#VAILBEN DISPATCH 1: Back In Colorado

Jun. 5, 2014

 

My welcome party at Denver International Airport.

My welcome party at Denver International Airport.

As we drove up I-70 on Monday afternoon, it all came flooding back. There was the unreal green; the crisp, dry air; those fairy tale waterfalls. I was going to be spending the summer in Colorado for the first time in almost a decade. I couldn’t stop from grinning.

I’ll never forget that inaugural summer in the Rocky Mountains. I was 18-years-old, eager to travel some 2,000 miles away from my New Jersey home in order to attend Colorado College in Colorado Springs. And before classes even started, I was venturing into the mountains as a member of the Tigers cross country team.

It was a team tradition to spend the week before school playing in the mountains. Miles of trails tested our endurance, while cold creeks iced our sore legs, and campfires secured our team’s bond. It was the perfect introduction to the place I would be calling home for the next four years.

 

Hiking with the Colorado College Tigers during my first summer in Colorado. (I'm the skinny dude on the left.)

Hiking with the Colorado College Tigers during my first summer in Colorado. (I’m the skinny dude on the left.)

 

Having grown up in a New York City suburb, the mountain lifestyle was foreign to me. Before cross country training, “outdoors” was the local playground and “camping” involving a cardboard fort in my basement. Here I was, an uptight, hyperactive city kid who loved TV more than sports, sleeping in a tent and eating food cooked on an open fire.

I should have hated it. But something tugged at my heart. I could breath easy and the sunshine was unlike anything I had felt before. As a kid who never felt comfortable in his own skin, I was finally relaxed in Colorado.

Those college years went by in a blur. I got on a mountain bike for a first time, hiked fourteeners for breakfast, took road trips to national parks, and found Sand Dune sand in all sorts of weird places.

 

Showing off on a college backpacking trip.

Showing off on a college backpacking trip.

 

And I got to know Colorado by winter, too, driving up back roads with my new best friends to a mythical mountain known as Vail. I was so excited on that first visit that I skipped lunch, getting lost (quite literally) in the powdery back bowls, giggling as I struggled to stay above the clouds of snow.

Years later, after family and work took me back East, I slowly shed my mountain persona. But while the beard may have gone, a piece of my heart remained. I knew I would return.

So in March, when an email appeared in my Inbox announcing America’s Best Summer Job in Vail, I knew Colorado was calling again—and this it was offering some lucky bastard a 10-week gig blogging about their summer adventures. That lucky bastard had to be me.

I cashed in all the social capital I had, and, after five weeks, 9,000 votes, and one killer conference call, I managed to win over the Vail Local Marketing District Advisory Council. Without stopping to take a breath, I started packing my bags. I was going back.

Even though I am older—and hopefully wiser—I am happy to report Colorado still retains that magic I discovered on my first visit.

I hope you’ll follow my journey on this blog as well as on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. While 10 weeks won’t allow me to see everything Vail Summer has to offer, I hope I can capture at least some of that magic for you.

And please, don’t be shy! Say “Hi” if you see me around town. Watching from afar? Tell me what you’d like me to do or see by leaving a comment below. Or tweet @benjaminsolomon using the hashtag #VailBen with your suggestions.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s about time I go take a breath of that incredible mountain air.

Vail America's Best Summer Job BenBenjamin Solomon is the winner of America’s Best Summer Job, a 10-week, all-expenses paid summer job exploring what summer in the Vail Valley has to offer. A freelance writer based in New York, Benjamin has contributed to publications such as Vanity Fair, New York, Travel + Leisure and is the former editor of Next Magazine. Follow his journey on Blog.Vail.com as well as on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #VailBen.