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Living the Dream – Season Three

I started my job as a snowmaker today, though Mother Nature seemed to be sending me a message that, if she was going to be honest, she didn’t really need my help.  Thick snowflakes curtained the road up Little Cottonwood Canyon, and Chris’ truck slid around a few corners despite being in four-wheel drive.  Fresh snow banks on either side of the road made it clear: winter has arrived.  Only after I parked safely at the Alta cat shop, where the snowmakers were meeting for orientation, was I able to look around and breathe in the wintry scene.  Barely four days ago had Chris and I stood in this same parking lot, unloading our mountain bikes from the back of his truck.  Autumn ricocheted off the smooth, granite walls, colors spread like a rainbow over the four thousand feet of elevation between the top and bottom of the canyon.  We pedaled up the aptly named “Summer Road”, which switchbacks uphill for two gravelly miles and provides a view of the narrow rock corridor all the way back down to the Salt Lake valley.  Today, the Summer Road was covered in seven inches of Wasatch powder.  Not much, by Utah standards, but a fine showing for the first storm of the winter.

Last year, I slid into this job at Alta Ski Resort with only three weeks left in the season.  Snowmaking in Utah starts in late October and finishes before Christmas.  Unlike in New England, where the resorts churn out man-made snow all season long, or risk their customers skiing on dirt during a February thaw, Utah resorts need only a bit of a head start, a thick base of snow to guarantee they’ll be able to open before Thanksgiving and stay open until mid-April.  I endured a great deal of mostly-good-natured derision from the five other guys on my shift last year.  They were putting in nine weeks of work for the same season pass to Alta that I was earning in three.  I would shrug and smile like I was getting away with something (because I was).  There’d been an unexpected opening on the day shift, and I was the lucky person in the right place at the right time.  I loved the job: riding snowmobiles and skis to check on the snow guns, hauling hoses and hardware, shoveling snow and chipping ice, climbing into shallow manholes to hook up electricity and water to the machines.  I was outdoors, in the snow, working with my hands, getting exercise, using interesting tools, learning about new machinery, and functioning as an essential member of a team.  And, it was almost like playing God.  I made it snow!

Planning to take this whole summer off and spend the money I earned as a firefighter last summer, I knew I needed to have a reliable job lined up for this fall.  Snowmaking was the obvious choice, and so this morning found me seated at a long conference table with fifteen other snowmakers, cradling mugs of coffee and sharing grins about all the fresh snow falling outside.  I’m the only woman on three shifts.  It’s ego, pure and simple, but I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t part of why I like the job.  Today was about paperwork, safety videos, meeting the new crew members, dotting I’s and crossing T’s, but it felt good to be gathered with this group of scruffy dudes, to be wearing hiking boots, a grubby polypropylene shirt, and new double-fronted Carhartt work pants (I’m a big nerd for outdoor gear; I can’t help it).  Third season in, I’m still living the ski bum dream, though it’s sometimes hard to recognize.  Today, however, it was unmistakable: gusts of wind moved the snow in sheets across the cat shop windows, chimneys smoked in the lodge across the parking lot, the still-yellow aspen trees on the mountain wore white, and there I was in the middle of it all.  Thanks be to Ullr, and let the season begin!

3 comments to Living the Dream – Season Three

  • syreena

    Yay for snow! We are having record highs for late October….oh well.

  • Susan!! I love how the only way we communicate lately is by leaving voice mails and by commenting on our respective blogs. I love your blog by the way. I was excited to see a few updates to it.
    Anyhow, you now have my email address (I think, from this comment), so please send me yours! Hope to see you soon!

  • Jean

    I’m so glad you’re back! Oh, how I’ve missed reading about your adventures! Keep ‘em comin’!!

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