Friday, January 29, 2010

Something that was definately not lost in translation

(Context note: This is back when I was 21 and working as a ski-lift operator near Aspen, Colorado.)

The greatest days for skiing are the worst days for working the ski lift. An endless stream of people means more grooming of the lanes, and more complaints about congestion.

It also means more people falling or dropping something in the approach of the lift which means I get to do the most important part of my job – hit the big red button that stops the lift. From there, I am not allowed to assist the customer in any way for fear of the resort being sued for an employee making their injury worse somehow. It was always uncomfortable when someone would look to you for assistance in standing up and I would have to stand there and say, “I’m sorry, I can’t.”

We had received five inches of fresh powder the evening before and the day was clear and sunny. Thousands of people shelled out the eighty dollars for a lift ticket to take advantage of the beautiful conditions. My post was a high-speed quad going to the top of one of the peaks and I was working furiously to keep things safe and moving quickly.

Snowmass Mountain gets travelers from all over the world, many very wealthy. It’s conveyed in no uncertain terms that the resort will fire you rather than lose the repeat business of a good customer. Service is a priority and the team did its best to accommodate whatever the guests wanted.

At about 1 PM, the after-lunch rush sets in. People can see the end of the day in sight and are anxious to get in as much sliding time as possible. There are a few arguments about cutting in line but I mediate and keep things moving – I am in the zone. It’s as if the mountain is a living entity and I am doing my part to pump blood through the veins. The quad hasn’t been stopped for hours and I hear the phrase “best day of the season” more than once.

Then a hitch in the works – a man in a red ski-suit comes out of the single-rider line and speaks to me in a foreign language. I am usually pretty good at indentifying languages, but I have no idea what this man is speaking – let alone trying to say.

Holding my hands out, I shrug my shoulders in what I hope is the universal sign for “I don’t understand you.” This causes him to gesture wildly and talk even louder. I say “Sorry, I don’t know what you’re saying!”

The line is at a standstill since I haven’t waved anyone through to the lift yet. With everyone watching and waiting, the man unzips his ski-suit and begins urinating right next to the walkway.

The crowd of people in line starts groaning and yelling as my jaw drops. A woman screams to me, “Stop him! Do something!”

“What do you want me to do?” I yell back.

“I’LL do something!” screams a snowboarder in his late twenties. He leans over, makes a snowball, takes aim and fires at the peeing man.

Time stops. Everyone is silent as we watch the snowball arch toward the man. It connects and the powder grenade explodes all over the man. Snow covers his entire torso and down inside his ski-suit. The man erupts a flurry of gibberish while shaking his fist. The snowboarder responds, “That will teach you to pee in front of me!”

The man zips up, walks down the ramp and gets on the lift. I get people moving up the lift again and call ski-patrol who arrives shortly. They lecture me about calling in pranks and how their time is valuable. After reiterating that I am serious, they continue to not believe me. Having no other choice, I walk them over to Exhibit A : yellow snow.

I hear they found the man and ejected him from the park, but I am not sure how I feel about that. If anything, it’s proven to me that a well thrown snowball can break any language barrier.

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