Recently, I made a pretty big change to my gap year plans. Instead of working at home after my busy three months in South America, I decided to move to New Mexico and work the ski season in Taos Ski Valley. The job is pretty cool for a number of reasons: lots of mountains to explore, a free ski season pass, Taos is a certified B-corporation (which means they adhere to high environmental and humanitarian standards), and the job is just a short drive from the Rio Grande Gorge (which just so happens to be one of my favorite places on the planet). But surprisingly it wasn’t any of those factors that drew me to the job. It actually wasn’t a “what” that drew me to the mountain job at all, it was a “who.” This blog post is an ode to those people who’ve inspired me to chase the unexpected.
When I came with my family for a week during the winter holiday season, I met a lot of cool people on the ski lifts. Ski lifts are like that – they’re long and cold, they group strangers together, and are best endured by shedding layers of life and insight amongst liftmates (while of course keeping all your warm coat layers on!). On ski lifts, you get to know people quickly, and I often find myself falling in love with the persons and their pieces that I encounter.
The first person I met on a lift this year has summited all seven of the famed seven summits (including Mount Everest), was friends with the late legendary climber Anatoli Boukreev, has raced on bike from the top to the bottom of the U.S. (the Continental Divide Bike Trail) five years in a row, is in his late sixties, and is currently preparing for a thirteen-day cross country bike race. Then I met a competitive trail runner who wrote hiking guides in the high Andes and worked on documentaries in South America with Oliver Stone. Then I met a chef who has worked in a cook-line in a restaurant kitchen for over ten years now. Next came a young woman who did seasonal work and rugged traveled all throughout her twenties, and is now a nurse at thirty-six. She said to me, “I don’t regret one minute of how I’ve spent my life. I’m happy.” And these are only the first four people I met!
The “seven-summiter”* and I reminisced about our respective mountain adventures, our reflections landing in particular on the topic of being the coldest we’d ever been in the mountains. The trail runner and I talked about hiking and South American history and politics, him drawing on his work centered on Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, and I drawing on my recent experiences in Bolivia and Peru. The cook and I shared joy over our love for the energy that we’ve found in the restaurant business, and the responsibility that comes with service-industry jobs. And the nurse conveyed to me that it is possible to pursue passion, self-improvement, and world-improvement, all in one life, and reminded me that there is no singular linear path towards my goals.
After meeting these people over the span of only a couple days, I knew that Taos was the place I needed to be for the next few months. The energy, the inspiration, the excitement, the self-reflection, and the learning that these people stirred up within me was enough to make me giddy. It was a no-brainer that I had to come back here.
Since moving out here for the season, I have also met a woman from the Taos Pueblo who is the head of Taos Ski Valley community outreach, a bunch of university students from Argentina, Peru, and Paraguay who are here to work for the season as part of an internship that offers credit towards their degrees, musicians, public defense lawyers, artists, and even a rocket scientist, who have all given me the great gift of their friendship (some only for the extent of a 10 minute lift ride, and others indefinitely). What a place to be.
And on top of all the inspiration that these people have offered me, I’ve found that every single one of us has something in common. It turns out that all it takes to uncover whatever that thing may be is the length of a ski lift. To have something in common with someone who has summited seven mountains, or someone who has devoted his life’s work to a job as difficult as working in a hot kitchen, is empowering. I know I have a long way to go before I find myself as accomplished as those folks, but to see that we share interests and curiosities reminds me that my wildest dreams are attainable if I pour my heart into them. What all of the people I’ve told you about have in common is an immense passion for what they do. What is life without passion? I do not know – and I hope to never know!
One last thing I’ve learned from this adventure so far, and from ski lifts, is that “strangers,” really are not that strange.
* I intentionally chose to omit all names from this piece, just to protect my new friends’ privacy!