Ensconced as we are in mountain suburbia, perhaps we have forgotten that this is, at its core, a ski town, with all of the blessings and boondoggles that such has to offer. Keeping the influence of the outside world at bay becomes more challenging with each passing year, as the demographics of the community change to reflect the influx of those seeking refuge in our little slice of unreality, as we all once did. Codes of conduct evolve, institutions come and go, and the only constant is the grumbling about newcomers and their newfangled ways. It is easy to descend into curmudgeonly criticism, but a welcoming attitude is more appropriate. Still, there are some facets of life here that are sacred; the ruination thereof is a sacrilege that cannot stand.
The hot tub is the social and spiritual center of mountain life. Sitting in the scalding, bubbling water as fat chicken feathers fall from the sky and the mountains alpenglow in the distance is the epitome of the dream that we chased to this locale. There is a reason that the hot tub figures so prominently in media depictions of skiing. These public spas are a simple luxury, a (relative) socioeconomic equalizer, a place to convene the crew, the locus of many chance encounters. While they may occasionally be a place of solitude, that is neither their intention nor their purpose.
Accessed by a wide swath of folks, from children, to bloviating blowhards, to that cute girl you always see on the bus, hot tubs are a critical spot for ski town discourse. Locals pass on inside knowledge, visitors comically brag about their days shredding an inch of pow, everyone shares the good vibes and the beers. It is one of the few perfect places, even if not every conversation is sanguine or enjoyable. Perfection does not always connote constant bliss. It is perfect in that the experience is a microcosm of life; a series of highs and lows which we must appreciate and/or survive. For every scintillating flirtation, there is the dipstick discussing the finer points of his investment portfolio and it is the latter that makes the former that much more special.
Technology and the restrictions of the pandemic have both eased our ability to self-isolate. The impulse is eminently understandable, but there are limits, for goodness’ sake. This winter has borne the horrifying trend of people sitting in the hot tub, in the sauna, in the steam room with their headphones in, scrolling Instagram, and ignoring their social responsibilities. This is, I suppose, a natural outgrowth of the same instinct on the chairlift and the public bus, lamentable in their own right. However, the intrusion of the techno-bummer into the paradise of the hot tub is entirely too far. This must end, posthaste.
When someone sits in the hot tub with a purposefully off-putting vibe, it inherently kills the mood. If I have to ask whether it would be a bother to turn on the jets, lest I disturb one’s podcast or somesuch, that is polite on my part, sure, but a discomforting politesse indeed. To be clear: it is not necessary to be loquacious in order to be a proper hot tub occupant. It is enough to nod and smile, then lose yourself again in your thoughts or the view. But, you may yourself be missing out on important opportunities. In a world where interpersonal connection is slipping away with the sands of time, opening oneself up to a serendipitous bit of wisdom or discovery of unknown common ground is certainly more important than the score of a basketball game or doomscrolling your ex’s feed.
Nothing here will stay the same and that is largely wonderful and exciting, as we adapt to changing circumstances and delight in novel experiences with new people. It is the loss of the ineffable that worries me, the slipping away of the camaraderie that has been the glue of ski towns as other forces strive to tear us apart. Let us remember to band together with our fellow citizens and visitors to keep the fun alive. There is no place more iconic for this purpose than the humble hot tub.