Reporter's Notebook

The Circle Game

I have begun to consider the many ways that my life as a 22-year-old in a ski town will soon change

By Denali Sagner

This week, as the stubborn sheet of ice in my driveway has given way to gravel, my wool sweaters have been tossed in the back of my closet, and the first faint inklings of spring have snuck through the cracked windows of my house, I have begun to consider the many ways that my life as a 22-year-old in a ski town will soon change.

Having grown up on the East Coast, I’ve never lived somewhere where the changing of the seasons marked much significance. Back home, spring would mean the chance to wear a lighter jacket, the blooming of the crocuses, or, in college, the first opportunity to sprawl out on a campus lawn. But, in large part, most else would stay the same. The world would turn at its usual pace, and we would wait as summer crept in, always too slowly.

Here, the impending end of winter feels more significant.

In less than three weeks, Whitefish Mountain Resort will shutter operations for the season, one of the most visceral markers of spring in this valley. Shortly after that, many of the lifties and ski instructors and rental technicians who kept the mountain running will pack up their bags and begin anew elsewhere. Some will stay local, becoming raft guides or shuttle drivers or zip-line operators around Glacier National Park. Others will take off to traverse mountains and rivers elsewhere. Some will come back to Whitefish when the snow starts to fall again. Others won’t.

As the melting snow has revealed this reality, I’ve admittedly begun to feel a bit sad about the near future.

Among the exodus of seasonal workers will be many of the people who have become familiar faces at The Bierstube, ski partners and good friends.

Lots of the young people I’ve befriended have arrived in the Flathead Valley chasing natural landscapes fit for a ski bum or peak bagger’s wildest dreams, and have financed those dreams through local seasonal jobs. The tourism economy that draws in seasonal workers breeds this ever-changing community of 20-somethings, many of whom are “just passing through” for a few months, and who build a world around the nature that brought them to Montana and the people that make it home.

People who, this winter, have become a part of my own home, too.

As they scatter, life in the valley will change. For me, it will become less familiar, as the tapestry of people I’ve slowly become intertwined with begins to unravel.

But of course, this seasonal cycle of the Flathead Valley also means there are, inevitably, new horizons.

Shoulder season will slow the pace of the valley, then summer will revive it. The snow will melt, the rain will come, and then, finally, the warm months in Montana that feel like heaven-on-Earth will appear. As hiking and swimming and rafting season arrives, winter, too, will feel like a distant memory, as summer gives way to new tapestries of its own. And maybe, when the mountain opens again in December and more changes loom, I’ll write another column just like this one.