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The End of a Dream - Ski Bumming

post #1 of 38
Thread Starter 
A recent thread looks longingly at ski resort life.

Like many here, I once followed the siren of ski-bum glory. I packed the VW (de rigor in those days) with a dog, sleeping bag, $200 cash, and headed for Whistler to live the dream.

It was every inch "The Dream"; skiing all day, tribal living, no boundaries, and as much debauchery as we could find (females were scarce, and subjects of fierce competition).

Strangely, after 3 years, it began to feel pointless. While others were getting on with their lives; career, families, and higher education, we were still waking-up disheveled, without purpose, and increasingly picky about ski days.

Finally, I couldn't stand it any longer. It felt like everyone I knew at Whistler was on a treadmill, running hard but going nowhere.

"The Dream" was over, and it was time to move on. I didn't ski again for years.

These days, I savor skiing for the contrast if offers.

Has anyone else lived the ski resort experience and found it initially thrilling, but ultimately lacking in substance?

Or, did you find your essence in resort life, and long-term fulfillment?
post #2 of 38
I'm really sorry to disagree with you, and please believe that I am not trying to be controversial. However, I spent the most of my life in New York City, and nine years in Boston. Before I met Mark, I never believed that I could be anything bit the quintessential New York City girl. However, there is something about city life that always made me feel that I was never good enough for anything. Three years in a row, I ran the New York City Marathon, and decided to teach my aerobic class after the race.

Three years in a row, I got in trouble with management for not wearing makeup to teach my class after running the New York City Marathon.Maybe it's a chick thing, but in an urban setting, I never felt that I was pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, rich enough, talented enough or competent enough.

Of course, the fact that for every guy in NYC, there are a minimum of 8 fashion models with PHds can have a bad effect on one's self confidence. Talk about fierce competition!

When I moved to the mountains, I re-invented myself. I started writing. Even did some acting. I have my own studio. I guess I've found long term fulfillment.
post #3 of 38
I am with Strato on this one. Briefly (since it's boring to everyone but me), I moved to Utah for college twenty years ago. I started instructing my 1st year and managed to teach/get a degree after about seven years. The teaching was such a rush at 1st. It payed my way, it made me think I was ultra cool, and it made me a far better skier. I even worked my way up the leadership ladder and made it to Level III cert. But every season was less fun than the previous. It soon became just a job (and a seasonal low paying one at that). After I graduated, I could not get out of it fast enough. I landed a Biotech job in SF and worked there ten years before getting recruited back to Utah by a former executive in SF. Now, I work in a far more rewarding career (we are working on cancer drugs that save lives) and get payed fairly for my services. I don't mind at all looking in from the outside of the ski industry and paying full fare (well, I still have connections and get stuff on pro form) for my skiing. My wife gets to do stuff she wants to do (Yoga & Retreats) and I get plenty of time to do stuff I want (Utah is far more oriented towards work life balance than the Coasts). Best of all, my kids grow up in a small(ish) mountain town and get the benefits that I can provide them with the tools needed to succeed towards their own independence and careers. So, in a way, I have a hybrid life - I live in a resort town but have a non-hospitality related career.

post #4 of 38
Who'd a thunk it, the old too-much-of-a-good-thing rule can apply even to skiing?!?
Thanks for your insight CaptS. For every person like you, there are 100 of us who never experienced the ski bum thing and always regretted that we didn't try it at least for one season. I guess that's why I'm hoping to follow the ski bumming begins at age 60 plan in a few years.

Congrats to LM and Pwdr for living a dream, as opposed to merely working towards one.
post #5 of 38
Strato, didya get to know Johnny Thrash and Crucial Mike up there at Whistler?

(Stars of one of my favorite movies about skiing, a documentary called Ski Bums.)
post #6 of 38
I have a similar story to the Captain.
The summer after graduating from St Mikes in VT a few freinds and I headed for CO to ski bum...I can still remember having exactly $170 when we left and about $100 upon arriving in Steamboat. Got landscape jobs at first then worked for the mountain for the free pass...but only for the first month as it was driving me crazing to be working on days when I could be skiing. Quit the mtn job, bought my own pass so I could ski every day and worked nights at the Sheraton at the base of the Gondi.
Skied well over 100 days for three straight seasons but by the third season the ski bum itch had been scratched and the need to ski every day had lost some of it's allure. Got a my first "REAL" job in the Boston area the following summer.
However I never lost the craving to ski and skied avidly the following seasons in New England about 40 times a year and tied in trips out west too.
Heading West to ski bum is one of the great decisions I ever made and boy am I glad I did it. If I hadn't I would still be still be kicking myself in the arse even though it's 20 years later...
post #7 of 38
So I'm reading that 3 years is about the limit. After that you either need to move on or put together a "real life" in the mountains.

