Right after nightfall on January 12th, 2016, Mountain Man’s Toyota bumped over the chunky, driver-plowed alleyway towards the warehouse, which was illuminated by a motion-sensor floodlight. I grimaced as we wobbled our way towards the back of a red Honda CR-V, and when we got close enough that I could read the numbers on its Georgia license plate, we started to slip in the slush. I squeezed my eyes closed and braced for impact as Mountain Man slammed on the brakes, but when we slid to a halt, there was no tremendous boom or crash, and when I opened my eyes, the CR-V was still intact. I risked a glance at Mountain Man, expecting a rumpled or flustered demeanor, but he was peering up at the warehouse beyond the CR-V with a big, stupid grin on his face. “We’re here,” he said.
“Here” was one of Breck’s best-kept secrets. “Here” was a warehouse-turned-hostel for broke ski bums and mountainfolk, all under the management and ownership of a man who we’ll call Ray, for privacy.
In Mountain Man’s life, Ray was legendary. Mountain Man had told me stories about the guy well before we planned the trip to Colorado. I’d heard that he could roll a spliff while driving his standard-transmission truck: one hand on the gearshift, massive thighs gripping the wheel and doing the steering, the other hand expertly poking the tobacco-weed mixture down into a cleanly-rolled cigarette tube. When he wasn’t driving, Ray was purportedly so good at rolling joints that they looked like dispensary-quality pre-rolls. Mountain Man had been one of the few people in the world to earn Ray’s respect, according to Mountain Man, and that, purportedly, is why Ray shared his rolling method with him. Ray was notoriously a “fun” guy, but had a temper, and his mood could flip in an instant. I was warned to tread lightly.
When we stepped into the hostel, Mountain Man and Ray embraced each other like long-lost brothers. Mountain Man introduced me, and Ray introduced both of us to the current hostel residents: two ladies, a dude from New Zealand, a Japanese dude, and two American dudes. I mingled with the other residents, albeit timidly, while Mountain Man and Ray shot the shit and caught up.
Once we’d all put some food in our bellies, Ray rolled us a fatty and we passed it around the dining table, introducing ourselves and being friendly and such. Mountain Man and I retired early, and it was hard to go to sleep on account of the bizarre sleeping arrangements: all residents slept in the same room, on one of the bunks, which seemed to have been constructed by an inexperienced builder, without plans, and without a right angle tool. Mountain Man and I took a bottom bunk that was shaped like a trapezoid. There was no door to the sleeping room, so we could hear our fellow skiers out in the living room having a grand old time until the wee hours of January 13th. There was one bathroom, and it got pretty grimy pretty fast. But despite the messy vibes, it was homey at Ray’s place, and I grew to understand why some skiers stayed for the whole season.