Ski Bum for a Season (or More?)

Submitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Wednesday 13th October 2010
In this article
  • Preparing for the ski bum life.
  • Best ski bum spots.
  • Can you live out of your van?

Ever fantasized about being a ski bum for a season? So have we. Here’s a SharpMan Ski Bum Plan from writer Ray Bangs, who’s been there, done that.

In 1994, SharpMan writer Ray Bangs headed west from Wisconsin in a fixed-up $100 car and spent eight months as a ski bum in Breckenridge, Colorado. In that time, he worked as a bus driver, ski instructor, short-order cook, valet, security guard and dishwasher. Not surprisingly, skiing seemed to always interfere with work.

Check out the SharpTravel skinny:

Store your Stuff

So you want to be a ski bum? Head out on the open road and leave all the trappings of civilized life behind? If so, your first move will be stowing those trappings — better known as "your stuff."

Why? Moving in the winter, especially to a mountain state, is a slushy, cold, no-fun-whatsoever experience that should be avoided at whatever cost. Instead of hauling your things cross-country, take all your furniture and personal effects to a rented storage unit. Ideally you’ll have a couple of friends to help out, otherwise — depending on how much gear you’ve accumulated — hiring movers may be an easily justifiable expense.

Alternatively, for those SharpMen who are truly committed to living the "ski bum life" (or just short on cash), you can sell everything. But beware: being a ski bum is not for everyone and usually not permanent — you might call it quits after two months. Finding an inexpensive storage locker allows you to hedge your bet.

What do you keep? Think basics. While you certainly won’t need your whole kitchen set-up, a few dishes and utensils, pots and pans, your microwave and toaster should suffice. You won’t need a dozen bath towels, your entire collection of DVDs, every book you own, etc. Keep it simple.

Gear Up

With the whole "light and easy" theme in mind, limit the ski bum gear you stock up on in your hometown. If you don’t already own ski or snowboard equipment, plan to buy it upon arrival. There’s always gear for sale in mountain towns and used equipment is easy to come by. Ask any local to point you in the direction of gear shops far away from the tourist-priced shops near the ski resorts.

As for clothing, think casual, comfortable and outdoorsy. Cargo pants and jeans, sweaters, sweatshirts, anything fleece, hiking boots and other relaxed attire will help you fit in. Your ski outfits can also be purchased after you arrive. If you happen to stumble upon a great deal on ski outwear at home, don’t get too rowdy with style; you’ll quickly discover that only the tourists are wearing neon pink and green.

Your Wheels

Should you bring your car? While it is possible to live the ski bum life without wheels — and a number of people do — it makes life substantially more difficult. This is particularly true for the period of time you are searching for a job, because unless you have big bucks to lease that slope-side condo, you will most likely have to commute a few miles to work.

Ideally, you’ll want to bring along a reliable cold weather vehicle (i.e., strong battery, good heater) with decent tires (mountain roads can get slick). It’s also a good idea to keep a few essentials in your vehicle: a tow strap, emergency wool blanket, heavy-duty flashlight, jumper cables and a good windshield ice-scraper.

Where to Go

If you really want to get away from it all, check out the ski areas of Alaska, Montana and Wyoming. These destinations offer incredible skiing, incredible settings and less crowded lift lines. Unfortunately, fewer people mean fewer jobs.

For more crowded job-plenty destinations, consider resorts in the Western United States. Many of Utah’s major ski resorts are closer to Salt Lake City, but with the Olympics in town this year, expect crowds. Jobs will be easier to come by, but housing will be tough.

Colorado is generally considered to have the best of all worlds. First, the skiing is phenomenal. Second, jobs and housing are relatively easy to find. Finally, the mountain towns are great year round and if you want the big city, Denver and Boulder aren’t far away. In short, Colorado has it all. You can choose from the relaxed, cowboy ruggedness of Steamboat, the quaint and artsy charm of Telluride and Durango, the glitz and glamour of Aspen and Vail or the hometown feel of Crested Butte.

For SharpMen who want a little of everything, Summit County is a prime ski bum destination. With Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper Mountain and Arapahoe Basin within minutes, you’ll have enough runs to last a lifetime, and if that’s not enough, dozens of other ski areas are close by. Jobs are plentiful and many ski bums find less expensive housing in towns like Dillon and Silverthorne.

A Place to Call Home

Living out of your van is still possible, though much, much more difficult than it was five years ago. Most modern ski bums rent a relatively inexpensive room in a big house or apartment with several others. Many rooms include a bed and chest of drawers. The other roommates will probably have the living room furnishings taken care of. As mentioned above, moving in the winter is a chore, so unless you know all the specifics about where you’ll be staying, go light and buy household items secondhand once you get settled in.

For those SharpMen who land a ski resort job, you’ll find that resort employee housing is reasonably priced — bonus. The drawback is that if you quit the resort job, you lose your pad.

If you prefer to head out with no housing plan in place, sock away at least one week’s worth of hotel costs. Some people find a home the first day in town, but most aren’t so lucky. If your plan-ahead personality requires more stability, consider a pre-move scouting trip to find a job and a place to stay. Why scout in person? Unless you are familiar with the area, it’s nearly impossible to find housing over the phone or Internet that will be convenient to both skiing and employment, as well as being somewhere you will be happy to call home.

The True Ski Bum Job

The ideal ski bum life involves getting up early enough to hit the mountain by nine or ten (earlier on powder days!) and ski until lunch. After a little nap in the afternoon, you’ll head off to work your night job as a waiter or dishwasher. Hungry? Go a little early to get the free meal — one of the perks of restaurant work. On your days off, you and a car full of your new powder-hound pals may cruise to a different mountain 50 miles away to tackle new terrain, go to a movie or hit the retail shops. However you spend your time off, there will be plenty of time for skiing when you hook up a good night job. It’s the key to ski bum happiness.

If you chose to work at a resort and make use of their employee housing, another perk is the free ski pass. Free pass, you say? That’s right. Since good employees are hard to come by, resorts offer a multitude of bonuses, including longevity incentives, reasonable health insurance, discounts on hotel rooms and at restaurants, etc. Check out the ski resort Web sites. Most have details about employment and some even allow you to apply online. Be sure to check on employee ski pass restrictions; it may be worth buying your ski pass after all. And of course, as with the employee housing, your free ski pass evaporates if you quit your resort job.

Go For It!

So if the corporate grind is wearing your nerves thin, getting away from it all may be your perfect remedy. Granted, most people don’t retire early from being professional ski bums, but don’t shake your head too quickly; waiters at some of the snazzier restaurants clear over $60,000 working only three or four nights, six or seven months out of the year.

And sure, there may be bad days — but just remember to look around. The mountains are intoxicating and being a ski bum is fun, simple, and rewarding. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself thinking, "Now this is the life!"

This article last updated on Wednesday 13th October 2010
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