. Most years she’s stuck around Eagle County for the winter, but last year, she spent the winter working in Palm Springs, Calif.

This kind of work schedule isn’t for everyone, she said. Pyka budgets her money during the ski season to cover some of her expenses when she’s between jobs.”You have to have some patience,” she said. “It can be a little bit of a hassle trying to find a different job when money is a little tight.”You also need faith that the next job is out there, she said. Her fiancé and most of her friends work year-round, so bidding farewell to friends isn’t as much of an issue for her as it is for some seasonal workers.”I’m excited,” Pyka said of the ski season’s closing. “I’m looking forward to some change in season and to do some summer sports. I just wish I could have skied more.”Moving alongKen Edwards doesn’t even ski, yet he’s been working and living in Eagle County all winter. “I tried skiing once and fell and hurt my head,” he said. Edwards, a retiree who calls Kentucky home, likely won’t return next season – “it’s a bit cold here for my tastes” – but he’s enjoyed his stay nonetheless. There are other things to do here besides skiing, Edwards said. He and his wife, who works at Beano’s Cabin in Beaver Creek, spend their free time exploring the Colorado backcountry. Edwards, an amateur photographer, has enjoyed snapping pictures of the scenery. Edwards’ job as a cashier at Spruce Saddle has allowed him and his wife to travel during retirement. “The job covers the expenses,” Edwards said.

Last year, he worked in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park, coincidentally, with Hernandez. His next stop will be Arcadia National Park in Maine, he said. Before the couple leaves, Edwards said he wants to visit McCoy Park, Beaver Creek’s cross-country skiing area. It’s not all about moneyWorking as a lift operator has done much for Larisa Dirkzwager’s English. The Russian native, who married and moved to the United States 14 months ago, said she has learned to understand the myriad of English pronunciations found on local ski resorts: Australian, English, New Zealand and American.”I adore it here,” she said. “I can’t wait to come back next year.”Speaking English was Mariana’s biggest fear when she first came to work in Eagle County. Mariana (she didn’t give her last name) also got to practice her first language, Spanish, quite a bit here, too. She’ll miss her friends, as well as all the nightclubs she frequented in Vail. The nightlife, which she deemed “funny”, is better here than that in her home country of Argentina, she said. “It’s cool,” she said. “You can have a lot of friends here.” Mariana plans to visit Las Vegas and then, Los Angeles, before heading home. Her friend and fellow cashier Luis Cabral will be left behind. He moved here from Mexico, lives in Eagle County and attends Battle Mountain High School. “We’ll e-mail,” he said. Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or tmiller@vaildaily.com.

=======================================================Area Ski Resort Closing Dates• Beaver Creek: Today• Keystone: Today• Vail: April 17• Breckenridge: April 17• Arapahoe Basin: June (depending on weather and snow conditions)=============================================Vail, Colorado


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