A Winter in Colorado
It's funny how I can spend two weeks in a place and write a solid 5 pages about the experience but when it comes to this Colorado recap, I have a difficult time explaining it. Overall, I would say both Eric and I feel successful in our endeavors here. Our goals going into the winter were fairly simple.
- Find out if Nat can live in the snow.
- Enjoy the winter activities and find out if we would like to live near them.
- Gain supervisory experience (Nat).
- Regain perspective for settled life.
We had an apartment booked for when we arrived to Summit County that we set up while we were in Florida so we would have a guaranteed place to live. Vail had said they 'might' have housing for us but wouldn't know until a few weeks into the job. How that is acceptable for people, I have no idea. Instead of banking on that, we decided to spend the money and get a one bedroom for the winter (which was good because Vail did NOT offer housing turns out.) The apartment was partially furnished and was better than expected for both location and views!
The proximity to the free bus system (SummitStage) was honestly my favorite part. It was so nice not to have to shovel out the truck everyday or worry about putting on chains if the weather was bad. We had about a 7 minute walk to the bus stop, and could monitor it's timing on their awesome real-time app. The bus was reliable and we ended up only driving the truck about once a week to do some chores.
The heat and water were included in rent, so we were never concerned about keeping the apartment at a comfortable temperature. By having a warm place to return to at the end of the day made living in snow no problem at all. The issue with all of our places in California was it was just cold enough that no A/C units were used, and just warm enough that the heaters were shit. I was always uncomfortable and cold. In Summit County, however, the gas fireplace kept the whole apartment nice and toasty, and I could even wear a dress inside. I get really cranky if I have to live in 10 layers inside and out for 8 months of the year. Can I live in the snow then? YES!
Now the question is do we want to. Since Eric and I grew up near the coast, beach activities have always had a strong pull. This winter we were able to get a since of what 'weekend' life would be if we lived in the snow full time. Unlike California, here we could cross country ski right out our front door. Often I was able to wake up for first tracks at one of the many resorts in the area and be home for lunch. Recreating outside in a cold environment did not get old over the season, and we both found that cross county skiing or snowshoeing scratches the itch that hiking usually satisfies. Especially as we get older, the allure of downhill skiing has started to fade as the risks get higher. We thought we would want to live right next to a downhill resort, but it turns out we got a bit tired of crowded groomers and would rather live closer to back country exploration opportunities. We did not get a chance to try the popular back country hut trips, but we look forward to expanding our snow season activity repertoire later in life.
Some of our favorite day trips were the trek out to the warming hut in Breckenridge and the ski up the gulch road ending in a hefty BBQ lunch at LaBonte's. Just going across the street for a few laps at the Nordic center trails was enough to get some outdoor time. One of the time we went for a quick ski after work and saw a fox hunting in the snow! There was a fair bit of wildlife in the area during the winter as well. Unfortunately, I was inside most of the time and did not see a lot of it. Eric, however, was able to watch porcupine, moose, and the elusive pine martin in action. Compared to some of the warmer states, the reptile/amphibian/avian populations are small or non-existent, but the abundance of mammals makes up for it. I am not sure if that changes much in the summer.
As far as our actual jobs, Eric and I got some experience in each others shoes, so to speak.
Eric spent the season as one of the yellow jackets with mountain safety. He skied around the easy, but popular, runs on the mountain all day trying to keep people going reasonable speeds. I shit you not, he often had to explain amid protests why reckless guests would be receiving a temporary pass suspensions for jumping over small children. But most of the time he stood for extended periods in subzero temperatures at the closed cut over to the terrain park. Telling park rats they had to ski responsibly down the rest of the mountain to get to the lift that would take them to the the top of the park, which they could see 150 feet behind him. Needless to say, he found such a necessary and fulfilling responsibility immensely gratifying and would happily fill the position of human fencing again (transcribed for Eric by me).
Ultimately, the vast majority of his co-workers were fun to work with, and it was a pretty mindless job that paid just enough to live and buy some winter gear with. The key benefit of working as Mountain Safety at keystone was spending required break time in ski patrol headquarters. While about ¾ of the patrollers were interesting, engaging, and entertaining to talk with, the highlight was spending so much time with the avalanche dogs. Jackson, Penny, Reagan, and Scout will always hold a place in Eric's heart. So not a bad position for the one season.
I, on the other hand, tried to get a bit of career advancement from this seasonal job. Thanks to my friend, Jill Hutton, I was able to get some tips on the Vail hiring process, and secured a position as Facility Supervisor for the Mountain House Children's Ski and Ride School. I was originally looking at being one of the many ski instructors, but when this job came up, I couldn't deny that a bit more responsibility and six month supervisory experience wouldn't be more beneficial in the long run. Thankfully, I was able to take that opportunity.
As Facility Supervisor, I did a little of everything. I monitored building safety, ordered and distributed food supplies, managed the indoor support staff of 25, ordered and organized lunch daily, and monitored/enforced food heath and safety. Along with a shit load more.
