Let me guess. You just finished school and are deciding what to do next. For an assortment of good reasons (but mostly cuz no one would hire you) there’s no mind-sucking corporate job in your immediate future. Congratulations: you’re far too young to sell your soul into servitude. And anyhow, all positions in your particular field have been sent overseas or never existed in the first place.
You’ve contemplated more schooling but want to take a year or two off first. Also a great idea!
Worthless diploma in hand, you’re scrambling to decide what comes next. If your exceptionally dull parents would front you some capital, you’d turn it into real money in, like, two years. If only they knew that you know everything! Unfortunately, they’re hopelessly stuck in their ways, and moving back in with them would be Hell.
You’re bored and need a big change of scenery. The bravest, most adventurous, and least responsible aspects of your being scream out: Take flight! Run for the hills! Live the dream! Go fuck around in a ski town!
It’ll be just like Aspen Extreme – except modern and way radder. Unlike T.J. Burke, I’ll have the sense to keep bangin’ the wealthy Cougar who immediately drags me back to her den.
I’ll get discovered, sponsored, paid, and fellated once I unleash the snow-slaying demon lurking within: after all, if I ride every day, I’ll get derdonkulously good super quick.
Party every night, ride powder every day, work very little (if at all), travel to exotic places in the off-season, suddenly surf really well, and eventually end up with substantial assets and nothing better to do than slay pow and manage my clothing line.
Right?! Only in dreams, my friend. Only in dreams…
It’s not all powder days, shot skis, and infinite freedoms here in the Land of Schussing. Though certainly better than the Real World, the life of a ski bum is far from ideal. In fact, most people aren’t suited for this world of powerful powders, perpetual poverty and countless potential pitfalls.
As such, here are ten things you need to know before loading up the car and pointing it West.
1) All but the shittiest jobs are hard to come by. Ski towns are ridiculously expensive, and unless you’re loaded, you’ll need to work quite a bit. In finding a job, it’s more about who you know than what you know. In this economy, even finding a shitty $10 an hour daytime gig can be hard. The coveted $20-30 an hour evening jobs are passed down like family heirlooms.
Unless you’re a golden boy or ridiculously sexy young lady, expect to start at the bottom of the service industry and slowly work your way up. Scour the internet for listings and arrive a few months before the snow flies to assure you find decent work. Remember, the more folks you’re on friendly terms with, the quicker you’ll advance, but choose friends wisely because….
2) Many “ski bums” don’t ride very much but most can party with the worst of em’. Alcoholism and drug abuse are widespread and — generally speaking — a whole lot of fun. Unfortunately, maintaining the college lifestyle long term is exhausting and expensive. Also, it stunts your human development.
Some can afford to live a perpetual party because daddy is footing the bill. Unless you’re a Trust-Funder yourself, regularly racking up $100 bar tabs and smoking yourself stupid is a great way to get spit right back out of paradise. “Paradise” is an overstatement, however, because…
3) Most ski resorts aren’t that sweet. Four out of five resorts are plagued by shitty snow and mellow terrain. Many don’t have a very vibrant ski bum subculture either and, arguably, the subculture is the best part. Choose wisely when selecting a ski town or you’ll end up wondering WTF you threw your life away for anyway. With modern ski and board technology most resorts are ridiculously easy to ride and the only real sense of adventure or test of one’s ability is found in the terrain park. Being a park rat is all fine and dandy, but…
4) You’ll eventually fuck yourself up pretty good. No matter how cautious you are, it’s not a matter of if you get hurt, but when. Also, Mommy’s not there to take care of you. In fact, Mommy is probably pissed off that you threw your life away and became a ski bum.
Ride every day — or for the wrong reasons — and you’ll lose stoke except by perpetually upping the ante. Shred an ACL or snap your back and you’ll find yourself unable to bus tables while facing $15,000 in additional debt. Health insurance is ridiculously expensive and usually doesn’t cover ski injuries. If you think you’re gonna get it from an employer, you’re still dreaming.
A good, affordable option is offered by the folks at Adventure Advocates. Don’t leave home without it. And when your buddies have the camera out and are coaxing you to go big, just remember…
5) You’re not going to get paid to ski. We’ve all dreamed of becoming pro riders, but unless you’re ridiculously good (and utterly fearless) you’ll never be one. Many ski instructors claim “pro” status when actually they get paid to herd sheeple and shovel their shit. Claiming this makes them more pathetic than they already are.
