Greetings from Banff!
I've recently upgraded from sleeping in my car, to a bed in a 6 person dorm room at the HI. Hurray for sleeping inside! And regular showers! I’ze be fancee now, bitchezzzzzzzzz.
How exactly did I end up living in Banff when the plan was to drive from Coast to Coast?
If you've had the chance to see the Canadian Rocky Mountains for yourself, you understand how magical they are. As soon as I arrived in Jasper, I knew I had to find a way to stay. More on that in a sec.
The east leg of Coast to Coast was pretty breezy, as far as sleeping in National Parks in locations not reserved as camp grounds. Alberta is a whole other ballgame, where they are quite strict (and understandably so...I mean, bears you guys). My first night in Jasper was probably the least pleasant non-sleep of my camping life, huddled in a tent in the middle of the woods, very aware of every snapping branch, fearful I would be caught by a ranger, or, worse eaten by wildlife. At 4am I decided to GTFO, packed up my crap, and moved on. After the loveliest day, watching the the sun rise over the mountains, seeing my first herd of elk, and hiking a spectacular trail, where I saw mountain sheep and deer, I fell a little more in love with the Rockies. Late in the afternoon, I was driving towards town, when I saw an SUV pulled over on the side of the highway, with four people waving their arms for help. I pulled over to see what I could do, and found out they had run out of gas.
“Where are you headed tonight?” Ria asked, as I rearranged the mountain of shit in my car so Franzi could accompany me to the gas station. “I’m actually looking for somewhere to camp.” The four of them exchanged a look. “Well,” she said, “we are trying to find a room for this evening in Jasper, and since you’re helping us, we’d love to help you! Would you like to stay with us tonight?” “Umm….fuck yeah!”
And that’s how I met Ria, Franzi, Vince, and Dennis, or “Ze Germans.” The next day, they joined me on the big hike I had planned, and we braved the treacherous off-path rocks to get right to the summit. We rented another room in different house and made dinner together. I taught them how to play Prozac, a highly addictive card game, and we talked about our plans for the rest of our trips. Franzi had an interview with Sunshine Village, a ski resort in Banff, coming up. Vince was going to work for another ski resort in Lake Louise. Dennis was off to Calgary to work for the Olympic Stadium. And Ria was heading back to Germany shortly, to start her career as a teacher. The following morning, I tagged along with them on a hike they’d had planned on their way to Lake Louise, and somewhere between the first hike and the stopover for photos, I’d made my decision: I was moving to Banff.
My time here has been interesting. Searching for jobs and apartments, starting work my third day in town. I'm a hostess at Earl's and training to be a server. I had to make a trip to the thrift shop to buy clothes I already own in Toronto, because, well, who brings a black pencil skirt with them on a road trip? The first few days, I was still sleeping in my car in quiet parking lots. Before starting work, I'd make a trip to a public bathroom, where I'd go in looking sort of homeless and come out all dolled up. Next, I "upgraded" to sleeping in my car in the parking lot of Hostelling International, where people I knew were staying, and would let me in to use the showers, kitchen, and hang out in the common room, before heading off to my car to sleep. The morning I woke up with snow on my car, I was like, "Yup. I'm checking in to the HI now." I was making alright money anyway, and I'd saved plenty of it on my thrift shop trip, where I picked up a $3 hair straightener that worked better than the $250 one I left in Toronto. Seems I’m doing alright.
This post is called, “Decisions, Decisions,” because I’m faced with a pretty big one, and I have to make it today. Essentially, I have to decide between two lives, two different experiences of Banff.
I have the option of staying at Earl’s, where I've just started working as a server. The manager says we can bring in $400 a weekend in tips during the ski season, even more in the summer if I stay here that long. There's also Billabong and Gap (yup, I drank the Kool-Aid) competing to hire me as management. Both are willing to be flexible with Earls, and both keep coming back with higher and higher salary offers. The money I make can help fund the rest of my Coast to Coast road trip, as well the US West Coast road trip I'm hoping to do. But seeing as how I can't live in a hostel forever, I'll need to find a place in town; lemme tells ya, it ain't cheap. To share a room (and sometimes bed) with someone in a share-house costs around $550/month. If you want your own room, it’ll probably cost $850-$950. For a room, you guys. The problem with Banff is that there are plenty of jobs, but not a lot of places to live, so the housing situation is ridiculous. Some jobs in town offer staff accommodation, but, unfortunately for me, none that I am interested in. Enter my next option.