Some days were so hectic, and it seems like that is the norm for any position at ski school. Everyone was run ragged, from the instructors to the on snow supervisors to sales staff. Putting in 10 plus hour days were pretty standard. By mid season, almost everyone involved was burnt out and on edge. Boosting moral and keeping attitudes positive was a big portion of my day. It was not the hardest or most stressful job I have ever had, but it was pretty frustrating at times. Because it was seasonal work, too, we had employees ranging from 30 year veterans to first-job-ever working the same position, which can always lead to some tension.
The first month it seemed no one knew what was going on, or what they were supposed to be doing. This was exacerbated by the person who was supposed to be “training” me, either not knowing the answers to basic questions, or even worse, knowing only the wrong answers (“don't you remember we talked about this?” never talked about it according to my extremely detailed notes.) For someone like me who enjoys structure, organization, and training, this honestly was a bit of a nightmare. I kept getting “that's ski school!” as answers of why it was like this. I wanted to loosen up my 'law-enforcement' type work ethic, but didn't quite have that in mind. At this point I just have to accept I am 'that guy' who upholds rules, craves efficiency, and strives for staff health and well being rather than the “we all have to work this hard and you should too” mentality. I am who I am, take it or leave it I suppose.
Some of my more potent memories would be the interactions with the kiddos. I spent a lot of time with the 'sick and sad' kids as indoor support, and I will never forget some of those...erm...experiences. I wiped a lot of butts and cleaned a lot of vomit. I am now a champ at stopping any kid at any age from crying. I learned reading a book can fix just about anything and apparently I can not handle boogers or bloody noses without gagging. A child can scream endlessly in my ear and somehow I have learned to completely block it out. Thinking from a six year old boy's perspective still comes easy for me. Kids can be fun, but I think I am done working directly with them for quite some time. I am thankful for all of my first aid/ safety training from past jobs. Working under pressure in high-stress environments is a refined skill for me at this point.
Overall, I did end up liking the position, and loved the staff I worked with. I learned a lot about program operation, leadership, and gear management. Vail also provided additional leadership training outside of ski school which I found motivating and helpful. I felt like I grew a lot and left with a better understanding of what I am looking for in my next job/career.
Our final goal was to regain perspective for settled life. After being on the road for a year, it was difficult to imagine settling into apartment living again. It was especially challenging because we were going back to traveling after the six months, so we could not accumulate any additional items to make it more of a home. It kind of felt like we were squatting in someone's apartment. However, it gave us a change of pace and got us a bit more excited for when we do make a permanent home.
Of course we immediately appreciated the simple things. A kitchen with a roof, a private bathroom, and the knowledge we could have a full shower everyday. The bed provided was a little soft, so we actually missed our camp beds, especially since being in the trailer. Having a stable address to actually receive packages and mail was nice too (except USPS because reasons?). Being able to grocery shop and know we will have a freezer and refrigerator that can fit ALL THE THINGS made cooking delightfully easy. It was nice to be able to cook more elaborate meals and not have it get covered in bugs/rain/heat/cold/wind. Not having to pack up literally everything we own every four days was also nice. These 'conveniences' combined with long work days created a few lazy patterns that we were hoping to avoid this time around.
With a dishwasher, we were able to leave dishes until the next day, making the kitchen dirty most of the time. At camp, we can't do that, and we prefer keeping things cleaned up. After work, it was too easy to come home and relax with a beer. Having a small liqueur store right across the street was awesome and terrible for that. Since we didn't have much organizational contraptions (dresser, drawers, kitchen dividers, hamper, etc.) I found myself piling things in the living room. Eric laid out his clothes to dry in front of the fire everyday too so the floor was pretty messy. Knowing that it was temporary also didn't help with these patterns because we got in the mindset of “oh, we wont do this later, just for these few months.” It is good to know what to look out for and avoid in the future. We much prefer our habits developed by living outside and hope to keep them going even when we move inside. Next time.
The best part of being in a place for more than a week was the ability to host friends and family! I HUGE thank you to everyone who visited us, we loved being able to share the winter wonderland experience with you.
My dad was the first to stay with us. Even with just a one bedroom, we had the space in our living room to throw down an inflatable mattress. I was so happy he was able to take advantage of a 'cheep' luxury ski vacation. It is not everyday you can ski Breckenridge and have a free place to crash. Plus I loved the quality time together. It was so cool to ride a ski lift with my dad again. Just about 20 years had past since the last time he had skied, and he picked it right back up! One day we had Breckenridge all to ourselves with fresh powder blanketing the trails and trees. Just about everyday we split a burger (employee discount!) from the ski lodges, so no PB &J pocket lunches this time! Aside from the unfortunate medical issues (St. Joseph in Denver was the best hospital ever) we had a blast together. And even then, I was able to talk with Dad for hours on end without having to schedule phone calls and going in and out of service. It was neat to hear stories about our family I had never heard before, and learn about Mom and Dad's life a little more before the age of children.
