Moving to a Ski Town: What you should know

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Ski towns are awesome places. To live in a place where others go for vacation has a lovely and romantic swagger to it. In fact, it’s something I think most people (at least skiers and snowboarders) should do once in their lives. Before the complexities of life push you along the merry-go-round of conventionality, try stepping off for a little while, create your own definition of success and give ski-bumming a try.

You might hear that ski bumming isn’t what it used to be. Have a look at Jeremy Evans’ book In Search of Powder: A Story of America’s Disappearing Ski Bum or Dick Barrymore’s “Last of the Ski Bums”, which in 1969, portrays the supposed heyday of ski

View from the Summit House at Crystal

bumming just as it was simultaneously vanishing. I’ll wager, however, that most of that retrospective nostalgia is simply 20-20 hindsight. You can still be a ski bum. Perhaps not in Aspen or Beaver Creek, or even Park City, simply for the lack of affordable housing. But look beyond the big resorts and you just might find a little piece of heaven. Crystal Mountain, for example, is not even a resort and the small town of Greenwater could hardly be considered a ski town. However, many of the perks of ski town life apply there. And contrary to what Jeremy Evans or even Dick Barrymore might put forth, ski bumming hasn’t died.

Some of the rules of conventional society are simply ignored in ski towns. Upon first glance, ski town life might almost seem utopian. What’s not to like about daily access to skiing, a tight-knit community of like-minded individuals and the shifting of social norms?

North side of the King, Crystal Mountain

It’s incorrect to assume that ski towns do not have social norms. In fact, the norms are just as real in these towns as anywhere else. They often have their own monetary system. A good ski tune can be purchased with a six pack of beer. (Click here to read Adventure Journal’s article on beer-based gratitude in ski towns). Ski towns have their own dating rules (guys, watch your girlfriends!) and their own social hierarchy (the better you ski, the more respect/dates/free gear you get). But like anything, there are pros and cons. Here are a few to consider:

Pros:

  • Great skiing. You can be there when the snow descends, not the crowds. While

    Photo by Andrew Longstreth

    not every day is bluebird, living there means you’ll be on the slopes when it is.

  • Nightlife. From apr├Ęs to afterhours, many bars and restaurants offer “locals” prices.
  • Commute. If you’re lucky enough to live close to the ski area or on the bus route, you just might not ever need to shovel out your Subaru.
  • Sense of community. Walking into a ski town bar is just about as close to Cheers as one can get. Ski towns are small towns, and participation in local events, politics and happenings brings the community together.

Cons:

  • More dudes than chicks. This can be good for the gals, if they’re picky enough (I will do a follow-up post for the ladies about this very subject soon). This is usually bad for the guys, except those that would rather just ski and not worry about messy things like relationships.
  • Expensive. Unless you’re a trustafarian (and many many supposed ski bums having ditched it all in favor of the zen-like truth of a trailer in the parking lot, actually get a regular check from a fund somewhere), you’re going to have to suck it up. Many ski area employees are underemployed. Best thing to do before ski bumming is to not strap yourself with too much school debt. That fancy education isn’t going to help you get a job at a ski area.
  • Some ski area employees get a job that doesn’t let them ski/snowboard. This is

    Photo by Chris Morin

    purely insane. If you move to a ski area, do yourself a favor. Ski (or snowboard, if that’s your thing). Having said that, many of the “good” jobs are hard to get, so apply early. It’s better to have the right job that lets you ski and no place to live than the other way around.

Other Advice:

Buy a sleeping bag. You never know when you’ll have to crash at a friend’s house. Better yet, trade your car in now for one that you can sleep in. I always had my Toyota Tacoma with a topper on the back. It was like the taj mahal back there.

Don’t invest in expensive ski gear. Good deals can always be found. Look for lightly used gear from friends that are upgrading. Shop the sales. Find a connection. Don’t, however, be a gear whore. Just find the best deals on the best gear and leave it at that. Contrary to what ski manufacturers want you to believe, you do NOT need to have the latest ski or snowboard in order to make the perfect turn. It will be just as good this season as it was last season on the same board(s).

When it’s good, appreciate it. That’s why you are here. Don’t wait to be happy until you’re situation is set, until you have the right skis, until you find someone to share your happy life with, until your housing comes through. Instead, when the sun shines, lift your chin towards it. When the snow falls, tuck your chin into your collar and ride through it. When you find yourself at the top of a peak and the view opens up momentarily, just for you, stop and look at it. Nothing lasts forever.

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9 responses »

  1. Hi Kim –
    Great article. I agree that there are more men than women in a ski town, but as I have learned over the years…The odds are good, but the goods are odd.

  2. Occasionally I’ve thought that if my life took a differnt turn, I might have become a tree-hugging backpack bum. Not the same as ski bum, but there might be some overlap. Interesting post Kim. Thanks for sharing.

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