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I skied for the first time when I was 23 years old. During my first-ever ski day on my first-ever ski trip, I straight-lined in a wobbly, out-of-control, backseat whir and somehow flew into the air sideways, snapping my pole as I cartwheeled in a ball after smashing back to Earth on the groomer. I loved every second and I got hooked. What I saw while flailing about on skis and walking around Telluride, Colorado was romantic enough to convince me that moving there was a great idea, the best idea. Everyone was goggle-tanned and giggly and beautiful. They skied, it seemed, all day and every day, and worked jobs that no one back home in Chicago had ever heard of—the coolest jobs in the world: ski patroller, snowmaker, ski guide, winch cat operator, and the like. They were ski bums, rough and rugged and athletic and attractive, possessing a monk-like devotion to the mountains. Immediately, I wanted what they had: a passionate life worshipping at the altar of skiing.
After that experience, I moved to the Colorado Rockies to become a ski bum and never left. Plenty has changed around me and within me since my first day living out my dream. Skiing as a lifestyle is facing some real existential problems that a powder day grin can’t cover up—climate change, inequity, elitism and inaccessibility, a major housing and employee crisis—all making the ski bum dream crumble like a Nature Valley granola bar. Still, I just can’t believe that the dream has died entirely, mostly because I don’t want to believe it. I wanted to find out what other skiers were thinking about the future of the ski bum, so I turned to the expert.
On this episode of The Outside Podcast, I chatted with Heather Hansman, ski journalist extraordinaire and author of the new book, “Powder Days: Ski Bums, Ski Towns, and the Future of Chasing Snow.” Hansman takes a magnifying glass to her own ski bum days and our industry and culture. I also spoke with the Editor-in-Chief of SKI, Sierra Shafer, about what the ski bum represents and what is at stake if we lose that character. And I discussed the day-to-day lives of two current ski bums, what their hopes are and what their harsh realities are. What I found is…well, I guess you’ll have to listen to find out.
Heather Hansman on her new book, “Powder Days”:
“This book is about skiing and the history of ski culture, and what it looks like now. But I think the subtext of it is also selfishly Heather trying to figure out her life. I usually frame it up as it is about the idea of living the dream that I think is a big part of the skiing mythology and then why it’s not actually dreamy.”
Sierra Shafer on the ski bum:
“If we lose the ski bum as that north star, it just starts to become a very homogenous, corporate, production and not an experience, not like a way to find your identity…things that are soulless like that don’t live a long time.”
Galena Gleason, longtime Telluride ski bum, on the current state of ski bumming:
“You’ve gotta be creative. You’ve gotta be gritty. And you’ve got to really want to ski. If you don’t have those elements in your repertoire, then the dream might not be alive for you.”
Pro skier Megan Dingman on the current state of ski bumming:
“For me, living the dream is doing what makes me most happy. And if hard work is required to get me there, then that is part of living the dream. I wish I could live in 1982, and just live in a snow cave and be a ski bum. But…the new age ski bum, that’s me.”