By R. Scott Rappold
“If you don’t do it this year, you’ll be one year older when you do.” –Warren Miller
So you’ve made a big decision. This is the winter you’re going to get 100 days on the slopes. You’re going to become a better skier or rider than you could ever imagine. You’ll hit every powder day on your home mountains and chase the storms across Colorado and the West.
This is the winter you’re going to be a ski bum.
The ski bum has become our society’s ultimate active slacker, immortalized by generations of ski movies, envied by those whose jobs always seem to get in the way of that ultimate ski season. The ski bum eschews responsibilities, financial security and basic creature comforts for the bliss of carefree skiing. While the pencil-pushers are calling in sick to work to hit that midweek powder day, for the ski bum it’s just Wednesday.
But this isn’t 1947, when filmmaker Warren Miller spent the winter living in the parking lot of Idaho’s Sun Valley, or Aspen in the 1960s, before the capital of skiing became a playground for the rich and famous.
To ski bum properly, you’ll need a plan, and that planning should start now, when the snow is melted and the Front Range cities are sweltering.
For the aspiring ski bum, here are some tips to have the best winter of your life.
Choose your destination carefully
Ski resort towns are notoriously expensive, so if it’s your first attempt at ski-bumming, maybe the Roaring Fork Valley isn’t for you. Rural resorts like Monarch Mountain or Wolf Creek are more likely to offer affordable housing in nearby communities than the mega-resorts. Of course, that means fewer options than say, Summit County, but you’ll be able to travel to chase the storms if you ….
Buy your pass early, like now
Locals should never pay window ticket prices, and the ski bum can’t, so look into buying a season pass as soon as you’ve chosen your destination. Prices for many passes increase over the summer, so don’t procrastinate. And while having a pass to one mountain is great, fickle storms can leave one area dry and dump feet on another, so if you’re a powderhound you’ll want to …..
Pick a pass with partner resorts
Synergy is the keyword for passes these days, with many including free days at partner resorts. Ski-bumming in Summit County? Get a Rocky Mountain Super Pass+, which along with unlimited access to Copper Mountain, Winter Park and Eldora includes six days at Steamboat and three at Crested Butte. Or look into a pass for Monarch Mountain in central Colorado, which will also get you free days at Copper Mountain, Loveland, Purgatory, Ski Cooper and Crested Butte, not to mention most of New Mexico along with other deals. If you have a partner in ski-bumming or just have some weekend-warrior friends, buy a GEMS Card from Colorado Ski Country USA, good for 2-for-1 tickets at eight of Colorado’s smaller and “locals” resorts. Meanwhile, if you want to be a local you’ll want to …..
Find a place to live now
Housing in ski towns can be ridiculously expensive, so start looking early. Scour the classifieds and Craigslist for people who are looking for roommates, because sharing rent for a cramped apartment is usually necessary for the ski bum who wants to live near the lifts. Choosing a rural resort or the next town over from the ski area as your base are other options. And now it’s time to ….
Save, save, save
Don’t get caught up in blowing your spare money on that $ 2,000 mountain bike to get you through the summer. For the ski bum, summer is time to squirrel away your nuts for winter. Work like a slave, beat the heat with free activities like hiking and dream of powder days to come. Because when they do you’ll need to ….
Don’t have a job
Murphy’s Law decrees that if you work even a part-time job, that’s when the storms will come, so keep your days open. After all, there’s no “J-O-B” in “S-K-I.” That’s why you saved all that money, unless you didn’t. In that case ….
If you must have a job, work nights.
With a couple exceptions, skiing in Colorado happens during the day, and the best skiing is usually in the morning before the mountain gets tracked out. So you can hit first chair, ski hard for four hours and still be home for a nap and shower before work. Serving drinks, waiting tables, working the night desk at a hotel – all are fine fits for the ski bum who can’t afford the “bum” part. Be aware that ski-town bartenders and wait staff can spend years working their way to these prime shifts, so you may have to start at the bottom end of the totem pole. Another option is ….
Consider working for the resort
This can be a mixed bag. Yes, you may get a season pass and even employee housing, but try to play hooky and use that pass, the resort will know you’re not really home sick but on the hill with “powder fever.” And if it’s a double-digit powder day and you’re teaching tots to ski or running the lift, you aren’t a ski bum. You’re just angry. So the better option is to …
Cut out everything but the essentials
For all but professional skiers, ski patrollers and ski writers (including yours truly), the hours spent skiing are hours not spent bringing income. So have a budget and live by it. Lunch in the ski lodge? No way. Carry a sandwich. Après’ ski cocktails? Go home and have a Pabst Blue Ribbon instead. Feel like you need new skis? Patch them together with P-Tex and get another season out of them. Night out clubbing? No way. Stay home and get to bed early so you can make first chair tomorrow.
You get the point. The ski bum life is a frugal one, one that prioritizes powder over all else. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re at a point in your life where you just might have the time, it might be for you.
As writer and longtime ski bum Jackson Hogen once wrote:
“The ski bum trades security for face shots, the future for the moment. Considering how hollow the promise of a corporate career has become, who can say the ski bum is not the wiser investor in his or her youth?”
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