On the other hand, this probably is not the preferred forum for those personality types that like perpetual adolescence.
post #8 of 38
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by nolo View Post
Strato, didya get to know Johnny Thrash and Crucial Mike up there at Whistler?

(Stars of one of my favorite movies about skiing, a documentary called Ski Bums.)
nolo: I didn't know Johnny Thrash. Crucial Mike - can't say.

These were the 70's (1972-75), so it was awhile ago. Byron Gracie and Rene (forget last name) were the local ski gods, and guys from the National Team hung around. Lots of wanna-be hippies (including me).

Everyone was milking the Canadian Unemployment Insurance system. We worked construction jobs off-season, then collected unemployment benefits and skied all winter.

It was a simpler time - no Whistler Village - just gas stations and a couple of ski shops at Whistler Creek.
post #9 of 38
Interesting ideas...I can't wait till I get to live the ski dream. However, I will put academics & my future first. I am now a freshmen in college. My plan is to of course graduate from college and then head on to graduate school. I will either attend graduate school somewhere out west where I can ski often (w/o compromising school) or will move out west for a few years after graduate school. What do you guys think of this?? It's interesting to hear your responses to your ski bum lifestyle.
post #10 of 38
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Lisamarie View Post
When I moved to the mountains, I re-invented myself. I started writing. Even did some acting. I have my own studio. I guess I've found long term fulfillment.
Lisamarie: Sounds like you found your essence.

It appears you went with a purpose, and fulfilled it.

I just went to escape, party and ski. Teenage wasteland!
post #11 of 38
When I decided I wanted to live at a ski area I quit my job and decided to create a business that I could operate from anywhere and one that would make money without me actually working very much. It took about five years of really hard work but once it became profitable, I moved it and my family to Breck.

These days there's absolutely no reason why you can't have financial success and a great lifestyle at the same time if you have some skill and your goals are set accordingly early enough in life.
post #12 of 38
You guys and gals were doing it backwards, works better the other way around.

College, Career, family, 401K, and then retire to be a ski bum.
post #13 of 38
I asked my employer if I could do the work from home gig even if I moved away. They said yes, my wife hunted for and found a good job and we were off to Utah. That was in March. I must've got in about 20+ days at the end of the season. This season I'm going to try for 80 to 90 days and try not compromise the work from home benefit. Stay tuned.
post #14 of 38
Originally Posted by Tarzan View Post
You guys and gals were doing it backwards, works better the other way around.

College, Career, family, 401K, and then retire to be a ski bum.
See that's where I get confused. Work your whole life to be able to afford a ski vacation for the fam, or just live in a ski town and skip all that middle stuff.
post #15 of 38
I hope that someday I will be able to live a few years like some of you have and just ski a lot... being able to only ski 15 days a year and loving it really gets to me. Sometimes Iowa just blows the big one.

I get that the common concensus is that being a ski bum was one of the greatest things you've done, if you've done it? I am currently a junior in college and thinking of graduating early next December and then moving out to colorado to become a liftie or something and ski... any thoughts? Any advice? I was thinking about posting a thread, but maybe from hearing some more responses to what people have done and how fulfilled it left you and if it was worth it.
post #16 of 38

Ski bumming

I went to the University of Utah so I could ski bum and get a degree. I didn't take classes during the winter months, and would make up for it with summer school. Sure it took me twice as long to graduate, but those were some of the best times of my life, and I have no regrets. I put myself behind the 8 ball financially in life because of my ski bum years, and now I am a lawyer working my ass off. I was smart enough to choose a city where I could be less than 30 minutes from decent skiing. (Santa Fe) Taos is not far away, so I can always satisfy my extreme urges. I think if you want to ski bum, you have to sacrifice your earlier years and just do it. Working like a dog and then planning to be a senior ski bum is not a good plan. Your body will deny you from being able to do anything but cruise on groomers once you get too old...I don't care what kind of shape you are in...joints are joints and pain is pain. I definitely would encourage anyone who loves skiing and has no definite plans to just go for it!
post #17 of 38
I think it is more about living the mountain life and not getting caught up in the rat race (if the rat race is not your thing).

