Words: Alexa Owen
It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m ready for a beer. I weave through groups of buzzed skiers and riders, as dogs rest faithfully below tables, and young rippers zigzag through the bar, keeping themselves occupied while their parents wind down after another weekend at Bridger.
I landed here in a state of post-grad, pre-career, semi-employed, I-have-no-fucking-idea-what-I-am-doing-or-where-I-am-going limbo. On the East Coast, you hear a lot of talk from skiers and riders about skipping town and heading West—going somewhere, anywhere, for the winter to rip turns all day and pound beers all night. But the reality is we have no idea how to get here. For those fellow directionless and financially hopeless wanderers out there, here are some tips on how to make that move:
6. Watch for signs. And follow them. At the end of August, I got a call from my brother, who lived in Bozeman at the time. He’d just landed a job caretaking a family’s private chalet in the Swiss Alps for the winter (thanks TGR forums!) and needed someone to sublet his place. I was excited—the heart-throbbing, nauseating kind of eagerness that tells your body and soul you know something about what’s going to happen that your brain does not. So I asked for the lease. I didn’t know how I would get there or what I would do when I made it. But the more you feel like you’re going to puke, the better the adventure is going to be.
5. Sack up. You too, ladies. I grew up in Connecticut, ski raced out of Vermont, and graduated from college the previous May. My friends had Fortune 500 career paths, Facebook addictions, (f)unemployment checks and unemployment debts, law school and grad school and Teach For America. I wanted to get out, but I didn’t know how. So I made a plan: live at home, work my ass off (I can now add line cook, cashier, hostess, tutor, substitute teacher, and SAT proctor to my resume), and save the rest to make a move.
4. LGA to BZN. Get the one-way ticket. Should I stay at home a bit longer and save a couple hundred more dollars? Is this a permanent move or should I get a round-trip ticket? Am I getting the best deal? Stop. Don’t flip out. Setting a departure date and sticking to it is crucial. And empowering, even for those of you who can drive off in your car.
3. Don’t be a Mohini. Mohini was the name of a white tiger that lived for several years in the Washington, D.C. National Zoo. She spent hours each day pacing her cramped 12-foot by 12-foot space. When biologists built her a bigger habitat, Mohini quickly retreated to that small square. Living at home, working hard, saving money, it would be so much more comfortable to stay put. When you feel that innate yearning to sit safely strapped to the conveyor belt that’s been your life, give it a friendly wave and a fuck off and get on your way.
2. Touch-down. In the first week of December, I packed two 49-pounds bags and flew to Bozeman. I settled in, explored for a few days, and when the adrenaline wore off and reality kicked in, looked for a job. I hit Craigslist and the local classifieds hard, and learned there are no jobs in Bozeman. Yikes. Right now I’m babysitting for $8 an hour two afternoons a week. But I can still get three ridge laps in before noon. Another option: clinical studies. Let a lab slather some E. coli bacteria on your hands and test different cleaning agents, and you have $100 in your pocket.
1. I ski, therefore, I am. Listen to locals. Buy the first round. Watch out for drama. Ski hard. There are always the days I come back to the purpose for turning my world upside down and ending up in some of the best terrain and most extraordinary natural beauty in the country. I throw on my gear, head up the ridge, have a little more of an idea each time of where I am going and what I am doing, and put down a few sweet runs.