Harff: From ski bum to storyteller
It all started with my mom’s old camera phone and my chaotic curiosity. Interviewing anyone I could catch on my very own news network, “Noelle LA.” Though, this news network turned out to be more of a toy box TMZ since most of my interviews were American Girl dolls and Build-A-Bears.
Soon I went from this toy box tabloid to being editor in chief for my high school newspaper. I wrote stories examining police reports and questioning council members — a long way from asking my dolls what happened at the tea party.
Then, I made it to a real publication — the Vail Daily. It is exciting to be working among professional reporters, producing a paper that would be read by more than just my mom. I was asking hard questions to important people.
Speaking of questions, I ended up in the Vail Daily newsroom after a series of questionable decisions. I didn’t come to Vail to work for the Vail Daily. I came to Vail for the same reason everyone else does: to ski.
Once my college plans at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were deferred due to the pandemic, I decided to do what any ex-high school overachiever does: take a freaking break.
Participate in The Longevity Project
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.
I worked for Vail Resorts, but my real focus was sending it large off the Chair 11 cliffs. I lived off of the mints in the lobby of hotel bathrooms and old breakfast burritos my barista friend would sneak me. I was happy. Hungry, poor, and cold, but happy.
Unfortunately, by mid-March, I ended up how a lot of ski bums do: out of a job. I was fired for throwing a party in employee housing.
Evicted and out of work in 24 hours, I had an identity crisis. How did I go from 4.0 debate team nerd to homeless ski bum?
Fast-forward through hard lessons learned, I found a home (overpriced 500-square-foot studio) and a job waitressing.
It had to be divine intervention because somehow, I managed to make a good impression while waiting on Bob Brown. (For those of you who don’t know, I was talking to the president of the company that owns the Vail Daily.)
After finding out who he was, I was not only selling the soup of the day but also my journalism portfolio. After a punctual dinner and enough pestering, I landed an interview with the editor and a summer internship at the Vail Daily.
The Vail Daily newsroom is unlike any office I’ve ever been in. There are posters of the Grateful Dead on the walls and sets of skis leaning on cubicles. One cubical belongs to a Ravino and numerous others belonged to women — both of which are a rarity in the Male Valley.
The people who work in this newsroom are talented journalists with ski town flair. Nate Peterson, the editor, has a picture wall in his office of live concerts, kids in costumes and epic snow days. Tricia Swenson is a pro’s pro, flawlessly hosting Vail Daily Live every morning. Kelli Duncan has the crime and courts beat covered, and Ali Longwell is holding the Avon Town Council and local school district accountable with her questions.
I did everything an intern does: help out when needed, drink lots of coffee and fan-girl over all of the real reporters.
Soon Nate gave me a chance to be one of those real reporters. I was assigned a series of stories on what it’s like to live and work in this valley on a lower income. Between waitressing and fitting in 14ers, I was able to write about people in my demographic — the people who worked hard to be in a place they wanted to be. (Even if it meant living in a dingy $1,000 studio and catering to the needs of needy people.)
Nate and Bob gave me an opportunity to become a part of an established, trusted community paper, and with that chance, I ran.
I’ve done a lot this year in my break from college, but nothing was more rewarding than showing my old journalism teacher my byline in a real newspaper. For that, I have no one else to thank but Nate. He is one of the best coaches I have ever worked under and his team of amazing reporters reflects his ability.
Noelle Harff grew up in Colorado and is a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she’s studying journalism. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vail Daily intern Noelle Harff can be reached at email@example.com.