With 30 inches, your health is going downhill

By Kellyn Brown, Bozeman Daily Chronicle Columnist

You woke up early Wednesday morning, stretched your legs, wiggled your toes and peered out a northeast-facing window.

The mountain was still socked in; the light on the roof of the Baxter still blinking; the snow still piling up at Bridger Bowl.

Too bad it's not a holiday, you thought, staring at your disheveled reflection in the bathroom mirror. You have to go to work. Or school starts in 30 minutes.

In the shower, when your nose started running, you thought a minor cold had arrived unexpectedly. You cleared your scratchy throat -- nothing cough syrup won't cure.

Three feet of snow, however, has been known to cloud one's judgment. Like hundreds of Gallatin Valley residents, you were coming down with a bad case of hypochondria.

You coughed again. It may have been forced, but it sure sounded real.

"Just grab your briefcase, head out the door and and pick up some DayQuil on the way to work," you muttered. “That will do the trick.”

The empty bathroom, unconvinced, didn't respond. In cue, you began hearing voices.

What if it's strep throat? What if you spread this growing head fungus to every coworker or classmate you breath on?

You weighed the pros and cons of calling in sick. The pros were heavier, more convincing and strangled each con that tried to get a word in otherwise.

Twenty minutes later, instead of khakis, you slipped on your long underwear. Ten minutes after that you slid across the tile floor in your new ski socks. And as your Subaru Outback turned north onto North Rouse Avenue, you said aloud, “I deserve this.”

You weren't the only one who felt that way.

Three-hundred students at Bozeman High School actually missed class on Tuesday, another 285 on Wednesday, according to Shelly Dunn, attendance secretary at the school.

Certainly many of those youngsters had the sniffles, or worse. But it's highly unusually for 15 percent of the student body to be absent on one day.

"It's about twice as many as I usually have," Dunn said.

Some parents said their child was sick, still others didn't bother lying about it. "I had a student's parent call and say, 'Steve's health is going downhill,'" Dunn said.

In fact, Steve was going downhill, taking face shots on the best ski day of the year.

Wednesday was a "snow day." But, like many of our fair city's unique characteristics, that means something entirely different than it does in most places.

Snow days in metropolitan areas result from the inherent fear of slick roads and scraping one's windshield. School districts shut down prematurely and businessmen and women don't even bother leaving their house -- cooped up, thanking the high heavens they remembered to buy batteries just in case the power goes out.

In Bozeman, on a so-called snow day, students and employees are missing for an entirely different reason.

Ten inches of new snow at Bridger Bowl can mean 1,000 more skiers on any given weekday. Board meetings, sales calls and book reports can wait.

Some called in sick Wednesday, others headed north with the blessing of their employer.

"I love my staff," said Laura Ryan, co-owner of Barrel Mountaineering. "They needed to have a break, and since (Bridger Bowl) had 30 inches, I said, 'you know what, let's just call it a mental health day.'"

So, for the first time ever, Barrel Mountaineering closed up shop for half the day. And the employees there carpooled to the mountain for a day of skiing.

"We live here for a reason," Ryan told me.

Maybe Wednesday was a Bozeman holiday, I thought, after hanging up the phone. Over the click clack of computer keys, I made sure everyone, including my editor, heard the most heinous cough I could muster.