Several years ago I gave up a career in biotech (lab burnout) in the Bay Area. I went back to school at CMC in Leadville to study Natural Resource Management. Classes were easy compared to my previous college experience (BS in Biochem from WSU). But gave valuble hands on experience and lead to a good job opportunity in the Vail Valley. Now I get to work in the field doing environmental monitoring/restoration, ski 40-50 days/year and having a meaningful career while living (the most important to me) in the mountains.

There are many ways to acheive the mountain lifestyle and still be fulfilled..be creative and take the chance.
post #18 of 38
[quote=Knute;574289]Working like a dog and then planning to be a senior ski bum is not a good plan. Your body will deny you from being able to do anything but cruise on groomers once you get too old...I don't care what kind of shape you are in...joints are joints and pain is pain.QUOTE]

However, banishment to groomers for a few years with a rock solid pension to cover your room and board ain't a bad plan B.
post #19 of 38

I found your post interesting. You disagreed with Captain Strato, yet from what I have been able to gather, you don't live the "quintessential ski bum" lifestyle. From reading your posts elsewhere on the site and finding your webpage about writing your book, I just don't get a picture of you and your husband living out of a VW van with a mangy dog and endless nights of drunken debauchery.

I think you may have missed the point that Captain Strato was going for. It seems to me he was addressing the age old concept "growing up" and becoming a mature adult. You and your husband just swapped city living for mountain living, which, granted, is a lifestyle change, but Strato was talking about being young, inrresponsible, and carefree and then becoming mature, old, and responsible (it sounds like you were mature and responsible in NYC and that you're equally mature and responsible in the mountains, just more carefree and not tied down by the hustle and bustle of the city).

Frankly, I have one friend who is a ski bum in Idaho. He's been doing it for awhile and I know he's started contemplating moving to San Francisco and going back to school. He hasn't bit the bullet yet, though.

Conversely, I've begun to think about being a ski bum. I've been living in San Francisco for more than a decade and starting to wonder what Strato wondered about being a ski bum: my career was initially thrilling, but seems to be lacking substance. I'm not sure if switching to being a ski bum (at 39, no less) would change things, but it certainly sounds romantic. Part of this ties into being 39 and working in an industry with 24-year olds, thus making me an incredibly young 39 (i.e. if you put me downtown in the Financial District with "normal" city 39 year olds they'd find me incredibly "immature" and slackerish). But at the same time being 39 and surrounded by a bunch of 24 year olds makes one feel old...would becoming a ski bum rekindle the proverbial fountain of youth?

post #20 of 38

This brings hazy memories of the 80's..

I did the ski bum thing for kind of a long time in Aspen in the 80's. And yes, part of it was' living the dream '- teaching Hollywood celebs, heli trips with the uber rich, every afternoon was Friday. Got in tons of great skiing, mtn biking, all that. I'm glad I did it, but in retrospect wish I'd either parlayed it into a real career or had gotten out sooner. Now I'm partially reformed with a 'regular' job and a place in VT where we go with the kids every weekend.

I still have friends from then who, 20 years later, are still doing what they did then, working in restaurants, painting,teaching skiing, etc. I guess they're happy, but I knew that wouldn't work for me.

Earlier someone refered to turning it around and retiring in the mtns. I had an uncle who was a stock broker in NYC and in his 50's moved to Sun Valley and opened shop there. Those were really good years for him.
post #21 of 38
The key for me would be how to translate what I do in the City into a job in the mountains.

I'm not gonna wait tables (no disrespect to the profession, mind you, just not for me) and I can't swing a hammer to save my life (okay, I could to save my life, but it would take me forever to build a house, so construction is out), so it would be about finding a journalism gig that paid the bills and maintain the rudimentary lifestyle I am used to at this juncture.
post #22 of 38

Over 60-Banished to groomers?---NOT!!

