The Aspens in Teton Village silently explode into a hue of pale yellow as I stroll into the sleepy lobby of the Hostel X. Greg, the manager, greets me from behind the front desk and makes it abundantly clear over the next 5 minutes that the best boot dryers in the world are arriving next week. I stand at the desk making small talk with Greg and a couple Hostel residents in the lobby. We talk about the upcoming winter weather, which is largely based on folklore indicators such as Wooly Bear Caterpillars, El Niño forecasts, and river levels. Greg hands over my combination, which looks like it came from the innards of a fortune cookie.
I proceed down the creaky stairs and past the Skier’s Wax Emporium mural that looks like the alpine version of the pool hall from Dazed and Confused. Staring into the space of the locker room, visions focus on the bookends of each day—spent here in the Hostel X locker room—feet slammed into boots with a “ughh” in the morning and feet released from boots in the afternoon with an “ahhh.”
This is the starting and ending point every season. In the life of a ski bum, the ski locker is the Alpha and the Omega.
Spinning the lock Right-Left-Right, the combination lock clinks loose. The maple locker is just a shell but in ten minutes, two pairs of skis, one pair of poles, a helmet, goggles, gloves, buffs, a stick of wax, and boots are stuffed inside 6’ high, 1X2’ rectangle.
How my locker mate will fit his 195cm Blizzards inside this slim wooden box is beyond me.
Right then, footsteps rumble down the creaky stairs and Phil Heitman appears with a pair of skis in each hand.
“Ready for another one!?” Phil asks with a panoramic smile.
I smile back “I know you’re ready for Big Red to fly.”
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The Torchbearer of the Jackson Hole Aerial Tram, Phil rode 1,043 trams in 128 days, never missing a single day during the 2010/2011 season. Phil rode approximately 8 trams a day and descended 4.6 million vertical feet over the course of a single season. In fact, Phil’s only breaks were short safety meetings at the Steve Haas Memorial known as “The Haas Bench.”
That 2010/2011 season was my first season in Jackson and the only year the Tram was operational on Opening Day.
To this day and what I imagine will be a long time, the 2010/2011 winter season will be considered Fortune’s Season.
Shaking hands, we finish unloading our gear into the lockers and head back upstairs. Jon Verdon, bartender and ski bum extraordinaire, is carrying cases of liquor balanced on his chest across the parking lot and into the Village Café. I wave over to Verdon and his eyes light up.
“It’s happening! It’s finally happening!”
In two months, Phil Heitman will stand in Tram Line, Jon Verdon will bartend at the Village Café, and skiers all over the country will put on their boots in some legendary locker room, taking the hill for a 128-game season.
Here’s to Fortune.
*Since writing this piece, the Village Cafe in Teton Village is now closed.