Frozen pant legs, sunburns

written Sunday, November 22

I sit in the lodge on a Sunday night, in front of the expansive windows.  There are still no guests at the lodge, as we have not yet opened.  Outside it is finally snowing.  Through the window all that can be seen is a turbulent blizzard, a static white view of nothing.

Right now the opening day is a speculative date, which is usually the case.  Except for one hearty snow that soon melted, the last two weeks have been a series of beautiful forty degree days that have left the south facing peaks dry.  The snow machines have been busy on the north facing peaks laying down a base layer.  Regardless, there will be snow.  It will cover everything in due time.

While everyone grumbles about the recent lack of snow I’ve been savoring the dry ground, as it provides ideal hiking conditions.  It means the bulky snow pants remain on the rack in favor of blue jeans.  It means walking around with the souls of my boot on dirt paths and gravel.  And I’ve had plenty of time to do that.

On Wednesday the 11th, two days after arrival, I started work.  For three days I arrived to work at 8am at the large garage located here on the lodge property.  I relished the work, spending most of the time outside, the warm sun shining down, the scenic Mt Superior looming in the western sky.  My main duty was to inspect, clean, and repair the three vehicles I will be operating this winter.  When introduced to the large Chevy transit van by Devon, the boss, he said, “here is your new desk.”

On Friday the 13th, I was informed I had the weekend off, and then seven more days off, beginning my rotation of 7-on/7-off.  I had to ask twice to just confirm, nine consecutive days off?  All that free time here in the mountains, and being on payroll – not a bad deal.

So, here I am on the evening of my final day off.  When I first found out that I would have that much spare time, a part of me panicked.  That is a lot of time.  How would I spend it?  Could I possibly justify that amount of leisure?

The answer is yes.  It has been a productive and fruitful nine days.  The bulk of my time has followed a pretty simple formula.  Wake up around nine and hydrate with water, juice, and tea.  Eat lunch in the employee dinging room at 11:30.  Then go hiking.

Alta lies on a single road running through the bottom of a narrow valley that is surrounded by mountains.  There are at least a dozen substantial peaks within walking distance of the lodge.  On the side of these mountains are a web of old mining roads and trails providing endless exploration.  One of the best things about hiking here is it’s hard to get lost – just go back downhill.

The sun has been setting around 5:00, which just happens to coincide exactly with dinner service.  After dinner I’ve spent the majority of the evenings working on my “special project”.  Check out http://www.nanowrimo.org for the details.  As of tonight I’m 32,000 words in, with 18,000 left to go.  I feel blessed by the time allowed to indulge in this outrageous stunt.

Of course there has been some celebrating as well, as everyone is in a festive mood.  The season is about to start.  Nobody really has to work more than a few hours a day (this will change as we open).  There is ample time for fun.

Up until Monday of this week I was actually still living in the lodge itself, hiding out in room 100, enjoying my last bits of privacy I will have for the next half year.  The housekeepers finally kicked me out and I joined the rest of the clan in the “Fort”, the ramshackle employee housing unit.  Since then I’ve met lots of characters and friends, and spent a few nights getting wild.

Aside from hiking, I went to town one day with a coworker to buy provisions.  Another day Chad and I walked down the Snowbird resort, a 600 room cement monolith, to explore their amenities.  We ended up watching football in a Mexican restaurant.  We drank many beers and ate many chips, making the climb back up to Alta tiresome and comical.

On Thursday of this week the local community enrichment group held a social function at Our Lady of the Snows, the town church and convention hall, a small little building situated next to the post office and the one room police station.  This season kickoff event featured a fire dancer, photo slideshows, and ski movies filmed by locals.  People were encouraged to dress in their best vintage ski gear and to bring their own “refreshments”.  People were spilling out of the doors.  There were bottles of whisky handed around.  People’s coat pockets were filled with cans of beer.  A majority of people became rabid watching the powder skiing videos, breaking into fits of cheering, chanting, and wailing.  The little event got everyone fired up to ski.  An entire blog will likely be devoted to explaining the fiendish and passionate mentality of these hardcore ski people, a strange breed.

Of course I couldn’t have spent more than a week just hiking, typing, and partying?  No, there were a few minor filler activities that garnished my days as well, mainly table tennis and sitting in the sauna.  Table tennis has emerged as the proud official indoor sport of the staff and claim to honor and glory in the lodge.  A highly competitive atmosphere has developed around the small green table in the parlor. Dramatic games, played with astonishing skill, take place at all hours of the day.  The title of championship constantly changes hands.  We’ve had to ship in replacement ping-pong balls at this level of play.  It’s funny really, and I’m exaggerating – but not by much.  Ping Pong balls are accepted as a form of currency or trade up here, along with tobacco, beer, laundry detergent, and Redbull.

All in all it has been a pretty good two weeks since first driving up Highway 210 into Alta.  I look forward to working tomorrow.  In the time it has taken to write this probably two more inches of snow has fallen.  Surely I will be bundled up in all my gear tomorrow.  I predict operating a snow blower at some time.  Without question I will be yielding a shovel.  Likely the snow will continue until morning.  Everyone will be up in the bright early morning waxing their snowboards, lacing up their boots, and putting skins on the bottom of their skis.  While shoveling there will be that moment, which has been common lately, where I stare up at my surroundings and realization floods at me.  And I’ll think to myself, “Well, I guess this is it.”

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