The Geology of Ski Towns

On a recent evening walking by the smoking section of Bulldogs, I heard the following conversation between two 20-somethings and a 30-something.

“You’re FROM Fernie? Were you born here?”

“No. I moved here seventeen years ago.”


And with a seeming little bow, the two 20-somthings conferred serious respect on their elder, then took another pull on their cigarettes.

The gist of the conversation was simple. Newly arrived in town, just off the docks, they couldn’t believe being here and planned on staying for the “foreseeable” future. In their case, no doubt something like two weeks beyond the season. The lure of a Ski Bum Lifestyle--pow, beer and babes--seems like the be all and end all. And while smoking a cigarette outside Bulldogs, they met an actual Ski Bum Veteran.

This time of year Fernie receives a major jolt of fresh blood. Mostly younger folks seeking a year or two out of the mainstream. A couple years without cares and no worries about next year or the next five. Or twenty. They take server jobs, jobs as lifties, parking lot attendees, maids and dishwashers. Whatever gives them a few free days to seek the pow and nights to play the life. It’s all good.

In time, most move on, but some, a very few, stay.

At the same time we receive a steady influx of more professional residents. New workers at the mine, new business owners and older (and wiser) Fernie residents who left for a different sort of job, a grad degree or whatever and decided it was never better and moved back after years on the outside.

Our social circle becomes scribed by our year of arrival in town and our chosen activities. This becomes a social geology. Layer built year after year by new comers falling in on the established layers of the town. It’s interesting to watch the layers build. We spend time with other new arrivals. We spend time with those we meet in our cultural milieu. Join a church. Join the Arts Station. Pick up a plot at the Eco Garden. Join the Wednesday meditation.

All offer a different cross section of the community. Each has tendrils that will pull you into similar parallel interest groups. Join the Eco Garden and you’ll be attending the Think Tank Cinema, shopping at the Cottonwood Tree, going to Wildsight meetings and cheering at the dump BP rallies in Arts Station Square. Join the Arts Station and you’ll be going to plays, taking pottery classes, taking in concerts and Indy films. Join a church and you become immersed in an active faith based social group.

Or you can join the smokers outside Bulldogs.

Each offers a different set of experiences.

I recently attended my son’s wedding. The guests included several long time friends from our early days in the mountains. It offered me a moment to look at how life progresses if one follows a passion and chooses to derive a life parallel to that passion. Rich, Eric and I all moved to a small Colorado mountain resort within a couple years of each other. Today we remain in the mountains.

Rich is a five state independent sales rep for metal roofing products. As we all know, building in the mountains slows tremendously (stops) in the winter. He skis a lot. Eric found an interest in historic preservation. With this interest he found many of the issues were legal issues. Fifteen years out of school, he went back for a law degree. His single practice specializes in historic preservation and land use issues from both the municipal and developer sides. I choose a career writing. I spent longer in “day jobs” before being able to just write. I still live in the mountains and look out at the Sisters as I write this.

I thought of others of that time. Matt, now a respected architecture photographer traveling around North America shooting mountain homes. Gary, who went into publishing, became a top software pr hack. Jim started as a liftie and ended up as the top dog at Jackson Hole, then moved into golf resorts.

All of us started in the smoking section of Bulldog. Really. Over time, our passion for skiing lead us to a path (sometimes rocky) allowing us time on the hill, time in town and our time with our friends. And making a real living.

And it’s geologic. My son’s cousin lives in Park City. We did the “do you know “ game at the wedding reception. We didn’t know any of the same folks. The people I know have been there 20 years or more. He’s been in town five. Time is hard to bridge.

So this year, when you pass the smoking section at Bulldogs, look a little closer. A couple of those folks will graduate and become long-term residents of our community.