Joel Reichenberger: Five years in and I’m in
February 18, 2013
Steamboat Springs — I'm so close I can taste it, and it tastes a little something like 10 p.m. Slopeside Grill pizza, a lunch-time pork chimichanga from Azteca Taqueria, or a Rio Grande frozen margarita.
I'm sure it's not an actual rule, because things like this in Steamboat Springs are never written down. Nevertheless, one day early in my tenure at the Steamboat Today I was poking around, asking what a "local" was and how long someone had to live here to qualify.
Five years, I was told. I'd be a local in five years.
Well guess what, Steamboat. I'm there. Or almost, anyway. I rolled in to town Feb. 25, 2008.
Before Steamboat I had never lived anywhere that required a term of service to be able to considered "home." Now that I have, I've become more familiar with what being a "local" means. Still, it remains a term that's incredibly difficult to nail down.
In some senses, being a local in Steamboat Springs means knowing how to exist as cheaply as possible. It doesn't mean one always exists as cheaply as possible, just that it's important to be familiar with the course.
In my five years in Steamboat, that's meant a number of reoccurring restaurant deals. I've stood in the insane lines that used to greet "$2.99 Steak Night" at 8th Street Steakhouse. I've sat with the bartenders at Mazzola's on $1 PBR night, and I’ve rock, paper and scissored my way to free drinks at Boathouse Pub. Steak Night, Burger Night, Wing Night … sometimes I wonder why I'm the only person who seems to have ever gained weight after moving to Steamboat, and then I put together lists like this and stop asking questions.
But being a Steamboat local certainly isn't all about dining and drinking. I've come to appreciate Steamboat's beauty. It wasn't obvious to me at first, especially when I was expecting the jagged peaks of other parts of the state, but it's grown on me, to say the least.
Most true locals here live their lives outdoors.
As the newspaper’s primary Outdoors page reporter, I've had an incredible and unique opportunity to live along with those true locals. I've gone skiing about 200 times since I moved. Plenty of those trips have been for work, to cover a race or something, but because I've never had another job that required clipping into skis, I feel it’s fair to count them.
I've taken snowboard lessons, classic and skate skiing lessons and Telemark lessons. I've been into the backcountry and off the water ramp at Bald Eagle Lake. I've fished, rafted, kayaked and airboarded the Yampa River. I've skied and wakeboarded in Steamboat Lake. I bought a mountain bike soon after moving and have ridden plenty of local trails, and a road bike a year ago, and I've ridden plenty of local roads.
But I'm still not the kind to hike up Mount Werner on skis or to venture out on an all-day hiking adventure.
One of my first stories here was about people skiing on Buffalo Pass, and I tried interviewing a couple of guys as they headed away. They were very frustrated I was writing about their "stash" even though, and I mean this quite literally, the parking lot was overflowing and there was no possible space remaining to park a vehicle of any kind.
Despite delving deep into the issue then, recently and plenty of times in between, I don't understand people's insistence on pretending such places are some kind of secret.
Can I be a local without solving that riddle? Without having a burning desire to climb something — a road, a hill or a mountain — on my mountain bike every clear summer morning? Without owning skins?
Can a local really appreciate Trivia Night at Tap House as much as a powder day?
Five years in Steamboat has taught me one thing above all else: this isn't a place you can put in a box or define in any simple way. It hasn't made me the typical Steamboater, but it has taught me there's no such thing.
Five years has made me love this town and these people, so many of whom have been so gracious and supportive in so many ways.
Everyone sees this town a little differently. We all have our favorite ski runs and bike shops, restaurants and bartenders, and I'm no different. In five years I've managed to carve a life out in Steamboat, and it's different than anyone else's. Whether or not I pass all the tests, that's what I point to as my evidence when, today, I declare once and for all: I'm a local.