An Ode to Ski Towns
At 19 years old, my plucky, inexperienced self had two choices. Either I could return to uni after failing my first two semesters spectacularly (the university’s words, not mine), or take the lift operator job I’d been offered at Perisher Ski Resort. I decided to flip a coin.
The result? I promptly dropped out of my degree and embarked to a little-known country town at the base of the Snowy Mountains known as Jindabyne.
Upon arriving, I was thrust into a world I didn’t know existed. After spending my first 19 years of life on the Gold Coast with no real experience of winter, I was suddenly on another planet. At first, these rural communities conveniently located near mountains and ski resorts seemed uninteresting. But I soon realised towns like Jindabyne are home to vagabonds, ski bums and seasonaires – whatever you want to call them – people who have been conditioned to live in the now, to never be worried about what is in the distance and to simply smile at the things behind them.
With the first lick of snow, the town exploded. Everywhere I looked were young people overflowing with optimism. An epiphany hit me like a fucking freight train: from the moment I’d arrived, I had four months and that was it. I was caught up in the lack of permanence. It was this sense of never being able to get back a day wasted that made me feel so alive.
If you’d asked me what the most valuable commodity in the world was in May of 2014, I’d have said gold, platinum or shares in Apple pre-1980. If you asked me in September of that same year – or even to this day – I would say youth, and nowhere breathes youth like ski towns.
Youth is a flame that burns brightly, but in haste. Everyone wants to be young, and very few seem to embrace age in the same way. Mountain towns are a perpetual explosion of youth: the kind of places where the local bottle-o sells out of the cheapest alcohol imaginable within an hour of everyone finishing work on pay day. Where no matter how empty your bank account is, there will be a pub or bar with a drink special in your budget, and if you’re too hungover to go snowboarding, you can pull your couch into your front yard and drink the day away before inevitably throwing a house party to start all over again. The kind of town where a friendship can be forged in minutes at the bar and feel like it’s lasted a lifetime already.
For parents, lawyers and those I guess most people would consider successful, all this probably sounds like a sham. A phase, something you do when you aren’t quite sure about what you really want to do. They don’t really understand though that for us, it’s much more simple. It’s about preserving something much more important: the youth we all seem to lose and forget once we are older.
So if you’re wondering if it’s all worth it – if it’s worth perpetually living hangover to hangover, working for minimum wage in the worst weather Mother Nature can throw at you; is it worth dropping everything – your studies, relationships and jobs just to go and work, party and ski or snowboard in the mountains for six months?
I’ve got friends I met at the bar four years ago whom I consider my closest mates. I know couples who met on their first day of work and are now married and living in a ski town with their kids. I’ve got pals who did one winter and fell so in love with the culture of snow towns that they’re now year-long residents. Then there’s me, who decided to do one season as a gap year on a whim, and here I am six seasons later about to start my seventh.
I’ve crossed oceans and continents chasing this nexus to youth, and who knows – maybe you’ll try it and end up cursing the idiot who wrote this article, swearing to never look at snow again. But won’t know until you take the plunge or flip a coin.
Cover by Yann Allegre