Hey Jamesj,
Who said we over 60 ski bums only ski Groomers??

I didn't learn to ski till my mid 20's, milked the GI bill for a couple of years. Spent a season at Snowbird as a parking lot monitor. Worked in Portland, OR and taught part time on Mt. Hood. Married in '75. Wife and I brought our kids up skiing and both continued to teach part time till 82 when we moved east (Corporate move). Skied a couple of times in NY & VT. Divorced, early retirement in '98, consulted for a year, then found a company who moved me to CO in '99. Met Kay, we both got laid off in '01. Have been ski bumming since and living on my IRA.

We have guys in their 50's, 60's, 70's and even some in their 80's at Copper and all over Summit County that kick ass all over the mountain. Sure we hurt some, but I remember hurting a lot in the 60's and 70's too, torn mcls, shoulder injuries and lots of bad hangovers with a class to teach!! (Can you say "barf in the woods"?)

"Life is GOOD"!! (Even with some rough times lately. )

post #23 of 38
I'm smiling as I read this post.

I did the one-winter-ski-bum thing when I was in college. Took a winter off from Iowa State University (IC kyle B ) and lived in Aspen in 1970/1971. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

A few years later, I was lucky enough to have a seasonal profession (farming) that allowed me to spend winters skiing. I was a farmer in Iowa nine months each year and a backcountry ski guide here in Jackson Hole for three months. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

Then, at age 35, I decided to quit farming and join the "real" world. Corporate jobs, various cities, lots of travel, moderately successful, skiing two weeks a winter. Didn't like that part very much.

When my last large corporate employer (MCI/Worldcom - don't get me started) imploded, along with most of my retirement assets, I talked my wife into making a huge leap of faith and we moved to Jackson Hole full time. I now sell real estate, teach skiing a few days a winter, and ski *almost* any time I want. Love it, love it, love it.

The interesting part is that a large number of my ski bum Jackson Hole friends from twenty-five years ago have made very good lives here. Some are entrepreneurs (restaurants, ski shops, galleries), some are professionals (engineers, attorneys, doctors, money managers), some are contractors and tradesmen (carpenters, plumbers, excavators, ski instructors ).

The common denominator is that they were all attracted to this place by the skiing, started out as quintessential ski bums, and somehow figured out a way to become successful within the framework of a ski town.

It can be done. People are doing it every single day.
post #24 of 38
The idea that anything in your life will ever be "over" or "finished" is a common trap. It's a box into which you place yourself.

What does this mean with regards to bumming? It means that if you are thinking about being a bum, go. Tie up your loose ends and go. Do NOT fall into the trap of planning your euphoric bum-life for after retirement or some other such milestone.

Neither school, nor your current job, nor even your family or debt are preventing you from doing anything you really want to do (unless you're in jail...).

Pursue that which you are passionate about, and pursue it until you no longer feel that passion. Then move on.
post #25 of 38
I went a different route. After High School My family moved away from the beaches of SoCal and I stayed behind to do the surfbum thing. Had mostly contruction jobs over a 10 year period and lived hand to mouth but right near the beach and that was all I wanted during that time. Really only skied a few days each year. Had an epiphony during a week long trip to Tahoe in the 1980's and traded the beach life for the mountains in 1987. Moved to Utah and finished School got married and had kids. I ski more days per year now than I did 20 years ago and hope to for the next 20. I will say that I enjoy skiing much more now that I can afford it - seasons passes for the whole family!
post #26 of 38

Kind of a similar experience to Captain Strato's story...

...with a twist. Here's my tale: I was a ski bum/instructor for 11 years in Stowe, Breckenridge, and Copper Mountain. I started off doing the standard ski bum thing (night work...I ran the Briar Rose in Breckenridge for two years) and then I got into teaching. Best gig I had was the year I was teaching part time at Breckenridge and was a saute chef four nights a week at Andrea's Pleasure Palace...so I worked a lot Friday, Saturday, Sunday, not much the rest of the week, so...lots of skiing.

I stopped living in ski towns because all the low-rent people got run out of town. Now I work for a (ahem) Major IT purveyor in the Boulder, Colorado area, live in a 7 acre ranch home in Berthoud, and ski, race train, and race mornings, weekends, and any other time I can sneak away to Eldora, Loveland, and the Summit County and Vail areas. Same circus, different clowns...

