They are my Mountains
Monday: Fresh snow, meaning a million people on the mountains. It is Spring Break in Vail/Beaver Creek, and that means… too many spoiled rich kids trying to look blue collar. Too many snowboarders using cult
lingo. I still prefer the grace of skiing. There was a snowboarding competition here recently, and I realized
I am getting too old for that game. Tempting fate is one thing, taunting it at 40 miles an hour down the un-
groomed back bowels of the Rockies is quite another. I actually yelled, "Watch out, you hot dog!" to a
teenager I saw zipping through the woods… "Watch out you hot dog??" I feel ancient. I turned 28 last
week. That's the median age of ski instructors around here, although Sam, my boss, is closing in on 50.
He makes being called a ski bum an honor…
According to the schedule, I am doing private instructions today… That's to the tune of about $500 that
people pay for a day of private lessons… 6.5 hours. Pray, pray that I don't get a Texan. A lot of oil moguls
come in this time. Ladies from Dallas want to ski in fur coats and diamonds… they call everyone "Shug",
and have no body co-ordination. But they are great tippers… The women carry no money… only their
husband's Platinum cards. They buy $5 waters with Platinum cards.
Lifts open at 9:00, classes start at 9:30. It is 6:01 a.m. Will try to get in a morning run before work. I love
the mountain this early. By 4 p.m. there are beer cans all over the place. Twenty-something millionaires
who just bought expensive boards stomp out their cigarettes in the pristine snow. Not going to look
forward to this day, but hopefully the fresh snow will hide Vail's ugly side. It is a strange town. People
come here and get lost deliberately. You wonder how many skeletons are behind the people in this town.
The good thing is that no one really asks you what happened in the past. It is just assumed that something
did. I love skiing. I love the mountains. I haven't had injera or weT in a pretty long time. But I listen to
Ethiopian music… you ski down a long trail with Krar music… there is nothing like it… Crazy, huh? Gotta
Tuesday: Was a pretty good day yesterday. Student was an elderly gent from Washington DC. He knew I was Ethiopian from the get-go. I think he works for a think-tank. He tried to get me to talk about the war.
"Hey, what do you think about the war there?" I wanted to tell him I just like Krar music going down a
mean trail. He asked me how I ended up in Colorado… 90% of the time we are college drop outs… ne'er
do wells. I hated school, I loved reading… what was calculus to me? I skied with a friend in high school…
and then came to Colorado on a little adventure… that was 9 years ago. I've left several times, but I
always end up back in Colorado. Skiing in Europe was a chore. Besides, I don't like the way the Swiss
pronounce their 'g' and 'v' sounds. In the summer I work in real estate, in the winter I ski. I read, I drink
beer… it is a pretty unconventionally routine life. I have run into a couple of Ethiopians in Colorado… one
was this pesky SELEDA editor who hounded me for months to write this thing you are reading . She
wouldn't go out with me, but she wanted me to do this. I didn't have a chance with her. But I said yes
anyway. Providing I don't have to answer questions.
You usually have lunch with your students, but the gent wanted to see his wife. She was an intermediate
skier. He is advanced. They met outside the main lodge, and he kissed her through his ski mask… It's not
that cold, but he wanted to wear a mask. For $500 a pop, he could wear a pink frock. He kissed her again
after taking his mask off and said something to her that made her laugh. That was cute. Usually, guys
bring their girlfriends to the mountain and leave their wives in the hotel room, the spa or shopping. One guy
brought two girlfriends to the mountain. They ended up in the same class. Suave.
Things wind up at about 4 p.m. Aprés ski begins. The town comes to life. Food is expensive in Vail. Beer
is worse. But if you are hooked into the whole underground black market, it's fine. (Free ski lifts for
waitresses in exchange for lunch… etc. ) Most instructors live outside Vail. I was lucky and found a sublet
for 6 months for next to nothing. That was almost 2 years ago. It's small, but I can see the mountains from
I am off tomorrow. I have to run errands, and fend off harassment from the SELEDA girl. This was due last
Wednesday: Bad day. Going back to bed.
