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Ski Bum (noun phrase): A person who frequents ski resorts habitually, often doing casual jobs, for the sake of skiing. (1960+)

–The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.

Or, to put it in more illustrative terms, a ski bum is one who, in order to epitomize a snow-loving Peter Pan, avoids all trappings of adulthood. This may include accepting: mediocre to deplorable living situations, jobs that pay in pizza and wearing a nametag that also includes one’s hometown. All of these elements, which would be indignities for anyone else in their 20s, 30s, 40s or beyond, are acceptable to the ski bum, as they are small sacrifices to make on the road to achieving nirvana (nirvana = as many days on the mountain as possible).

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The ski bum was first spotted in the 1960s, living in vans and rocking some sweet hair as they schussed down the mountain. However, as resorts grew and (regular) people started flocking to these heavens on earth, it became more difficult to live the ski bum lifestyle due to rising costs of lodging, meals and, well, everything. As a result, the ski bum has had to evolve.

Maybe the bum doesn’t live out the remainder of her days in a snowy paradise; perhaps she fulfills this dream for a few seasons and then heeds the call of real life. Nevertheless, the breed still exists. It’s possible to spot them in their chosen habitat—and well worth seeking them out. Here’s what to look for when spotting a ski bum:

1. They have more than one job. At least one involves wearing a nametag.

Ski bums often have to take several jobs to make ends meet. As a result, you may experience déjà vu in a ski town—the girl that sold you your lift ticket may well sell you a t-shirt when you’re strolling through town.

2. They have roommates. As in, plural.

Housing in a ski town is cutthroat. If someone lives in a place with just one roommate, it’s probably a 350 square foot studio that in any other town would be called a storage shed. Or it’s a tent, hidden on forest service land.

Too many roommates

3. They never post pictures of their ski days.

There are several reasons for this dearth of documentation: 1. If you post a picture hucking a sick cliff and you were supposed to be at work (see above), you’ll get fired. (Note: Ditto on getting scanned on your employer-provided pass.) 2. When you ski every day, it’s not necessary to post pictures so that your friends are jealous. They’re living in a perpetual state of jealousy.

4. They know the value of favors…

First rule of the ski bum: Make friends with everyone. From tow truck drivers to ski tuners, everyone has a value from which you might profit from at some point. Sure, you might tune your own skis, but your BFF from high school might need a new coat on those rental sticks. A six-pack and a high-five to your friend at the shop will save you time and wax in your garage.

Ski Tuning

5. …and freebies.

Free shampoo samples at the Paul Mitchell tent during the Dew Tour? Heck yeah. A hoodie for volunteering for a race series? Bring it on. The fridge full of condiments that a family gifted to your friend the bellman, and he hates mustard? Load it up. Life in a ski town is expensive—a ski bum knows how to make lemonade out of the stuff he gets at zero cost. Speaking of…

6. They know 47 different ways to utilize rice, peanut butter and granola bars in recipes.

There’s an art to cheap meals. Similar to what you’ll find in college dorms (after all, being a ski bum can often feel like living as a broke-ass college kid in the best of times), ski bums know 47 different recipes for rice (it’s cheap), peanut butter (it’s protein) and granola bars (it’s free!). True aficionados know all of the tricks, from smearing peanut butter on granola bars to make a sandwich, to watering down cooked rice to make rice soup. Ummmm…delicious.

Weekday skiing at Big Bear Lake CA

7. They’re skiing on a weekday.

Taking a resort job means working weekends, holidays and any other high-traffic days that might come around. Plus, the weekdays are less crowded, enabling our heroes to make more turns in less time. Chances of you seeing a ski bum on the hill on a Saturday? Slim to none. Unless, of course, they’re sneaking a few runs at first chair before heading to their first (or third) job.

8. They always have a slightly far away look in their eye.

Don’t worry—it’s not personal. They’re totally listening to your story or complaint or question. It’s just that they’re calculating the possible powder total based on the current rate of snow falling and the existing temperatures, or are already plotting out the next day’s turns. There’s a siren’s call emanating from the mountains—they’re just engrossed in the melody.

So, the next time you’re making some turns or swilling suds down in town, see if you can spot these endangered creatures. Buy them a beer and chat them up—it’s a hard life, but someone’s got to do it.

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  • Mike

    Great overview. Let’s not forget transportation. Mass transit for ski bums is packing a vehicle with twice the number of bodies as there are seats. The vehicle is a 25-year old “classic”, which is affordable and cool (faulty heater). Like the group collective apartment, the vehicle sports multi-colored body panels. Ski bums also favor bikes in any winter weather. Not trendy new fat tire bikes; 20-year old fat tire precursers with PVC tube “ski racks” inventively attached.

    • Katie Coakley

      Great add, Mike–thanks! In addition to the multi-colored body panels, there are also stickers. LOTS of stickers. They help cover up rust spots and possibly help adhere bits of bumpers that my otherwise fall off.

  • Ted

    9. Beer is worth its weight in gold