Tourist Travails

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Amusing encounters with out-of-town skiers.

by Missy J. Coughlan

In the lazy days of summer, it’s easy to spot them: hiking the flat trails in town wearing expedition-weight boots and carrying Chihuahuas, splashing their Orvis-bedecked bodies into the river right below the bridge, and annoying the staff at the local eatery with arcane dietary restrictions. In the cold of winter, however, Bozeman-area tourists concentrate on the ski hills and gear shops. After all, there's an unwritten rule that tourists will inevitably forget an essential piece of gear—usually clothing. Or winter boots. One would expect them to know that golfing shoes and stiletto sandals aren’t going to cut it in Montana in February. Nor will a fur coat look smashing on the slopes of Bridger Bowl. (Big Sky? Well, that’s a different story.)

Here I enter, stage right, pursued not by a bear but by tourists. I am part of a team that staffs a local retail outfitter. We pride ourselves on being rough around the edges, hard-working, and certainly hard-playing. We wear tee shirts in white-outs and Chacos at Christmas. We grill in the back parking lot on frigid, dark, winter nights. And when the first snows sweep through the area, we batten down the hatches. Buckle in. Psych up. Because not far behind are legions of spray-tanned, vociferous visitors who would like nothing better than to buy replacements for gear they left behind.

Hey Bud, what's your (clothing) problem?

Now, I consider myself a fairly open-minded individual. But when a citified, middle-aged man asked me where the leather ski jackets were—and it had to be exotic leather, mind you—I freely admit to giving him a glassy-eyed stare. On another day, a somewhat younger couple slowly made their way along the base-layer wall. Well-dressed and clearly confused, they calmly tossed one of everything into their shopping basket. Roughly 30 packages of long underwear and a cool grand later, they left. I eagerly listened to the radio over the next few days, but no deaths from heat exhaustion were reported.

All geared up and ready to shred the gnar.


One night just before closing, another young couple wandered in. They were predictably outfitted: ski passes prominently displayed on the zippers of their $500 ski coats, dressy suede boots—and one pair of warm gloves. The man sported large white bandages, mitten-style, around his hands. The couple explained that after a day on the slopes his hands had felt odd and had changed color slightly. A trip to the ER revealed a moderate case of frostbite. “This would never happen in L.A.,” he groused. They wanted warmer gloves.

I asked to see the gloves he had worn, and the woman dug around in her Dooney & Burke designer purse. She finally unearthed the treacherous items: one-size-fits-all knit gloves with fabric so thin I'd probably put a hole in them by gripping my steering wheel too tightly. And they were pink. Bright pink. Look-at-me-I’m-a-little-girl-who-loves-ponies pink. I quickly steered the couple to ski gloves… in plain black.

Admittedly, tourist dollars are a big source of my seasonal paycheck. Tourist exploits, however, are a never-ending source of amusement.

Missy J. Coughlan can be found sardonically serving customers at an unnamed Bozeman-area ski shop.

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