A mere handful of skiers worldwide are making a decent living off of their radness. A miniscule few make a long term career out of it. Generally, 99 of 100 “pro skiers” are regular schmucks who occasionally score a little free gear in exchange for risking life and limb. Even most of the guys you see in magazines and videos aren’t making squat.
There’s no real money to be made in hucking your meat, so don’t fall into that trap. If you want to be a pro athlete, spend eight hours a day kicking footballs or something. If you wanna ski or snowboard, ride for yourself because at the end of the day…
6) No one really cares how rad you are. You may score a couple BJs on the gondola for getting nasty but beyond that there’s not much benefit to being “the raddest skier on the mountain”. Unless you’re pushing out the boundaries of the sport itself, don’t expect much recognition beyond that of a small circle of mindless bro bras and clueless pro hos. These folks will generally spit respect in your face but talk shit behind your back.
Skiing is meant to be fun, and if you make it a cock-flexing competition it loses much of it’s allure. Also, recall #4. Also, know that the true test of legitimacy is for some strange reason linked to longevity and…
7) You won’t be a true “local” for at least five years. Because they’ve got nothing else to be proud of, many folks who were born and raised in a ski town take an enormous amount of pride in being “Born-Here Natives”. To us transplants this makes little sense, but the mentality trickles down and forms a Hierarchy of Localism that factors greatly into everyday social situations.
The most common questions you’ll encounter are 1) “Where are you from?” and 2) “How long have you been here?” The best response is always, “I come from the North Country. My people have hunted these lands since the Great Spirit made us here.” Regardless of your awesome attempts at humor, rich old ladies will scoff at you for being a “skid” and jaded old ski bums will give you attitude.
8 ) SAUSAGEFEST!!! Ladies rejoice: your 1-10 “hotness” rating will bump at least three points the moment you set foot in a ski town. Men will line up at the bar to buy you drinks and literally fight one another for the honor of dishonoring you.
Gentlemen, good luck. Though women flock to some ski towns in the summer months, once winter rolls around it gets both cold and lonely. Expect at least five-to-one odds stacked against you. If you find a woman who’ll let you in bed, hold on with both hands and hunker down until spring.
At first glance, importing a girlfriend seems reasonable, but, unless she shreds she will not enjoy herself . More importantly, you will not enjoy the perpetual onslaught of would-be suitors. Your friends and neighbors will justify the assault with the timeless reasoning “She’s NOT your Girlfriend. It’s just your turn.” And they’re pretty much right. Romance isn’t the only challenge, however, as…
9) Staying financially afloat is the greatest challenge. Everything is expensive in a ski town: food, drink, gas, rent, entertainment, and all that shiny gear you thought you needed. Debt grows quickly where many jobs are seasonal and don’t pay enough to cushion existence with more than the bare essentials.
To cut costs, ski bums pack into skid cribs that make frat houses look clean. Ski bums camp out over the summer months. Ski bums scrounge food and other essentials. A truly savvy ski bum knows every trick in the book for getting by with minimal dependence on “The System”. Unfortunately, after 40+ years of battling ski bum infestations, mountain town manifestations of “The System” know what it takes to keep things clean and pleasant for the tourists. In their steely eyes this is essential because…
10) At the root of every ski town’s economy is a real estate scheme. Few ski resorts come close to breaking even on lift ticket sales, overpriced food, etc. The real business plan is to lure tourists — with the scenic and recreational value of the resort community — into buying otherwise worthless high mountain property. It’s an unsustainable scheme based on infinite growth, just like the rest of our Nation’s economy.
The big money interests in town are bent on making a buck, so the community has to appear pleasant and affluent or potential investors are scared away. Like Disneyland, at great effort it’s all orchestrated to come off magically quaint and charming. For this reason, subversive organizations, individuals, and opinions are often squashed. Point being, it’s still very much the Real World, so if you think you’ll find enlightenment on the slopes of some ski resort, you’re in for a rude awakening.
For glimpses of enlightenment, you’ll have to get way-the-hell-out into the backcountry and have death-defying experiences under the influence of powerful hallucinogenics. That’s where the real fun is.
I’ll tell you one sensible thing, however. Ski bumming is about as good as it gets within the cultural constraints of our society. You can push your own limits and, in doing so, push your awareness away from the wage-slavery and consumerism that defines most Americans’ lives.
Opting to ski bum for a while can be the best decision you ever put off making.
Stay healthy and financially afloat and you’ll have a damn good time, whether it’s just for a winter or you decide to make a life of it.
Just be aware, keep a smile on your face, laugh at anyone taking it all too seriously, and otherwise open your mind. You’re embarking upon a lifestyle with a long tradition of defying convention. Rip it up!