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PBR Nights & Powder Mornings: The Ski Bum Life

Ten years ago this very moment I may have taken a break from shotgunning beers with my ski bum friends to stir the Crock Pot of sloppy joes simmering atop the toilet for lack of table space.

Or I may have been hot-lapping Loveland Pass backcountry lines under the full midnight moon until the cops kicked us out. More likely, though, I was dropping into the superpipe on a stolen cafeteria tray, because we did that damned near every night.

I earned my ski bum stripes at Copper Mountain, where I spent two seasons bumping chairs, shoveling snow, setting up conference rooms and wedding receptions, flipping burgers, teaching pizza and French fries, eating my daily ramen, and spending every spare moment harvesting all the powder I could get my skis on and, well, getting drunk and making friends.

These friends came from all over the country and the world. I now know that in so many places I’ll always have a couch to sleep on and a cold beer waiting in the fridge. One of these friends said that everyone she met in Colorado had “big personalities,” a true statement. My Copper friends are see-the-world-without-pretenses adventurers who’ve sent their passports in to have pages added because the old ones are filled double-thick with stamps. These are the type of people I can talk to for the first time in years and it’s like we’ve partied together every weekend since our ski bum days at age 20. It’s because of that passion, that knowing feeling, those formative experiences that we shared.

When you’re a ski bum you get to know a mountain, whether getting the chance to make powder turns before the lifts open or learning the locations of the best post-storm stash, the fun shack deep in the woods, or the locals-only pizza-slice lunch special. You don’t really experience a mountain until you ride it every day.

The author, at work and at play.

You also get really good at skiing. During my first season at Copper, I skied 118 days between December and April. I went into that season as a decent skier, a mediocre college club team racer, but I came out of it knowing that I could rip any terrain in any condition. I went from knowing how to ski to knowing how to ski. Ten years later, I’m not as in shape as I was then, and the knees are a little angrier after a day in the bumps. But really learning how to ski is not something you forget. Hell, some of my Copper friends had never been on a snowboard before December, and by April they could ride harder than friends back home who’d been riding for years.

In his 2002 Ski magazine column, “A Bum’s Life,” Jackson Hogen posits, “So the ski bum serves a lot more champagne than he drinks. But after the tourists leave town on a snowy Sunday, who gets the goods on Monday morning?” This column may have been the last little prod that had me cut my junior year of college short for a winter of bumping chairs. Yeah, I got a lot of those Monday morning goods he’s talking about, and I also got into a whole lot of champagne, bubbly and otherwise.

In my biased opinion, traveling somewhere new to work at a resort for a winter looks good on a future resume. But there’s more to it than that. Being a ski bum is real-life experience. It’s not filing papers as some corporate intern or sitting in a classroom. It’s taking something you’re passionate about and putting it at the forefront for a season or two. Of course there’s always the risk of that season or two becoming ten, 20, or 50, but there are worse fates.

I feel like I have an intense advantage in life over the swarms of people who didn’t do something like ski bumming in their youth. Now maybe this feeling is bullshit. But bullshit, my friends, can feel oh-so-good. The world would be a far more pleasant place if everyone in it were a ski bum. Except, of course, there’s a finite amount of snow for us all to share.

You can finish college, get married, and make babies later. Next season, head out to Colorado or Utah, Vermont, California … wherever. In the words of the great Warren Miller, “If you don’t do it this year, you’ll be one year older when you do.”

Go be a bum.



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