I wanted to be a ski bum. After college, I had it all planned out. I would move to Crested Butte. I would ski all the time. And I would live the dream on $13,000 a year. I still remember that budget. It was grounded in nothing, with no reality check. But to me it sounded sufficient. I don’t know that it was, because I never tested it out.
Like many of my best laid plans, the “Ski Bum Plan” fell through. No one wanted to ski bum with me, at least not in Crested Butte. Many friends went to Aspen, some went to Telluride and I went to Denver, following my boyfriend (now husband) who landed a “real job” well before graduation. His plan was made first, so my plan lost out. This unplanned life has worked out beautifully. I have no regrets — just a continuing fascination with the lifestyle I gave up.
A Ski Bum History
Author Jeremy Evans’ 2010 book, In Search Of Powder, fuels this fascination. Like me, Evans’ post-college goal was to be on snow as much as possible. Unlike me, he’s a snowboarder and he actually lived the life. He moved to Lake Tahoe for three years and supported his riding with writing. And then he left.
In Search of Powder documents Evans return to ski bum culture in the middle 2000s. When Evans left Tahoe, he moved to Portland and nearly died, literally. At age 26, he suffered a stroke. Reprioritizing, he chucked in the big city and moved back to the Sierra, only to find that what he remembered was gone. Housing prices had gone up, second (and third and fourth) home ownership was rampant and neighborhood schools were disappearing. The snow was still great, but his ski bumming peers had flown. As a journalist, Evans recognized a good story and set about traveling the west in search of ski bums.
Traveling from Crested Butte to Mammoth, Jackson Hole to Telluride, and points in between, Evans collected stories, memories and reminiscences from aging ski bums. In Search of Powder documents the changes they’ve seen: the discovery, the development, the greed and the creation of “destinations.” Their stories are similar. Young men and women in their late teens and early 20s find Shangri-La. And then, as time goes by Shangri-La changes around them. Some stay, but most leave, and ski bums disappear. Or do they?
Or The Native Home of Mammon?
The subtitle of Evans’ book is “A Story of America’s Disappearing Ski Bum.” Evans initial premise was to “figure out what makes ski bums tick and what makes them willing to sacrifice the traditional pleasures of American life for daily insolvency.” In the course of his research, Evans finds that the driving factor is, of course, money: a lack of it, a need for it and the quest to get more of it.
Here’s how it works. Ski bums arrive, and then at some point, they grow up. They get married, they have a family. Then they have a choice to make. They can continue ski bumming or make more money. Making money can go two ways. Ski bums can stay and capitalize on the ski town lifestyle or leave. Those who stay and capitalize on the lifestyle become the black hats: the developers, the ski company executives and the pro skiers who sell out to sponsors and waste powder days waiting on film crews.
The development of Mountain Village, Colorado, home Telluride Ski and Golf is chronicled. So is the rise of film company Teton Gravity Research in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. And while many people would argue that now-ubiquitous ski villages such as Mountain Village and “ski-porn” companies such as TGR have positively contributed to ski culture as we know it, they are decried by the old-timers, the purists and the free-spirits.
We All Want to Be Free
And really, being a free spirit is really what being a ski bum is all about. There’s a reason most ski bums are young. They have few responsibilities. And without much money, they can’t accumulate responsibilities. A bike fills in for a car, a shared room takes the place of a mortgage. Family is far away and sends checks for birthdays. Life narrows to a single-minded focus on snow.
A Good Read
I enjoyed reading In Search Of Powder. It’s well written, interspersing personal anecdote and well-researched (if slightly dated) fact. And, while I enjoyed the aging ski bum reminiscences, I was most interested in the chapters addressing immigrant labor at ski resorts and the evolution of skiing films. These sections of the book bring up real issues dealing with equity, discrimination and quality of life (immigrant labor), as well as risk-taking, safety and death (professional skiing).
Again, digging just a little into these topics we find money. What will people give up to make money? Family, as in the case of Spanish-speaking immigrants who migrate north to clean rooms and wash dishes? Or life, as in the case of professional freeskiers who have fatally pushed the boundaries to get bucks from sponsors?
In the end, the premise of In Search of Powder is quite simple. Money changes everything. That’s not new, but we don’t see it until we need it. Ski bums are still out there. They’re just not us.
In Search Of Powder Giveaway
Want to read more? Jeremy Evans and the University of Nebraska Press are offering a copy of In Search of Powder to one lucky reader of The Brave Ski Mom.
What better book to put on your spring break reading list than a book that will get you stoked for late season pow and get you thinking about your own priorities, your family and how you’ll react when your children tell you that despite the expensive college education you have provided, what they really want to do is ski or ride. That day is coming.
To enter, simply leave a comment below. One winner will be chosen in a random drawing from all comments received on March 13th. At the request of the publisher this giveaway is limited to people with mailing addresses in the continental U.S. Good luck!
In an exchange of emails, Jeremy tells me that his health is good and that he and his family are enjoying life at Lake Tahoe. Jeremy still has the soul of a ski bum but he reports, “Because I now have two kids, which I didn’t have while researching and writing In Search of Powder, I don’t ride nearly as much.”
When not taking care of his daughters or riding Tahoe pow, Jeremy is a freelance writer, a teacher at Lake Tahoe Community College and is hard at work on his second book about a surf town in Central America fighting a multi-national company.
To facilitate this review, I received a copy of In Search of Powder. As always, all opinions expressed are my own and are exactly what I would tell my family and friends. This post contains affiliate links to Amazon.
This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Leah.
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