The day of Franzi’s interview with Sunshine Village, the local ski resort, I walked in and waited hours upon hours to meet with someone. I was hoping for the last remaining position in the retail department, and thanks to my experience, they agreed to see me as a walk-in. In the interview, they asked about PK, Product Knowledge, and having drunk the Gap Kool-Aid, I can do, “Features and Benefits” in my sleep. The interview was a breeze, and I was offered a job faster than you can say, "would you like a gift receipt?"
Sunshine Village offers their staff a free Ski Pass, not only for SSV, but also for Norquay, the other resort in town, and Lake Louise, where our friend works. You also get amazing reciprocals, free days and half-priced days, at pretty much all the big ski resorts out west, including Panorama, Big White, Marmot, Kicking Horse, Fernie, Whistler and Sun Peaks. The perks alone are worth over $2000, but the downside is you get paid $10.50 an hour (honestly, I didn't even know that was still legal in Canada). Some people are offered on-hill staff accommodation, and Franzi (who would be working in same building as I am, just on a different floor) and I both were. We'd be room mates! Rent is only $300 per month to share a room, and you each get your own bed. Compared to the housing situation in town, it sounds pretty sweet, right? There's a catch (there's always a catch!).
The staff lodges are located on the ski resort's village, an elevation of about 2000m above sea level, nestled in the mountains. On the one hand, it's like, Wait, what? I get to live on an actual mountain?! On the other, the last Gondola to and from the village is at 17:30, which means you won’t be making it into town very often. They don't provide a kitchen for personal use, so the on-hill staff mostly live off of cafeteria food, as well as whatever groceries and snack food they can carry during the 55 minute commute from town. Each room has a mini refrigerator, and the common areas come equipped with microwaves, kettles, and toasters. As for entertainment, besides playing in the snow, there are TVs in the common rooms, book exchanges and board games, and bar on the mountain, Trapper's, for both hotel guests and on-hill staff. Maybe not the craziness of Banff night life in town, but it has a pool table, darts, and relatively inexpensive drinks.
So what should I do? Today's the deadline to accept the job/home at SSV.
Let's break it down. I'm here for two reasons. First and foremost, I want to write. Not sure how much of it I'll get to do working 2-3 jobs in town, with shifts that will probably end with, "let's go to such and such bar." I also want to challenge myself. I don’t know how to snowboard, and tbh, I have a love/hate relationship with learning how to do new things in my 30s. Living on hill, I'm far more likely to hit the slopes and practise than I am working double shifts in town.
To be completely honest, I'm afraid of the SSV job. The paradox of isolation/someone always in your personal space terrifies me. And what if I'm so terrible at snowboarding that I never pick it up? Also, if I'm really, really honest, I have to say that even though Franzi seems really sweet, I've never lived with anyone before; what if I can't handle it?
But then again, what if I can?
What if this is the greatest experience in my life, and I'm about to turn it down 'cause it's a little too out of my comfort zone? I can't be that person. I don't want to be that person.
Writing everything out, the choice seems clear. There are plenty of restaurants and clothing stores across the country, and I've worked at a Gap for 75% of my adult life; it isn't new. I've never lived at a ski resort in the Rockies. Most people haven't. This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and I'm hopefully going to look back and wonder what I even had to think about. I've got to do this. I can't let this moment slip.
Okay! It's official, as of this very minute. I’ve made a decision: I’m moving into a one hundred-year-old log cabin on a mountain in Banff, with 200 Aussie, Kiwi, British, German, Japanese, American, and even Canadian snow chasers. Am I completely insane?
Edit Dec 2014: Added some photos of our time on the mountain. Moving here was the right decision, I'd say ;)
Christmas Day, snowboarding in our onesies
Ugly sweater party at Trappers!
Santa visits Trapper's and floor-mates rejoice