In a town with no movie theater, couples like Chilkat Guides’ Jen Evans and Chad Dillon find new forms of entertainnment, such as thumb wrestling. For those who don’t know, you begin by saying “one, two, three, four – I declare a thumb war.” Alas, a thumb war only lasts so long. See story in features. Photo by Emily Palm

Romance in 'Shagway'

is a summertime thing

Closeness of small valley fosters honest relationships


Fresh off the ferry on my first evening here I wandered into a local watering hole and learned about the three lies of Skagway. They are “I’m not coming back next summer,” “I’m not drinking today,” and “I love you.”
To the seasonal worker Skagway smacks of summer camp - sans the rules – and with that comes the quintessential summer romance.
It seems this hamlet draws a certain breed of person.
“We’re all migratory gypsies,” said local seasonal worker Renee Koeher (all people mentioned are summertime residents unless otherwise noted). “Usually the person you hook up with at the beginning of the summer isn’t who you end up with at the end,” she said.
In the majority of relationships here, half the party freaks out midsummer, said Koeher, who has been here three seasons now. She noted that at that point often a person either takes a look at other Skagwegians (seasonal or not) they may have been eying earlier and ends it then, or they realize they are going separate ways but still finish out their last few weeks hand-in-hand.
“Then there’s that 1 percent that ends up staying together...,” said Koeher.
Case in point, Jan and John Tronrud, year-round Skagway residents. In the summer of ’89 Jan came up to work the front desk as the Westmark and return to Seattle area afterward. September held what she viewed at the time as her dream job in line with her hotel management degree.
Career-bound and skiing-obsessed, a relationship was the last thing she was looking for. Then she heard about a young man who made the inaugural heli-ski trip on Mt. Harding. The off-piste story piqued her interest, they met and a summer romance burgeoned from there.
In September Jan called her family to let them know her plans had changed. “Much to my parents’ chagrin,” she recalled telling them “I’m not coming back on the 25th, I can’t quite leave yet.”
Jan did end up using that degree in hotel management, as the Tronruds bought the White House with relatives a year later and eventually turned it into a bed and breakfast.
So what is it about summer romances in Skagway?
“People like who they are here,” said Jen Evans, adding that Skagway brings out a side of people they like being which promotes finding the best in other people.
“I’m so happy to be me!” exclaimed Evans boyfriend, Chad Dillon, adding, “you’re stuck in this little four block by 20 block community, you’re stuck. And I just love it!”
With the community nestled in between high mountain passes, the Inside Passage and Canada, avoiding someone is futile.
“You can run into them at any moment and you just are yourself,” said Evans on the spontaneity of dating in a small town.
Nothing quite matches the bittersweetness of seasonal work. Here you have a group of people that may never gather together again. At the risk of resembling a bag of Cheetos (that is, of being dangerously cheesy) it is like the bloom of a fireweed plant, and in September the top fluffs up and the seeds float away.
And the three lies of Skagway? I guess we’ll have to wait for next summer to see.