Being alone.

Two Winters ago I worked weekends as a lift operator at Stevens Pass ski area, high in Washington's beautiful Cascade Mountains.  Looking back, it was a pretty cool job, even considering the ludicrous 4.5 hour round-trip commute (1.5 in my truck, 3 on a bus).  The free season pass definitely took some of the edge off.

Most of my days were spent loading folks onto Skyline, one of the mountain's busiest lifts.  But one wonderful day I had the good fortune of being assigned to the top shack of Chair 3 (aka, 7th Heaven).

Working Top-3 was a choice assignment in my eyes for a number of reasons:
  1. It's the highest top shack on the mountain, and thus the highest any lift op can ever hope to work.  The advantage of elevation: incredible views.
  2. Since Chair 3 is an old, slow lift from which the only paths of descent are all double-black diamond trails, very few people ride the lift and those who do know what they're doing.  The advantage of serving only experienced riders and skiers: nobody falls down while unloading.  Ever.
  3. Top-3 doubles as a Ski Patrol warming shack, so instead of dealing with the usual unruly hordes at the bottom of Skyline, the only people I had to share space with were the (mostly) cool Ski Patrol folks and Kava the Snow Dog, a black yellow lab belonging to one of the patrolmen.  The advantage of sharing space with Ski Patrol: they pretty much keep to themselves and leave you to your own devices.  The advantage of hanging out with Kava the Snow Dog: you get to hang out with Kava the Snow Dog.  Duh.
During my one and only day at the Top of 7th Heaven (easily the best work day of my entire season up at Stevens), one of the Ski Patrol ladies who stopped by the shack to have lunch asked me if I got bored or lonely hanging out up there by myself.

"Not really.  I'm pretty good at being alone.  (Pause)  I guess that probably sounds a little sad; I don't mean it to."

"No, it's not sad at all.  Feeling comfortable by yourself is a good thing."

That brief exchange has always stuck with me.  I remember how pitiful I was sure I'd sounded as soon as I declared myself "pretty good at being alone".  I mean, I definitely meant what I'd said, but admitting my unconditional acceptance of solitude to a stranger felt a bit weird.  I had confided to her something I'd never told anyone before, and I did so without thinking twice.  Her validation of my inadvertent divulgence meant the world to me.  It still means the world to me.

I couldn't pick that wonderful woman out of a two-lady lineup today.  I don't even know her name.  Funny.

[Stuck in my head today: "Between Love & Hate" by The Strokes]


  1. I always thought Kava was a yellow lab. This really changes my feelings towards your time up there.

  2. You probably felt comfortable telling her this piece of you because she was a stranger, I'd imagine. But I agree with what she said. You're a good man, Colin.

  3. Kathleen: I may have got that part of the story mixed up. I'm pretty sure Kava was black, but there were some yellow labs at the mountain, too. Okay, now that I'm thinking about it, I've got some very serious doubts about Kava's coloring. Would Kava's blackness make you feel better or worse about my time at Stevens?

    K-Unit: Thank you.

  4. After much remembering, I am now convinced that Kava was a YELLOW lab. This post has been amended to reflect as much.