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We Left the City For a 900-Square-Foot Cabin In a Ski Town. It Was Worth It.

When a tiny cabin built in the 1900s became available for rent in Steamboat, we took it—no questions asked.

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Moving to the mountains is what we skiers dream about. Skinning out the back door before work, being first in line on a powder Tuesday, raising children who will know how to operate a snow machine. This was what I have wanted since before I can remember.

Then, just as my 14-year-old daughter, Cate, was finishing middle school in Denver, my best friend’s house in downtown Steamboat, Colo., came up for rent.

We drove up to see it one late-summer day. We ignored the heavy odors of weed smoke and dog-pee and decided on the spot that we could cram ourselves, four bikes, 12 pairs of skis, all of our gear, and our indoor/outdoor tomcat into an 884-square-foot cabin built in 1909 with floors so uneven, it felt like walking on a houseboat. “It has good bones,” I said. “Perfect location,” Cate said.

That one swift decision kicked off countless painstaking ones: We had one month to offload 16 years’ worth of stuff from the only home Cate had ever known. Every cupboard, drawer, and closet I went through was like an exorcism of shame. The barware alone was alarming—did I really ever think I would need 12 martini glasses, now coated in grimy dust? There were eight settings of blue and gold china I put on my wedding registry; each cost $80 and had been used for two Christmases, only one of which was while I was still married. There were four sets of my mother’s cast-off placemats and napkin rings (who uses napkin rings?), plus table runners, candlestick holders, a tortilla warmer, and a big bowl with a coyote painted on it. There were silver trays and salt and pepper shakers from my stepdad’s mother’s estate, and a closet full of books and journals from my brother’s. 

Related: How I mourn the death of my brother, the person who made me a skier

But it was the Cuisinart food processor, never used, that turned me inside out. How was my vision of what I thought my life would be so far from how it actually turned out? That night, I dreamed of being caught in a landslide while driving, unable to brake or steer or open the car door.

Then came the Craigslist transactions and potential tenant tours. Every one made me sad. I knew I was anthropomorphizing and that was irrational, but I worried about how our things would feel, cared for by new people. Would the china we sold be handwashed and neatly stacked? Would the peonies under Cate’s window get snipped and put in a glass vase each spring? 

But time kept moving, so I continued to let go. Finally, with our pared-down belongings packed in boxes and suitcases and plastic bins, we loaded up the U-Haul. At the last minute, with only a couple of feet left in the truck, I crammed in my outdoor potted plants that I had intended to leave behind. Our new rental had no patio, no yard, no place to put such things. But I couldn’t stand the thought of a life without flowers.

As we unpacked, I spent hundreds of dollars on Amazon for organizers and baskets that hang on doors and go on shelves. The stuff that would not fit—cleaning supplies, spare sheets, towels, vitamins, socks, and swimsuits—I shoved in boxes under our beds. I stashed rolls of spare toilet paper in the hutch under the TV, and cough medicine, batteries, lightbulbs, and tools in bins on the floor of my closet. We borrowed a trailer to house our skis and bikes out back. I wedged 2x4s under half the legs of our furniture to keep it from falling over. I rigged up a portable ski-tuning station in the hallway by Cate’s room and a clothes-drying rack over the heat vent in my office. 

Go Deeper: My 60-Something Just Moved To a Ski Town. Here’s How It’s Going.

Then, quickly for Cate, slowly for me, we met some people. They kindly responded to my desperate group texts (“I’m Cate’s mom. Does anyone want to have a glass of wine with me?”). They taught us that the bears know how to open the trunk of a Subaru, the guy who works weeknights at the local drive through gives extra chicken strips, and the fish is fresh at City Market on Wednesdays and Fridays. They invited us to high school football games and commiserated about the long lines at the post office. They made us feel like we belong.

Today, I am writing this while still in my long underwear after an afternoon on the hill with Cate and some new friends. We got 11 inches of early season snow last night that stacked up in big, fluffy drifts. We rode up Storm Peak and skied down in a whiteout with snow blowing sideways, uphill, and directly through the zippers of our jackets. And the snow is still falling in fat clumps out my window.

We miss our house. We miss some of our things. But moving has forced me to reevaluate just what, exactly, is valuable. It isn’t wedding china at all.

Now, I like to imagine my Cuisinart’s new life. Cate probably wouldn’t remember growing up with fresh salsa or homemade gazpacho; she doesn’t even like those things. But I know what she will remember—skipping school to ski powder, sometimes with me. And as for those martini glasses, I did hang on to two of them, which is at least one more than I really need.

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