Binsfeld and Bohecker: Basket checkers with talent
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – At first glance, the basket-check desk in the Thunderhead Gondola at Steamboat Resort seems like just that: a desk where guests can go to store any items they don’t want to ski with.
For the most part, it is. But anyone who has ever spent enough time in the area will eventually hear the strumming of a guitar from behind that desk or see a man holding out a deck of cards and asking a guest to pick one.
Griz Binsfeld and John Bohecker are longtime employees at the basket check who spice up their jobs with music and magic.
“I’m the musician, and he’s the magician,” Binsfeld said, patting the shoulder of Bohecker, his coworker and friend.
During their shifts, the two men turn the desk into an impromptu stage. Both are grey haired and bright eyed. They never pass up an opportunity to crack a joke or make an impression.
Binsfeld and Bohecker act like the Abbott and Costello of the resort, riffing off each other’s light-hearted wisecracks. There’s even a similar ring to joining their names, as if they were destined to take their antics on the road.
But the two do not seem keen on leaving their jobs anytime soon.
Bohecker has been working the desk since the storage service began 18 years ago. Binsfeld joined the team four years after him. In that time, the work has grown beyond a means to a paycheck. It has become a sort of identity.
“This job is so much more than renting out baskets to people,” Binsfeld said.
When asked why they keep returning to the job each season, they each said the same thing — “I’m a people person.”
A tale of two talents
Bohecker has been training as a magician and illusionist for as long as he has worked at the basket check. During his shift, he keeps a deck of cards behind the desk and uses the cards to astonish people with a magic trick.
“I can mess with your mind,” he said.
To demonstrate, he fanned out a deck of $1 bills. He flicked the top bill and folded the stack in his hand. When he fanned them out again, they had turned into a fresh stack of $20 bills — like magic.
When asked to repeat the trick, he shook his head.
“If you do, it takes the magic away,” he said.
For the most part, Bohecker is self taught.
“The easy stuff, you can learn online,” he said.
He also watches clips of magic tricks from shows like America’s Got Talent, replaying it until he can recreate what he sees. He performs his tricks at special events and birthday parties that he books throughout the year.
Not to be outmatched, Binsfeld took out a Blueridge acoustic guitar and cleared his throat in preparation for a sing-a-long.
The two men’s energy is contagious. After Binsfeld strummed a few chords of a Rolling Stones cover, a group of guests gathered around the desk and waved their arms to the music.
“Dancing in ski boots is allowed,” he assured them.
Before working at the resort, Binsfeld taught math at Soroco High School. Now, he picks up an occasional shift as a substitute teacher in the Steamboat Springs School District.
Playing guitar gives him a similar pleasure to working out math equations. He said a day doesn’t pass that he doesn’t practice his chords or strum a few songs.
“Math and music use both sides of your brain,” he said.
For that reason, he always takes a guitar to the classroom on substitute-teaching jobs.
“It’s my emergency lesson plan,” he said.
The world is a stage
On a busy powder day, Binsfeld stayed busy collecting a menagerie of items from guests and organizing them in numbered bins. Some people also asked for recommendations on the best runs to take with more than a foot of new snow.
Even though he didn’t ski that day, Binsfeld knew just where to send them. For those new to powder, he recommended the trees along the mellow slopes near Tomahawk. He directed more advanced skiers to the extreme terrain in Morningside Park.
Occasionally, the two men have to field some memorable questions.
Binsfield recounted a day when an elderly man skiing for the first time came to the basket check and asked if it mattered which foot he put his boots on. Binsfeld looked over the counter and, sure enough, the man had them on backwards.
“Yes sir, it does,” he told the man.
More than a way to lollygag, Binsfeld and Bohecker use their shenanigans to make a positive impression on newcomers to the resort.
“Think about being on vacation,” Binsfeld said. “What are the goofy things you’re going to remember that will draw you back?”
He said he often has out-of-state guests who remember him each time they visit and who look forward to one of his sing-a-longs.
The men always look for ways to add to their repertoire of songs and magic tricks. Perhaps it is the teacher in Binsfeld, but his curiosity has never dwindled with the years.
“In everything I do, the joy is in the journey,” he said.
As for the future, Binsfeld and Bohecker have too much fun on the job to consider leaving anytime soon.
As Binsfeld put it, “They will pull me out of here on a gurney.”
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Katie Lee graduated with a master’s degree from the University of Wyoming in communications last spring, but as summer started, she hadn’t yet found a job.