Eastbound and…

Making sense of returning East

East Coast storm skiing. Photo: Tim Fater


Words: Ryan Dunfee, The Base Grind

You could call it the flow. Migrations from established Eastern townships to bare-knuckled Western frontiers are a celebrated part of the American story, whether for gold, farmland, or a general idea of a better future. For skiers, the move west, across interstates numbered 80 or 70, is as real a phenomenon as the Gold Rush ever was. POWDER Features Editor Porter Fox wrote about it last week, and legions of Eastern skiers can relate—speeding away from cold, small Northeast ski hills towards escapism.

In contrast, the return east smacks of defeatism. The dream is over. You’re not moving on to ski bum in Stowe; you’re giving up your seven-day shred schedule for crowded weekends, benefits, and a job with a suit and tie in Philly. You’ll come back to Jackson or Telluride on vacation, and you might even remember the stashes, but you’ll look across the tram dock and realize that there’s no one pumped to give you a friendly high five, and you have no idea who to hit up to get a cheap eighth.

I’m about to do just that—pack the car with all my belongings, the surfboard, mountain bike, and 125mm-underfoot powder boards, and do a U-turn on the dream. I try to let as few people around Tahoe know, because the inevitable response is a cringed face and a hopeless “WHY?!?” The answer is common enough: a girl. She’s back there, secure in a job in a brutal economy with her own business on the side, while I’m sitting here waiting tables and writing stories.

But I’m not going to be that guy with the rounded spine and regrets written in trail maps stapled to the cubicle walls. To begin with, I love the girl. I wouldn’t be moving anywhere if that weren’t the case. Secondly, I’ve been plagued with that sense of ambition, and since it isn’t focused on mountains, athletics, or capturing both behind the lens, it can’t be satisfied in ski towns. I want to “save” the goddamn environment—I’ve always felt that way—and since I’m a writer and not a biologist, where I can make a difference is more likely than not in a city behind a computer, and not in the Tetons chasing butterflies or mapping tree populations.

I found exactly one person from my nerdy alma mater, Williams College, who shared my story. Susan Reifer, a freelance writer who was contributing to POWDER at the dawn of a new style of skiing in the ’90s. She got sold on the adventure after meeting McConkey and a host of early pioneers during a trip to Argentina. She gave me the only piece of life advice that I’ve ever felt was important to follow: write down where you want to be in five, 10, and 20 years. Start with what kind of place you want to be in, what you want your weekends to be like, what kind of flexibility you think you’d need in your life, and what kind of activities, both in work and outside, you can’t see yourself not doing.

It was the most helpful exercise I’d done in my 20s. I could see clearly what my priorities were. I wanted to be writing in some form or fashion. Have quick access to mountains, trails, or waves I’d dreamed about being around since a kid. But not just for a couple years in my 20s—for life. Move around a lot. Live abroad. Help the environment and make the world a better place. Speak Spanish frequently. Ski, bike, or surf at least four times a week, if not daily. Not own a lot of stuff and be fine with it. Eat well. Constantly expose myself to people and opportunities that challenge my perceptions and myself. Volunteer somewhere. And find someone who supports all of that.

I realized I could spend some time banging away at a desk and skiing Vermont on the weekends if I knew I was getting closer to everything I mentioned above. It’s not skiing seven days a week, but skiing has a lot to do with it. Just like pushing myself to jump a bigger cliff, try a new trick, or skin a long-ass ascent, there is that same need to see past fear and sacrifice to the goal and the reward.

(This is The Base Grind, Ryan Dunfee’s weekly look at the ski industry. Last week, he apparently read Porter Fox’s story “Go West.”)

Add a comment

  • http://www.mountainridersalliance.com Jamie Schectman

    Best of luck in your future endeavors. And remember to follow your heart, and everything else will fall into place.

  • http://twitter.com/ozskier Digital Dave

    Dunfee, good luck. I too moved back east after 5 years in Colorado… I lasted four months before moving right on back.

  • B

    Ditto that Digital Dave. Made it 2 months, heading back to the no snatch Wasatch

  • Chris Schow

    Interesting take – you’d actually be surprised on how many skiers in Vermont spent time in the west and came back. I’m from the west, ski bummed in Sun Valley, coached racing at few other areas and a job brought me to Vermont. The schools can’t be beat, for alpine racing here’s a deeper, thicker culture and more competition without 10 hour drives. But then again, I’m moving to Cali in a month and can’t wait….

  • Carrie

    Ooof. I moved back east from Park City 9 years ago for a “real” job at ESPN. Hated the job. Met a guy. Got married. Had kids. Still here in Boston.

    Do yourself a favor: leave the powder boards in your friend’s garage in Tahoe. It will save you the extra baggage fee when you’re flying back out to actually put them to use again.

    Another piece of advice: have kids – quick – so you can enjoy skiing on these tiny little hills for a few years. Shit, I even love going to Wachusett as long as I can watch my 3-year-old giggle his way down the hill.

    Last but not least: un-friend everyone you know on Facebook who lives west of the Mississippi. It will kill you all winter long.

    Good luck!
    There’s always Tuckerman’s…

  • http://www.jankyfilms.com Hazen

    I haven’t even tried yet Ryan… More power to you. She must be special!!!

  • http://kapitolphoto.com Dan Brown

    Welcome Back!

  • http://brodyleven.com @brodyleven

    a lot of solid advice here, both in comments and the writing. good luck and, most importantly, stay happy.

  • http://mountains2maryland.wordpress.com/ Roger

    Been there, done that my friend. 2 years in Sun Valley, 7 in Breck and the last 3 in… Baltimore. Met my wife in CO and she’s a Maryland native, so I guess it was inevitable.
    The first year, you’ll be in denial that you actually live back here and that you don’t really miss it THAT much. A trip back to CB and Breck was a little rough for me. Like seeing an old girlfriend I still loved and wish I hadn’t dumped. But not as bad as what was to come.
    Then the second year is when reality and nostalgia will set in. Hard. You’ll look at the pages of Powder longingly and start watching ski movies on YouTube for hours. You may even cry a little. A return ski trip will result in some serious “What was I thinking? Why did I leave?” thoughts. It did not help me that my trip that year was during the epic, historical, once-in-a-lifetime season of ’10-’11.
    Year 3 has been a little of both for me. I made a trip to Jackson in early March and it was incredible, but I didn’t have the same feelings of “Oh God, I gotta get back to the mountains NOW!” like I did before.
    I finally came to terms with the fact that a) I am blessed that I was able to live “the life” for almost 10 years when most people only dream about it and b) that I WILL move nearer to the mountains some day. Whether it’s Denver or Burlington, just being in close proximity to the peaks and powder will be enough.
    And yes, checking out the snow reports and updates from your friends this winter will be tough, but just be sure to visit them as they will welcome you back with open arms.
    The bottom line? You will totally gain a deeper and more powerful appreciation for the mountains (and the environment) than you ever had. And that’s pretty cool!

    And luckily, my wife, the Baltimore girl who came back home, can’t wait to move back either!

  • Pingback: Hoping, Dreaming and Planning « Notes from the Dry Side

  • Stephen

    I lived 4 years in VT and 1 year in Utah. great times. Now back east in PA, wow big change, kill me now

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