Skis in September? You Must Be in Denver.

On Monday, I got a great deal. In exchange for buying dinner at Vine Street Pub, my cousin gave me a pair of Dynastar skis. They’ll make great rock skis–light and gently used, bindings already included. I just need to get the bindings fitted to the boots, and I’ll be ready to go in October. It was a better deal than I could have gotten anywhere else in the Denver area.

After the exchange, I just had a wee bit of a problem. Ethan and I had walked to Vine Street with the intention of enjoying a few beers. Under normal circumstances, the six blocks between the restaurant and our house is a piddling distance for us. We’re used to walking distances of around a mile and a half to get to some of our haunts.

But tonight, in the rapidly chilling September air, the walk home would be a little more interesting. I’m used to carrying skis from my car to the chairlift, the equivalent of no more than a short city block. Resort planners understand how grueling walking any distance in ski boots, especially while loaded down with skis and poles, can be. They provide shuttles if the walk is any longer.

To make things slightly more entertaining, the stormclouds that had been brooding overhead had their catharsis as soon as we paid up. I’d brought my jacket. Ethan was in nothing but his shirt sleeves. He shivered at the first drops of rain.

“Here, take this,” I said, handing him my jacket.

“Don’t be an idiot. What kind of guy does that make me look like if I take your jacket?”

“A dry one.” He gave me a doubtful look. “I’ll have the skis to keep me warm.”

He rolled his eyes but took the jacket. The rain started to come down more insistently as he zipped up.

I strode out of the restaurant, mindful not to hit the waitresses with my skis. Since I had little protection from the rain besides the shoulder on which my new-old skis were balanced and my black camisole and sports bra, I ran across the street in front of the bar, cursing under my breath as Ethan stopped to wait for a passing car that was moving at a pace to rival the drowning earthworms.

He finally got across. “Last chance to take the jacket,” he offered halfheartedly. I ignored him and strode on.

I expected some glares, a few swerved cars, maybe a briefly rolled-down window and a shouted, “What the fuck?” or, “Where’s the pow at?” But the six blocks home passed uneventfully for me, despite being the only person walking down York Street in the middle of September with a pair of skis. I would have gotten more attention in a short black dress, six-inch stilettos, and pancake makeup.

Which I think is more a comment on fashion and femininity in the Mile High City than the excitability of men here, there, and everywhere. Even I stop and gawk at women in tight clothing with less-than-breathable fabrics, artificially pouty lips, and makeup that’s going to run as soon as they have to walk up Capitol Hill–forget if they happen to venture to the foothills.

They’re not exactly a common sight here. While it’s unquestionably an exaggeration to say that all or even most women (or men) in a city fit a stereotype, many of the women you see walking the streets place priority on things besides fashion and beauty in their spare time. There are runners, cyclists, power walkers, dog enthusiasts, beer hounds, and even overenthusiastic skiers who are getting geared up a month before the season could conceivably start.

Linguists talk about the marked and unmarked cases in language–the unmarked case referring to whatever is the standard or norm. The marked, of course, is whatever is unusual or noteworthy, abnormal, even. Deborah Tannen argues that women can never be unmarked. If we’re wearing makeup, that’s obviously different from the male standard. If not, then we’re defying the female standard. Either way, we can’t win.

But with all due respect to Dr. Tannen, who is a wonderful teacher in the classroom, I would say Denver is the exception to that rule. Here, it isn’t unusual if a woman decides to forego makeup while out on the town. The standard here is devotion, usually to some outdoor activity, but certainly to some hobby or study. As long as you have an answer to the question, “What do you do?” and your answer revolves around whatever you’re passionate about, you’ll fit right in here. It’s a wonderfully permissive, relaxed attitude that allows everyone to sit back and just chill, man.

Even if you are trying to hunch under your skis as protection from the rain near City Park.

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