I get a lot of interesting questions on an almost daily basis. One of the questions I am most often asked is, “Do you think someone today can be a ski bum as you were by living in the parking lots of ski resorts?”
My simple answer is a definitive, “Of course!”
There are degrees of a skiing/working balance, but as I have said for the last 20 years or so, “Any job that you have in a city you can do in a ski resort. Rent a U-Haul trailer, quit your job, head for the ski resort of your choice and go for it.”
If you choose to go the non-working, ski-every-day route that Ward Baker and I did, there are a couple of pre-qualifications that will help you along the road to ultimate freedom. Spend four years in the Navy and get sunk in a typhoon before the age of 21.
Ward also spent three years in the Navy and we wanted to recapture our freedom. Living in a trailer was the only way we could afford it. So we did.
The only suggestion I would make is to purchase a van of some kind to sleep and live in, instead of the kind of trailer we lived in for two reasons. One is that the truck or van can be a lot warmer and a lot less conspicuous.
The question of how we got on the ski lifts every day the way we did will go to our graves with us. It is certainly a lot more difficult than it used to be because of electronic surveillance magic, so bite the bullet and spend enough time during the summer working to to buy a pass.
If you are living in your truck, there are plenty of roadside stops along the way where you can sleep for free.
However, there’s something to be very careful of: Never - repeat, never - have an inside heat source of any kind that burns gasoline or propane so you don’t die of asphyxiation before you even get to use your precious pass. My suggestion is to buy a 20-degree below zero arctic sleeping bag at an Army Surplus and you won’t have a problem.
The coldest night that Ward and I slept through in our small trailer was 32 below zero. Our only problem was warming up our boots with our feet on the bus ride to the chairlifts on Baldy.
Even back then, Sun Valley provided a free bus we could ride to the River Run single chairlift, that luckily someone had thought to put canvas tarp blankets on to cover ourselves on the way up in the cold morning.
One of our goals was to ride a chairlift free all day, seven days a week until the snow melted in the spring.
A lot of parents will not approve of this suggestion, but I think young people should take a year off and do something like this before they start their third year in college. Maybe they discover they are majoring in the wrong subject and would waste the last two years of college.
Most people don’t get to ski 100 days in their entire life. At the rate of days you are skiing today, how old will you be when you ski on your hundredth day?
The mountain manager here at Yellowstone club was born in Aspen and his father worked on the Aspen Ski Patrol for 40 years.
What is wrong with a career like that? To be the first one on the lift every morning and checking out the runs for potential problems before any guests are even out of bed. That’s a life.
At 7 a.m. you are probably trying to fight traffic, looking right into a brilliant sunrise and listening to the latest snow report on the car radio.
When Ward and I lived in the trailer, all we wanted to do, or cared about, was to ski all day every day, no matter what the snow conditions were. We skied every day when Baldy was so icy we had to ride down on the Canyon and River Run lift every afternoon and could only ski using the top lift. I think that might be where the snow report category called “loud powder” originated.
Living in our trailer, we never had to shovel snow off of the sidewalk because we never had a sidewalk. We just wandered from our parking spot by the irrigation ditch to the Skier’s Chalet where there were hot showers we could use.
Now that you have the germ of an idea to spend a winter or two or the rest of your life living and working in your choice of ski resorts, how do you select the resort to live in? It depends on whether you do it living in a van or working for the area that gives you a place to live at a reduced cost.
Here is the story of a friend who really figured it out by snaring the perfect job and lifestyle. I’ll call him Tom. He worked for a company called Vans to Vail and picked me up at my house in Vail one morning at 6:30 for a trip to the airport in Denver. He was very polite and by the time he had picked up the other nine passengers at nine different locations, almost an hour had passed.
On the trip, I found out he was saving his money for a piece of land near a Midwestern college of his choice. Almost all of the ten passengers tipped him $5 or $10 each after he told his story. He would get the same size tips on the trip back to Vail. He averaged about $125 a day in tips.
As soon as the second shift driver took over, he was able to get on the chairlift by 1 p.m. for three hours of skiing. After finishing skiing, he stopped by the athletic club for a hot shower and a change of clothes. After leaving the gym he went home.
Home for Tom was a small pickup truck with a bonnet on the back, a mattress and a warm sleeping bag.
Today there are 35,000 people living in the Vail Valley so there is no shortage of places to park in an inconspicuous red pickup truck with a guy and his alarm clock sleeping in it.
Tucked under his mattress is the last day’s $125 in $5 and $10 bills.
Skiing every day and banking that kind of money, not including his salary for driving, what is not to like about that kind of life for a year or so before you settle down into a career?
Your parents might not approve, but who knows where a winter or two such as this will lead. I hope to a lifetime of freedom such as I have enjoyed so far.
Photo: Filmmaker Warren Miller (Warren Miller Freedom Foundation)