GET OUT: Closing Day

By on March 29, 2016

Expect costumed revelry as ski bums lose a bit of purpose (and dignity?) this weekend.

Left: The Mermaid of the... mountain? Top right:  Ryan VanLanen (right), dons a pink feather behind his ear to commemorate closing day. Bottom right: A serious crowd gathers to discuss politics. (Photo: elizabeth koutrelakos)

Left: The Mermaid of the… mountain? Top right:  Ryan VanLanen (right), dons a pink feather behind his ear to commemorate closing day. Bottom right: A serious crowd gathers to discuss politics. (Photos: Elizabeth Koutrelakos)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – This time of year even the hardiest of ski bums experience twinges of sentimentality. When the days of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort reach the final fingered countdown, people’s shoulders begin to slump. I saw a friend moping around amidst spring breakers last week. He sat on a crowded chair lift but was skiing alone on a grey bird day.

Poor guy, I thought. Did he hurt himself? Did something bad happen? I asked out of curiosity. His response revealed he was suffering from symptoms of TMS (Teton Village Mountain Syndrome). TMS causes looming sadness due to the resort’s impending April shutdown. I’ve seen good people succumb to this, becoming a bit testy at the changing of the tides. Maybe they don’t know where they’re going to go once the lifts stop, or maybe the uncertainty of finding a summer job sparks apprehension.

This particular fellow expressed regret at missing a couple ski days, which was compounded because he didn’t make the One Hundred Day list. For those unfamiliar with this list, it is posted like a high school auditions list on the windows near the tram line. I am uncertain what 100-day winners get, but rumors are it may entail a breakfast. Sure, some people regret not skiing enough; others regret not skiing with friends. But these regrets do not signify a failed winter.

There’s one more weekend to take advantage of the easy way up. For the 50th time at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, people can celebrate the very last day of another season. During this time, you’ll see old friends come out of the woodworks. This weekend often draws myriad skiers and snowboarders from far away lands.

Friday, April 1, i.e.: Gaper Day, at the resort is a great day for people watching. Over the years, this semi-structured holiday compels people to flail around the snow, dawning extremely funny outfits. One year, I spotted someone on cross-country skis headed up Thunder lift with two fake children hanging out of her backpack.  As with any event in Jackson, people go to extreme lengths to have the coolest outfits on the mountain.

The last Saturday at the Village is typically a fun time to watch small children skiing around in adorable and creative getups. I’ve seen sharks, gators and other little creatures ripping the mini terrain park on Teewinot. Observing these small fountains of youth often fulfills some people’s desires for a wholesome good time.

On Sunday, the last day of the season, sadness fill the air. People habitually remark how they cannot fathom that the season is over. Often times, I want to ask them, “Have you not looked at a calendar for the last four months? Have you not noticed it gets dark at 8 p.m. now instead of 4? The world is revolving around the sun!” But I refrain from these comments and stick to the empathetic, “I know it really flew by… it’s really a bummer.” Any other response may be deemed abnormal, and due to seasonal sensitivities of these folks, such comments may induce unwanted emotional reactions.

Another oddity that frequently occurs during the last hour of the last day is the overwhelming amount of people that think getting on the last tram is the most important thing in the world. All winter long, people arise before dawn to spend the first half of their waking hours in the beloved tram line so they can be the first ones on.  On big snow days when the mountain opens late, it’s likely the tram liners spend more time waiting in line than actually skiing.

Priorities change on the last day, however, when people plan out their entire day to strategize how they will get last tram. I’ve always imagined last tram to be akin to the Four Seasons of trams with special people showering you with hot cocoa, warm cookies and toasty blankets. Sadly, I highly doubt there exists any truth to this fantasy. In fact, I’ve heard that people wait at the top for the last tram riders of the season in order to pummel them with snowballs. Again, I have no idea why people would revolve their entire day to catch a tram with the reward of being hit in the face with small molecules of compacted ice. But it’s the last day, after all.

There’s something strangely unique about celebrating this annual event with old friends and perfect strangers. In the words of Frank Herbert, “There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”

Yes, the story of winter may be concluding for now, but here’s to the new opportunities that come with spring. PJH

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