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  • Will Sanders

Feeling nostalgic: a wonderful season at Jackson Hole

As the winter season comes to an end, I am feeling nostalgic and grateful for the days where the sounds of avalanche mitigation works as a second alarm clock; the days where a cup of coffee complements my pre-public access into zones people would fight over first tracks for; and for the days where I got a daily dose of inspiration from the community of hardworking, passionate folks that I was lucky to work alongside with. My time bumming it at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort was something special.

By the end of it, this post is likely to sound like a thank you letter to the month of February more than anything. The fast paced nature of midwinter in a ski town, paired with record breaking snowfall makes it feel as though everything happened in that one month. But that's not to say I won't remember and cherish the warm days of slushy park laps... and slushies themselves. In a line of stoke, my friends and I followed each other off of every side hit, traversing over to every wiggle, and skidding over the top of bumpy groomers at lethal speeds - making snowboarding feel more like wakeboarding in the ocean... There weren't very many bad days this winter.

What I am describing is what I choose to remember from my job. I could think back to how exhausted I was... all the time. Especially when recovering from COVID-19. Waking up at 5 am to work a cold, 10 hour day for days and days in a row does begin to weigh on you. I could think back to being the guy that had to enforce the facemask mandate; getting bitched at by Texans that were feeling especially powerful from fulfilling their reservations at the Four Seasons. I could think back to those -20 degree mornings, where I thought my extremities were going to fall off at any moment. But those were all temporary in a fast paced schedule where every other hour I got an hour to snowboard. And that made it all worth it.

Of course my off-days were always fun. Holding a pass at JHMR, getting tickets to Grand Targhee and Snow King, and splitboarding and hiking the backcountry will always make for an incredible time. But my best days were at work. That's something I'm very happy to say, as not too many folks are fortunate enough to experience getting paid to have some of the best days of their life.

I learned quickly, if you love deep snow - then this job incentives you to work harder. I would put in as much effort as possible to ensure that my hard work wouldn't go unnoticed. If you can make yourself standout, then a good schedule will follow. That's how I managed to see and experience most of Jackson with a blanket of untouched snow on it. While most days I neglected the Apres Vous chairlift, any day there was a substantial snowfall the night before you could find me standing at the top of it by it's opening at 8:30 AM. While most people were just getting onto the lift, my friends and I were just dropping in and leaving tracks down the mountain that resembled smooth brush strokes upon an untouched canvas. An early season effort to explore and learn the mountain foreshadowed our ability to link a dozens of cliff drops, windlips and cattracks into a handful of runs. We weren't technically allowed to jump and flip in our uniform; however, we still claim our innocence until proven guilty. It's hard to enforce that at a massive ski resort - so we had our fun.

Big storms were definitely tiring. 10 hours straight of working and snowboarding as hard and fast as possible, only to be relieved by a couple nature valley bars and 7 minutes on a chairlift was a recipe for sore legs and an early bedtime. But it was the days after a storm that really had my body begging for a rest day. When the sky opens up, the wind calms down, and the rest of the mountain has returned to hardpack and choppy snow - that's when the second wave of excitement follows. Much of the terrain on the upper mountain begins to open, and an hour long break gave me just enough time to hike and climb to those parts of the mountain that had yet to see many people... that is, if I managed to climb the 800 foot bootpack fast enough. As soon as one of my coworkers broke me out of my rotation at the lifts, I would immediately jump on the gondola and begin to stretch my legs out. Because as soon as I was at the top, it was time to channel Usain Bolt and run up to the top of the ridgeline as quickly as possible. Once at the top, I would try my best to cool down before putting my goggles back on. After working so hard to get to this terrain, I was careful not to ruin it with foggy goggles. But my time constraint, mixed with the temptation of standing atop an untouched face with perfect cliffs, jumps, and chutes below me made it impossible to relax for more than a couple minutes. With the sun out and the snow deep, confidence levels are at an alltime high; leading to the type of run that can be heard for miles. Full of yelps, "yewwws", and obscenities - making my enjoyment more than blatant at an auditory level.

The issue was, the month of February never really allowed for a rest day. Before I could even finish picking off the lines down the mountain that had been overlooked by everyone else after the last storm, mother nature would hit the reset button. But the sheer excitement in the air upon the incoming of fresh snow made it easy to power through. You see, fresh snow changes everything. It changes the mountain, it changes your perception of work, it changes the mood of everyone around you... it just makes everything better. The locker rooms at 6 AM were no longer quiet and dull, filled with grumpy folks that hadn't quite woken up yet and were still feeling the effects of the night before. Instead, there is an energy in the air. You walk into a room full of life. Music is blasting, people are giddy, with noticeable smiles on their faces despite having masks on. These are the days that we had in mind when we all moved here.

The sun still isn't quite up by the time we are standing at the bottom of the mountain for our morning meeting. Snow is pelting us in the face and accumulating on our heads, and every few minutes an explosion above us interrupts our conversation. The daily schedule gets passed around, and an expression of happiness or frustration follows everyone's first glance at the wet piece of paper. As soon as the meeting ends, an auction goes down for trading shifts around. The injured folks give up their first breaks and floating positions, so that someone that plans to ski can take advantage of the day. Once that's all said and done, it's a race to move all the snow and get everything set up well before open. Ideally having enough time to grab a cup of coffee before taking the first run. By the time the lifts finally open, most of us had been up for at least four hours, making that cup of coffee a much needed boost to take full advantage of being the first ones on the mountain.

These wonderful, long days deserved to be celebrated. That's why a stop by the Bodega on the way home from work to get a drink or two becomes a ritual for all of the employees. The outside picnic tables remain vacant in the cold temperatures, as they only look very welcoming to sit and hangout to a bunch of weathered ski bums that have already spent 10 hours in the cold. That's why right around 5 o' clock, it loses its vacancy and it becomes hard to find a seat. Once the spring came around, the Bodega hangouts evolved. With most of the employees being young, and either having the vaccine or the antibodies - dance parties in the parking lot began to follow the Bodega pre games. This made our afterwork ritual feel more like a celebration of the season, rather than a specific day. Unfortunately, with so much on my plate, I wasn't able to join the fun most evenings. Up until the last week, stopping by the Bodega was typically just a short decompression-session for me. However, I began to realize how little time I had left with all of these wonderful people I met this season, and I made sure to make time for the shindigs that capped off the season.

The final day came around, and it really hit hard. A whole community of people had come together and became so close. Life-long friendships had been established, and the endless yearn for more snow continued to burn. I didn't want the season to end yet. But on that last day, as bubbles floated into the sunset above a crowd full of ski bums dancing to a DJ performing on top of some random guy's van, I decided that there is always next year. See you next season, Jackson.

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