Thursday: Better day. It is 6:41 p.m. and I have been home a couple of hours. We are short handed
here. I had to fill in for a friend of mine who pulled a hamstring, I think for the millionth time. Taught kids,
which is always the best. They are fearless. They look at a hill and say, "I'm going down there." Their
parents say, "Why are you trying to kill me?" Kids love the mountain. Even teenagers. There is a certain
reverence for it. Adults just want to wear the latest Patagonia, and talk about their meal at Sweet Basil.
Vail has changed. It used to be all white. Now you see a lot of Asians… especially Indians. And a lot of
South Americans. Thank God the South Americans don't want to ski in their fur coats. They are the most
polite. Everyone is pigeonholed here… Europeans like black women… Japanese like really funky stuff
done to them … black men like fake blondes… Enough to make the PC people cower in fear. When you
can pigeonhole them, it becomes easier on the nerves.
I think I am supposed to write about being Ethiopian in Vail. Not much to talk about. There are no
Ethiopians in Vail. At least none I know of. I'm not sure it would make much of a difference. If I try hard
enough, I think I can find an identity crisis somewhere. But that is too much work. And I am content with
where I am. I just like the mountains. I like skiing. I like that the mountains don't ask questions. When I
die, though, I want to be buried in Addis next to my dad.
Friday: Progressively I have noticed the insignificance of Fridays as a prelude to the weekend around
here. The days kind of merge, and it all boils down to, "Do I work today," or "Are the banks open?" It
makes you complacent. And, depending on what you were like before, complacent could be a pretty great
place to be. You stop apologizing for yourself.
It is 9:35 p.m. I should be in bed. I am still filling in this week. I had a husband/wife couple as students
today. Usually we have the same students for a 3-day period. But things have been off equilibrium.
Here's a tip: NEVER take ski lessons with a loved one. They can easily become a non-loved one. This
was a couple in their early 30's . I pegged him to be a workaholic Silicon Valley type. She just had a baby.
Both of them had cell phones. He had his pager. She had a camera, but didn't know how to operate it.
She accused the husband of getting too high tech of a camera. He snapped at her that she liked it when
he gave it to her, and that she is slowing down his pace in doing turns. She just couldn't get how to do a
turn. Kept crossing her skis. You learn to be patient, and remain quiet as the husband does all the yelling
for you. I sometimes channel spirits from the banks of Tana.
Finally, the husband snaps that she had not lost enough weight from the baby, and that was why she could
not make the turns. The wife burst into tears. He said this right as we sat on a ski lift. Not a good time to tell
the wife she is chunky. If she was not in the middle, I am convinced she would have jumped off. She
threw her overpriced ski eyewear, and screamed that she had had enough. I was hoping she would not
slap him. That was a huge rock on her finger. Might hurt.
She stormed off. He got on his cell phone to check messages. I stayed invisible. You learn to be invisible
in the mountains. You don't see, you don't hear. He over-tipped me and cut his class short. I went back
up and did a trail. No Krar music. Just rowdy Spring breakers doing moves that the Kennedy family would
not try on their worst day. To think that I was that stupid.
Saturday: This is the worst day to ski. Weekenders storm in for a jaunt down the mountain. They are
suffocating the mountain. There were protestors by the lifts. Vail is expanding. Environmentalist don't like
it. I think another 500,000 acres is being primed to get cut. I don't know where I stand. Expansion means
more money for the town and eventually, very eventually, more money for me. But the mountains are
looking a little bare these days. There was a really cute protestor holding up a sign that read, "Stop the
Greediness". I asked her out. She has a late meeting (I think strategizing for another cute protest), but
she said she could have drinks with me at 10:00 p.m. I could tell her parents had way too much money.
And she way too much time. But we all have our burdens to carry.
I taught an intermediate class… 7 people. One black guy. He reminded me of Bryant Gumble. Especially
the way he enunciated… He was in town for a corporate retreat. I liked his attitude. Probably in his early
30's, obviously being groomed for something great. He had climbed the corporate ladder with very sure
steps. I think he thinks I lead a great life. A part of me envies him. We talked a lot over lunch, and he
eventually asked me if my date and me would want to grab a beer later on. His girlfriend was traveling with
him. Alright, brother man. At the end of classes we rode the Gondola down. His blonde girlfriend was
waiting for him with a cold beer in one hand. Her name was Tiffany. He called her Tiff. Tiff was very
It gets easy when you pigeonhole them.
Adios from another ski season.