It's been a long time since I lived on a college campus, sharing a small room, eating in the dining hall and meandering all over the sprawling grounds to the various buildings I frequented. But it all came flooding back as I settled into life at Snow Mountain Ranch as a volunteer.
SMR, as we call it, covers over 5,000 acres in a valley in the Colorado Rockies. As a family and conference center, it has a wide variety of facilities, as well as the usual lodging and dining halls. Being run by the YMCA of the Rockies, there is a big focus on outdoor, athletic and family activities, spawning a pool building, gym, yoga center, riding stables and craft shop as well as the Nordic Center for cross-country skiing, tubing, sledding and ice skating venues. And I'm sure I haven't discovered many of the offerings.
My own world revolves around a few select sites. Home is in Pinewood. It's the residence hall for us “seniors” and is the usual long hall lined with doors and small motel-like rooms. Doors slam, footsteps echo down the hall, but late night parties are not an issue. And this time I got to pick my roommate! After almost 31 years together, I knew Rich and I would be compatible.
Two connected rooms have been converted to a lounge for us, and is frequently filled in the evenings by those interested in watching TV and playing games. My first week here, I made it a nightly habit to wander down to watch the Olympics with those gathered there. It also happens to house the notebook entitled “Senior Trips.” There we can sign up for various planned activities or post suggestions for group outings. It's worth keeping up with the list, as the Y often provides free and convenient transportation for the events.
Pinewood is connected to the main lobby for SMR, with a two-sided gas fireplace, comfy chairs and a good internet connection. It's a very pleasant place to sit and read or visit. In the evenings it is frequently overrun by us seniors.
The Craft Shop, where I work, is on the far end of the campus from Pinewood. Lacking plowed sidewalks, and with roads that are narrow and slippery, walking is not as easy an option as I'd like. Unlike college days when I walked everywhere, I frequently end up having to drive for safety sake. For someone as committed to a healthy life style as I am, it goes against my grain. I'm sure it would be different in the other seasons. But for winter, a car is fairly essential.
When I'm not working, the Nordic Center is my favorite haunt. There I get my free ski passes, rent any equipment I like, gratis, and check the latest grooming reports. It happens to be the most sought after place for volunteers to work, helping skiers, selling ski clothing and equipment and handling rentals. Perhaps one day I can work my way up the ladder to a position there! For the meantime, it's the hub of the 60k of ski trails on SMR property and starting point for any day's ski.
And finally, the Commons where we eat. It is the central cafeteria that feeds all the lodge guests at SMR as well as its staff members and volunteers. It definitely brings back memories of the old cafeteria lines in college. This is no newfangled, upscale food station style cafeteria which some of my kids enjoyed in college. It's the old food line with trays, steam tables and mass produced food. In its defense, some of the dishes are pretty good. And I regularly hunt down the healthy offerings – an abundance of fresh fruit at breakfast, seedy bread for sandwiches and the fruit bowl at lunch, and build your own salad ingredients at dinner. Fortunately, their desserts aren't at all tempting, but I still wish for some ice cream now and again.
The main attraction of the Commons, though, is social. The senior volunteers always sit in about the same spot, gathering around the tables in random order as we arrive. It's the best place to meet others and get to know everyone better, or find out what's going on. It's a retreat between work hours, or a leisurely visit on our time off. It's easy to spot our group – we're the gray haired folks with SMR fleece vests and badges hanging on colorful lanyards around our necks.
I wouldn't want to do it year-round, but for a brieft winter stint when we can enjoy the mountain views and endless opportunities to ski the trails, it's a good life. I'm quite enjoying being back on campus.