On any given Friday night during the winter months one can expect crowds of people to be at a small local ski hill in southwestern Michigan. The parking lot is full, the lines are long, and the cooks cannot keep the overpriced chicken fingers in stock. At times the place lives up to it's name. Ski and snowboard addicts make a beeline for the hill right when they get out of work or school. Some come in fancy Audis, some in lifted pickup-trucks, and a couple in the vans that they live out of. Even the Amish people come in chartered buses. Middle schoolers pour out of yellow buses with great excitement to get on the hill. On the outside, this is Bittersweet Resort, on the inside it is a melting pot of different peoples.
The bottom of the Sweet Express, the main lift on the hill, showcases this well. The cafeteria and bar are only a few steps away and a large patio area with a giant fire pit are nearby. This is the busiest area at Bittersweet. There are about a dozen people sitting around the fire. Two of them work for the resort and have for years. There is a group of three blond college age girls who bounce their attention between their phones and those around them. There are two middle aged men with red company logos embroidered into their jackets that radiate importance and wealth. Two men in their mid to late twenties who have clearly enjoyed the benefits of being over 21 are also in attendance, and a stereotypical family of five. It appears that all guests around the fire are participating in the same conversation. The mom in the family wrinkles her nose when the drunk younger men flirt with the girls and the men with company jackets joke with the resort employees about it. While these people are all different, they seem to genuinely enjoy their time together around the fire. They are genuinely engaged with each other. The group even appears to be disappointed when the family leaves to continue their skiing adventure.
The lift line for the Sweet Express displays two distinct groups of people. The line to the right of the lift consists largely of young males, most of them under the age of 25. This side comes from the terrain park, which is where they like to ski and snowboard. The line is rather unorganized and there is a lot of playful pushing and shoving. Some of the youngest in the line try out some new cuss words they heard from the older in the group. Clouds from electric cigarettes floats above them and their brightly colored jackets. The left side however acts much more mature. This group primarily likes to ski and ride on the smooth groomed trails. This line consists of adults with a few younger children and their parents mixed in. The line is orderly, silent, and patient. It is also a bit longer than the line on the right. It is not that those on the left don’t like those on the right, it is just that they came down on different sides of the hill. The two lines come together just in time to board the lift. The line on the right suddenly becomes more of a line, and the people on the left respect those on the right and wait their turn. Not many barriers are needed to keep the lines running smoothly. At times, people from the different lines must sit together on the lift. One chair fits four riders, two from the right and two more from the left. After a couple nods of the head, a foursome is formed and proceed to board the lift together.
I decided to abandon my seat on the patio and ride the lift myself. I rather enjoy experiencing both lines and the lift itself. This is something I had done countless times before during my many years on the hill. While in the right-side line, I was cut many times, but I never protested. I was used to it as this is the line I am regularly found in. I never really took note of how chaotic the right-side line is compared to the left. While in the left-side line, I felt out place, yet welcomed. I ended up next to a dad with his two elementary aged daughters. After quickly saying hello to them, I found out that this was the first time his daughters have ever skied. I congratulated them on making it this far and we enjoyed about 2 minutes of conversation. I had nothing in common with them except the love of skiing. I believe that I would rarely meet people like them otherwise.
One time this night, I rode up with a snowboarder with a deep granular voice and silver chains sticking out of his jacket, a self-proclaimed ski bum, and one of the business men from the fire. By time the two minutes and thirty second lift ride had ended, we found out we had all been to the same mountain in Colorado and discussed what the best restaurants over there are. Three people who would most likely choose not to interact with the others, enjoying each other’s company because of a shared love of snow sports.
While it may seem that everyone is jolly and happy, occasional conflicts do happen. There is a wide variety of people on the hill and everyone has their own expectations for how things should work. This can cause tensions to rise. Everyone there is human after all. For example, while I was waiting in line on the younger right-side line, an older and visibly uncomfortable, out of place gentleman (grew impatient about the lack of an actual line. This is understandable as he seems more like a “left-sider.” Justin voiced his frustration a few times and after getting cut once again, he had enough. Justin grabbed the offender by the arm and attempted to pull him to where he “belonged.” This was followed by a considerable amount of cussing and some push back. This is not a normal occurrence. The yelling and shoving ended quickly, but tensions were still high. Both parties involved could be seen complaining to their friends about what happened, neither feeling that they were in the wrong. After a few runs down the hill, the two involved ended up on a chair together. Much to my surprise, one reached out his hand, and the other shook it. It appeared that everything was in the past. The conflict would not carry over. The elder admitted that he “forgot the being on the hill is supposed to be fun, not stressful” and “simply forgot not everyone is like me.” It sounds like that two had an enjoyable ride up. While riding the lift they found out they liked the same genre of music. While the two may just be good people, I believe that anyone on the hill would have done the same thing. It appears that those at the resort are quick to forgive and forget. It is just part of the culture. Those on the hill would rather focus on skiing or riding and having a good time than try to avoid others.
There are not many places like Bittersweet Resort on a Friday night. Where else would people of different colors, income, religion, lifestyle, and values enjoy each other so much? Maybe a shopping mall? Even there people drift to their own preference of stores. The only thing everyone has in common on the hill is the love of the snow. This love is enough for someone to meet someone with a different perspective on life that they would otherwise not get to. The hill is a place where people get out of their own little bubble of society and see what others are like. All it takes is a love of the snow to do this. It's another Friday night at Bittersweet.
(I wrote this piece a few years ago for an audience outside of Newschoolers but I felt it worked here as well. If you made it this far, thanks for reading.)
Picture credit goes to the Bittersweet Facebook admin.