The change starts small, like chilly toes in flip-flops. It grows; one morning, a dusting of snow covers the high peaks. And before you can even register a difference, woolen, knit, and pom-pommed hats, often paired with t-shirts and sandals are out in force. No one actually needs a hat when it is warm enough to soak up the sun in short sleeves. Utility, however, is not the point.
This is an expression of anticipation.
“I’m ready,” it boldly proclaims to the world, in defiance of 60-degree fall sunshine. But soon enough, in tacit compliance, the days grow shorter, the nights downright cold, until the little woolen harbingers become necessary. Summer thoughts are pushed out by dreams of cold, white, adrenalin, and slowly but surely, the rest of the gear gets dragged out of the closet, dusted off, fluffed up, inspected, and readied for action.
At this time of year in Jackson, our homes rapidly become littered with two different seasons of gear-intensive sports: bikes helmets and shoes for road, cross-country and downhill, and a mess of ski gear. Snow or not, when the weather turns cold, the gear room explodes in a flurry of excitement.
But this is a mess with an underlying purpose: we forget what we trashed or wore out last season, and what needs to be replaced or updated. Complete clutter reigns but comfort lies in the fact that folks all over town are faced with the same disorganization. You just can’t put away the summer essentials until the snow coats every last vestige of dirt on the trails, and the cold temperatures finally make road-riding a forgone conclusion. But looking at ski gear, up against the walls, the anticipation builds; outdoor fun is not over when the snow flies, in so many ways, it is just beginning.
The buildup towards skiing is like no other sport. It is collective, pervasive, and meaningful. “I just can’t wait for ski season so I can have some purpose back in my life!” a friend once shouted, energetic and impatient for winter to arrive. Most of us aren’t want for purpose (our families, friends, and careers help us there) but if you are a skier or snowboarder, life is just more complete in winter. It is at the core of why we chose these isolated, sometimes harsh, mountain communities.
The approach of winter calls mountain town denizens, from far-flung summer sports and locations, back into the community fold.
“The beginning of the ski season is like going back to school – it’s the social hub,” said Rachel Porterfield, a season pass holder and seven-year Jackson resident. “People come out of the woodwork; you run into old friends, catch up with them, and make new friends. In the summer, people leave, or are out doing many different things, but in the winter, you know you can go to the ski hill and find everyone you’ve missed.”
Opening day is the culmination of training and anticipation, and time to reap the rewards of months of working hard and saving money to make the most of the winter months. “For me, opening day means the end of ski conditioning in the gym and the beginning of reconnecting with nature, the elements, and the community,” said Scott Scheer, a Mammoth, CA, snowboarder turned Jackson WY, local.
For thousands of years, humans have always made statements with their fashion choices. And so it goes with the donning of the early season beanie. It might seem frivolous, and jumping the gun, but in fact, it carries a message. Ready for winter, it announces. Bring it on; bring it all on.
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