When I started the ski bum life, it was for two reasons: (1) I had had enough of the so-called real world, and I wanted to live a different way than John Q. Square...so I already knew what it was I didn't want to do...and (2) I had a come to Jesus meeting with myself and said "Forget all the BS about what you thought you were supposed to be (college English professor) or what the Sputnik generation thought you should be (you're a smart kid...doctor, lawyer, or engineer? They're all acceptable, you pick...), what is it that you want to do, Richard?" Most honest answer I could come up with was "Duh...go skiing in the winter, hang out on the beach in the summer."

Of course I knew I was going to have to work at low-rent jobs to make it happen, but so what? When I first went to Summit County, I had a condo in Breck for $235 a month that I shared with two women who were waitrons at the resort hotel on Cape Cod where I was a bellhop, a season pass was $125, with $500, you could buy more than enough gear for a season, and gas was something like 69 cents a gallon...and if you didn't have a car, so what? I had $3,000 in the bank from my summer job, I was making $3.25 an hour washing dishes at night, and I skied all day and lived like a king. I was living the dream, and I could have cared less what was going on in the real world. 11 years later, I realized that the game had changed. Summit County looked like Wally World, and there was no way you could afford to live there, let alone ski, if you didn't have your own successful business, a silver spoon in your mouth or both.

So I left. Were there some other reasons, other than the fact that I was getting priced out of the game? Oh yeah. After 11 years of being on skis 100 plus days a season, my back and my knees were shot. Living in a ski town is pretty much always about skiing & behaving like the Merry Pranksters & ingesting all kinds of mood elevators and lubricants...but toward the end, it was a lot like living in a small town where everybody's a drunk and some people ski once in a while. Getting back into the real world wasn't fun, and I really didn't want to stop skiing and doing other cool stuff, so I made a deal with myself...I didn't. Yep, I went to work in corporate America, but I always found a way to put skiing first. Also tennis, and bike racing, and surfing, and so forth.

And as much as the end of that 11-year era in my life was definitely more bitter than sweet...man, I miss the old days of jubilee...the good ones and the bad ones. Some day soon, I'm gonna write a book about it...
post #27 of 38
post #28 of 38
for a ski bum that guy is certainly sporting a lot of Mountain Dew sponsorship (skis, fleece...)

post #29 of 38
Originally Posted by dookey67 View Post
for a ski bum that guy is certainly sporting a lot of Mountain Dew sponsorship (skis, fleece...)

Ya got to work the system. Never every pay to ski.
post #30 of 38
I did it for a year at Whistler in the '80s. You do burn out and start to get picky about which days you go. Now it has to be pouring rain to stop me from getting out.

You tend not to cherish the days when you can ski all the time and not have to worry about scheduling around family or work commitments.

I also got tired of the real dirt bag element always hitting you up for something.

"Let's go for drinks." Excellent.

* Bill comes *

It's your shout mate.

"Dude - I am broke again. I ain't no wage slave, Dude."

Excellent. I get to pay again. Then go to work later tonight.

"Dude - we smoked all of your stash while you were at work. Got any more? Dude what are we going to do? Plus you are out of beers."

"Also Dude, you need to pay your phone bill - I called home (for three hours in prime time) and they cut me off. So harsh."

Lots of people go to ski resorts and do three activities: ski, party and work. It is hard to keep up the pace where you are doing all three each and every day.

Sad is the people you meet who moved to the mountains to ski and end up just working shite jobs and getting’ wrecked. Soon the skiing becomes just a memory and you see these 35 year old bussers who are so burnt out that they can hardly string together sentences anymore. Sad.

Looking back that was the worst part...and it wasn't that bad. Kinda funny in some ways. Some great people and some not so great ones.

On the other end of the scale you meet the people who get off the mountain and grab their skinnies so they can get a couple of XC loops in before dark. Living with a passion and zeal that never dims.

Looking back you also realize how good the good times were. Biggest source of stress was deciding to ski Whistler or Blackcomb in the morning. All you had to remember work wise was what time your shift started at…then you could time the last doob of the day.

I have no regrets doing it for a year. If I had to do it again I think I would have broken up school by taking a couple of lifestyle years in between. Can’t do that now…but I am scheming.

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