Peter Nicol: Out of Africa, back to London
Peter Nicol, a lift operator on Snowmass’ Fanny Hill, was born and raised in Zimbabwe. He now finds himself living among other lift ops from around this country – not to mention the world – in Snowmass Village.He laughs about his two roommates at the Club Commons who are from the Deep South and speak with thick accents. This is Nicol’s first time in the United States, just an extended stop on a trip around the world.Like many white residents of Zimbabwe, Nicol left the country when it fell deeper and deeper into political unrest in the mid-1990s and the Zimbabwe dollar’s value fell at a staggering rate. Five years ago he sold his own artwork – drawings of wildlife and portraits – to support his 1999 move to London.
He arrived in London with 400 pounds in his pocket (rent is at least 450 per month) and slept on the floor of a friend’s flat before he got a job with Reuters news service and started earning enough money to support himself. Nicol’s family also left Africa for the United Kingdom and Canada.But after five “cold and depressing” winters in London, Nicol got antsy to travel the world. He learned about Aspen from an acquaintance who had visited before, and applied for a job as a lift operator. Although he never experienced more than 2 or 3 inches of snow in England and had no idea how to ski or snowboard, Nicol was offered a job.”I still don’t know how I got through the interview – I told [the interviewer] that I didn’t know how to ski or snowboard, but I had water-skied before,” he said with a laugh.The Aspen Skico helped Nicol get a H-2B Visa, which allows him to remain in the States as long as the company employs him. But first, he took out a 4,000-pound travel loan from a bank in the United Kingdom and left London in May 2004, flying the long way around the world.Nicol stopped in Thailand and Bali, then used a visa to work in Australia for a while. He washed dishes for two months in Darwin – hating the job – before road-tripping around the country for a month and a half. He then traveled around the north and south islands of New Zealand, and caught a plane to Los Angeles in November.
He hopped on Amtrak for a 27-hour train trip to Glenwood Springs, arriving in Snowmass on Nov. 11.”I took the bus up from Glenwood Springs and there was no snow on the Snowmass golf course, and I could see the mountains and I thought I was in heaven,” he said. “But the next day I saw the ‘closed’ sign on the golf course.”Since that first day, Nicol has learned how to snowboard, conquering Highland Bowl, and Snowmass’ Hanging Valley Wall. He primarily works at the top of the Fanny Hill lift – the busiest lift on Snowmass Mountain, as it’s both a hub for beginner skiers and where many people start their day on the mountain.There’s a different party every night in one of the rooms at the Club Commons, he said, and the dorm-type atmosphere lends itself to frequent pulling of the fire alarm in the middle of the night. Every night is “International Night” in the Commons. At lift-op gatherings, Nicol said, American are often in the minority. “Ninety percent of the people who are in the Commons are there to party.”He only has five more weeks in the Roaring Fork Valley, since the skiing season is over on April 10.
“I’ll be sad to leave – I’ve made such good friends here, and I like the whole environment,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to spend a season at a ski resort. You watch movies like ‘Dumb and Dumber’ and movies with ski resorts in them, and it looks great. I can’t believe how lucky I am to be on Snowmass Mountain.”Nicol’s work visa expires on May 1 – he’ll spend the remaining days in April road-tripping to Vegas and San Francisco before heading up to Victoria, B.C., to visit some people he met in Bali.He flies to London in late May.”If I didn’t have to pay back my travel loan, I’d probably want to stay,” he said. “I’d love a fat job during the summer to pay back my loan and be in the outdoors. I think that office jobs are not for me.”Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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