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Things You’ll Never Hear A Ski Bum Say

"Is this something I should've grown out of by now?"

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It’s odd to look back at your twenties and know you were a brilliant dumbass. After college, I moved to Telluride, Colorado, to ski. I’d only skied three days in my life at that point. However, I was young, my metabolism was still churning vigorously like a supped-up Mustang rather than the dilapidated jalopy it is today, I had a few bucks saved up, and most importantly, my life was utterly devoid of responsibility. It is a gift to move through space and time with an underinformed, moronic sense of confidence that everything will be ok. And it was. Sort of. Maybe my rose-colored glasses aren’t so rosy anymore because I see this time with less and less nostalgia, or at least I am more critical of myself. It’s like dropping your wallet on a dog turd: you know you need it back, but getting it will be super gross.

Here, let me explain. In the Telluride of my early twenties, my pals and I made snow during the day and ran ski lifts on the resort. And then, at night, I delivered pizza and worked at a bar. Plus, I had a smattering of ski town gigs to fill in the gaps with extra cash so I could pay the rent at my grungy apartment and ski my goddamn ass off. My diet consisted of Zatarain’s, Hillshire Farms kielbasa, Tombstone pizza, and goldfish crackers. How I don’t currently have gout, I will never know. We skied every day, and after a few seasons, we became the goggle-tanned silver-backed ski bums we so admired. It was awesome. I felt brilliant, albeit I had the diet of a dumpster-diving raccoon. 

“Oh god, I love change,” said no ski bum ever.

But then, slowly, something shifted for me in Telluride. Skiing became just another thing rather than the thing, and it faded into the background like bluegrass music at a BBQ. I lived in one of the most storied and most remarkable ski towns in the world, and I took skiing for granted. I was very dumb. At 29, I moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, to get sober. A great life choice but not an excellent skiing choice. Rather than spending all day, every day skiing amongst the precipitous 13,000-foot peaks of the San Juan Mountains, I skied 200-foot frozen hills on the weekends that were about as steep as a railroad track. I drowned my sorrows in juicy lucys and deep-fried cheese curds. It was months into my first Minnesota winter before I finally skied snow soft enough that I didn’t hear my icy turns. That’ll mess with you. 

But I had to ski with what I had, so the challenge was to milk the joy of a three-turn run that could easily be one-turn. And that is how I discovered my favorite turn, the right-footed slarve. Something about schmearing my tails over a convexity or a cut bank and rolling my shoulders like I’m driving a bus before snapping my skis back parallel really tickles my pickle. So, when I took a job back in Colorado, I returned to the mountains armed with a new sense of ski bummery. Denver was no Telluride, but I was back in ski country.

“I know it’s nuking snow right now, but I can’t ski today. I’ve got a lot of emails to take care of,” said no ski bum ever.

Office jobs are the erectile dysfunction of a snowy love affair. At least, it was for me. I thought a move back to Colorado would automatically mean I’d be spending 100-plus days in ski boots again. Well, it could’ve, but I would have been fired and evicted quicker than napkins on 50-cent wing night. I wasn’t skiing enough, and I was sad. So, once again, my definition of ski bumming and my relationship with skiing had to change. Rather than looking at quantity as the goal, I focused on quality. Skiing was no longer about gorging myself in a hot dog eating contest. I needed to sit down and slowly enjoy a perfectly cooked New York strip. 

But when weather circled the mountains, I still had to fight off the voice from my past telling me I was missing out. No one understands FOMO like a skier. Indeed, not dropping responsibility at first sight of the first snowfall and giving a shit about your job is anti-ski bum ideology, right? Fuck that.

“A life with professional and personal responsibility and time commitment is just what I’ve been looking for,” said no ski bum ever…(but maybe we should).

I have an ongoing argument with writer Heather Hansman about her refusal to identify as a ski bum now that she’s no longer ticket-checking and ski patrolling, a topic she explored brilliantly in her book Powder Days.

But let me be clear and state publicly that even though skiers are a self-selecting group and ski bum is a title that only you can bestow on yourself (to my knowledge, there is not an official knighting ceremony performed in any ski town), Heather Hansman is one of the most fantastic ski bums ever to do it. To write Powder Days, Heather spent the winter of 2018/2019 on the road, skiing with and interviewing new and old ski bum friends doing their best to build and maintain a life in ski towns all over the Mountain West. She then combined that reporting with her previous decade of writing about skiing and the ski town experience from her twenties. The book reads like a 260-plus-page personal essay. It’s equal parts heartbreakingly nostalgic, melancholy, and hopeful. That is dedication. That is devotion. And that is ski bumming.

Ski bumming is about reorganizing your life in a way that puts skiing at the center—whatever that looks like for you. I think carving out a life where you can have some trappings of adulthood, like a house or a significant other or a career or even all three, while still having a goggle tan, even if it’s faint in comparison to that of our twenties, is about as ski bum as it gets. The scrounging and scrapping don’t get any easier in your thirties. But it does get different. And I can’t wait to scrap and scrounge when I have one of those 90-plus Ski Club patches on my jacket. Nonagenarian with a goggle tan? Sign me up.