Over Martin Luther King JR. weekend, we had our second visitors, Kristin and Chris! It makes me so happy these guys Friendcation with us. For me, leaving such good friends was the hardest part of taking off on this journey, so I am so grateful they have used vacation time to travel with us. I hope Friendcations are a tradition that lasts forever <3 Though our time together was short, all four of us got to ski from the highest ski lift in North America at Breckenridge, and Kristin, Chris and I were able to get one of the best ski days of the season at Vail. Vail was huge! Getting semi lost in knee deep powder skiing far out at Vail with Kristin was such a fond memory (even though the cat track back was awful!) Chris looked so happy when he skied and I was crushed that he and Eric did not get more time to explore together. Why you ask? BECAUSE WE WERE FUCKING SICK AGAIN!!!! Right before Kristin and Chris arrived, I got the flu, and then gave it to Eric. If it wasn't for the miracle drug and hundreds of dollars in medical bills, we wouldn't have been able to move at all. But we made the best of it. Thanks for being such sports and taking Grandma Nachtigal ice skating guys!
When Eric's family came to visit, they got the most snow we had all season. I was stoked about this because Jess had never really seen snow and it was her first time skiing! Unfortunately, we couldn't host all four of them at our place, so they rented a swanky air b&b where we could all hang out together. This was such a treat because it was walking distance to Eric and I's work so it felt like we got a vacation too. Plus it had a pool. It was once again wonderful to ski along side Paul and Peter just as we had in California many years ago. This time, I got to teach Jess how to ski, which was one of the cutest things ever. Jess picked it up so fast! It was fun to explore the greens throughout Breckenridge and Keystone with her while Peter, Paul and Eric got some man time. We were all blown away by how quickly Jess progressed. By day three she was starting to make hockey stops and even went down her first black diamond. I felt so proud!
For Eric and I, skiing has been such a meaningful and fun way to spend time together, so it was neat to see Jess and Peter going down the slopes together as well. I hope they can enjoy that again in the future. Eric took a few days off where he was finally able to indulge in the dense tree skiing he loves so much (Come Sail Away.) Most of the powder days up until this point had been at the start of the work week so both of us had been frustrated by constantly missing those sweet ski days.
Theresa was so kind to spend her days relaxing and cooking huge wonderful meals that we all enjoyed as a full family in the evening followed by movies on an actual TV. Eric and I were also able to play professional photographer as we worked on our portrait skills taking an engagement shoot with Peter and Jess. I always love Nachtigal family vacations, and look forward to many more in the future.
Our last visitor was my sister Lauren. Unfortunately, I was not able to take many days off for most of our guests because all of my non-existent time off was used for sick days, but we took what we could. Lauren stayed at our place and we were able to have some quality sibling time. Once again, it had been many years since I was able to ride a ski lift with my sis, so it was wonderful getting in some solid spring skiing together. Lauren skied great, and we were able to drop some of my favorite blues throughout the resorts. I was thrilled to take her out for her first cross-country ski around the Nordic center, and was so happy she loved the sport as much as I do. At the time, Lauren was debating moving out to Denver (which she did and is there now!!) so it was great to live so close we could spend some time together exploring her future home. I am excited for many more adventures together in the Rocky Mountains.
Back to settled life. Eric and I talked a lot about what we were looking forward to after this trip. Not just having a house but making a home. Having space in the future to work on projects is something both of us are missing currently. Being able to buy items for their use and longevity rather than their ability to fit in our truck. I would like some clothes that are not necessarily functional, but just for fun. Eric really enjoyed having inside down time playing video games and is looking forward to having a more permanent set up. We both are dying a little inside when we see cute pups or goats or cats or bunnies, and are craving the stability to have a pet of our own. Thinking about expanding our family in other ways too was on our minds. I loved being in a place long enough to make some friends again. We both felt comfortable having 'our' grocery store, restaurants, and shops. Feeling like we had a community again was wonderful. These reminders gave us something to hold on to, to get excited about, for when we are done with life on the road.
I feel a lot of people think we are “just in the adventure stage of our lives” and that we “will move on to whats important” later. I disagree with this so much. We are not just in a phase, what we are doing is no more or less important than if we were to have a house and kids, and we still might travel even after living a future settled life. I think it all comes down to doing what makes you fulfilled. Everyone is different, and we are so lucky to be able to pursue unique paths to happiness. It was great to have time to reflect on what we are missing as we camp to live, but I still feel like it is the life I want right now. There are positives and negatives with both lifestyles, and we are excited to see what we choose for ourselves in the future.
8/10 would not work for peanuts and lift tickets again, but would live in snow again.
Songs (it was 6 months):
Come Sail Away – Styx
Still Feel – Half Alive
Addictive Personality – Bumpin Uglies
Countryman Fiddle – The Aggrolites
Grown Woman – Beyonce