Welcome to Ski Town, USA
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, CO—Folks from the east coast have likely never heard of it, but those from the west will be familiar with Steamboat Springs, Colorado, a small mountain town three hours west of Denver and the self-titled “Ski Town, U.S.A.”.
When you hear this moniker, what do you think of? For many, the association with a ski town is that of a pretentious little community, filled with wives sporting fur around their shoulders and too much time on their hands. It speaks of expensive Patagonia gear, pristine from a year in the closet, and of rosy-cheeked white people splayed out in bars and expensive restaurants after a long day on the slopes.
The image most associate with ski-towns is, in short, that of an exclusive club to which few are welcome unless they are an existing member of the moneyed gentry.
In Steamboat, however, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Never have I been somewhere that has welcomed me more warmly than the kind folks of Steamboat. From Karen, a friend-of-a-friend and now close-friend that let me sleep on her couch for a week while I tried to find a place to live, to my work-buddy Anthony that is going to loan me his extra snowboard for the entire season in exchange for a six-pack of beer, everyone here is kind and welcoming. It’s a town filled with people from all over the country—a surprising percentage hail from upstate New York—who have all been in my shoes at one point or another. Everyone has somewhat of a restless soul, and they know the feeling of being somewhere new and knowing no one. It’s one of the reasons why they’re so willing to welcome you.
I’m on a first-name basis with the barista at the bookstore/coffee shop, the clerk at Wal-Mart, and regularly have actual conversations with others riding public transit. I was waiting for the Orange Line bus the other night, when a Blue Line bus appeared in the distance. I tried to signal that I wouldn’t be getting on, but between the dark and the snow, the driver couldn’t see me waving my hand at him. By the time he did notice me, it was too late, and he pulled right up to me, opening the door.
“Well, after all that, I figured I might as well just say hello!” he remarked with a chuckle, closing the doors and pulling back into the right lane. Hospitality like this is not something I’m used to, but it makes being a stranger in a strange land much easier.
There’s something about this town that I can’t quite put my finger on, but it’s far from the picture of an uptight ski resort. Yes, there are people with money that visit here. Yes, there are ski bums who work the lifts, brazenly wearing saggy pants and doing little to make them seem like anything but the punk snowboarders that they may well be. You’ll always have people that fit the stereotypes, anywhere you go.
Yet there is also a community that extends far beyond those that flock here to ski the mountain. Steamboat is filled with writers, artists, businessmen, and outdoorsmen of every stripe. It’s a community of people that care about the environment in which they live, both natural and social, and take pains to make you feel welcome. In short, it’s a community that I’m quite excited to join for the next six months, because I sure don't feel like I'm in a small rural outpost hours and hours from the closest center of traditional civilization.