If you’re looking for a life filled with zero responsibilities and epic days on the mountain, you should’ve been a ski bum in 1965. Today’s ski-town slackers still get in their powder days, but
“the lifestyle” has changed in this era of high-gloss resorts. Here, the lowdown on how to live the high life—now.
Young and Fearless
Ski Bum: Jesse Ambrogi-Yanson
Resides: Blue River
Ski hills of choice: Breckenridge Ski Resort
and Arapahoe Basin
Years bumming: 5
Average yearly ski days: 85
Ski towns are where college degrees go to die. Young kids whose parents can afford to take them on ski vacations sometimes grow up with aspirations of living near the slopes, but because these kids are from well-off families, they often head to college first. They get B.A.s and B.S.s and M.S.s. Then they move to places like Aspen and Crested Butte, where they work as waiters and boot fitters and T-shirt hut managers to make a living. The economies of ski towns typically aren’t diverse enough to offer a plethora of well-paying jobs for those trained in biology or statistics or, in the case of Breckenridge-based Jesse Ambrogi-Yanson, marketing.
And really, that’s just fine because no true lover of skiing ever wanted a 9-to-5 gig. “I had a couple of corporate job offers in Denver after I graduated from DU with my master’s,” says Ambrogi-Yanson, who grew up near Rochester, New York, and learned to ski at a one-lift hill called Ski Valley. “I just wasn’t interested in that. I was like, ‘I’m moving to Breck to be a soft goods manager at Christy Sports!’?”
Which is exactly what the then-23-year-old did. She sold ski jackets and thermal underwear for $12 an hour and a one percent commission. She worked a split schedule, which usually allowed her to leave Christy for a few hours in the middle of the day to make turns. She signed a lease on a $2,100 a month apartment with two roommates—and began the happy chore of figuring out how to make it at 9,600 feet. Because she had grown up competing in freestyle skiing competitions (aerial tricks, moguls, terrain parks), Ambrogi-Yanson knew she might be able to leverage her skills to help with the bottom line. The blond-haired, brown-eyed, five-foot-three athlete signed on to ski for Fat-ypus, a Breckenridge-based ski manufacturer, in North American competitions. She was a walking billboard for the company for five years, but the relationship was worth it for two reasons: Fat-ypus paid for her to travel to the events (free skiing!), and, most important, she received brand-new, free gear every ski season.
Getting something for nothing—or, if necessary, doing relatively easy, quick, or fun work to obtain something valuable—is a daily mission for those who live in places beyond their means. For the most part, getting freebies is all about who you know. Fortunately for Ambrogi-Yanson, she palled around with—and eventually began dating—a Christy Sports co-worker named John Mason. Mason, an extreme skier himself, knew a few folks in the film department at Vail Resorts who were always looking for video and photography subjects. “On early morning powder days, we’ll go to Keystone or Vail and be on the lift at 7 a.m.,” Ambrogi-Yanson explains. “We take one lap before the lifts open, and the film department people take footage of us, which they use on their website or on marketing materials.” The take-home? “A few days of doing that gets us our annual ski passes,” she says.
But even with those side gigs, paying the bills was difficult. Ambrogi-Yanson got a second job, waitressing a few nights a week at an upscale Breckenridge restaurant, to pad her checking account. An average night at Hearthstone Restaurant would net her $200. But then she got laid off from Christy Sports. With that job went her health insurance and 401(k). It was a quick lesson in ski-town employment: There is no such thing as job security. There’s also no such thing as a consistent paycheck, even if you have a job. The months of May and November, a bad snow year, or even an extended vacation can leave even the staunchest ski bum looking for a job in Denver.
For about four years, Ambrogi-Yanson lived mostly paycheck to paycheck. But she’s kept a laserlike focus on her ultimate goal. “I’m always envious of the generation of bums before me who have found ways to stay here,” she says. “I’ve asked them how they make this their lifestyle, how they had families, how they supported themselves. The answer is: They work hard to play hard.”
Cliché as that may sound, Ambrogi-Yanson and Mason, who have now been together for more than four years and bought a house in Blue River together this fall, are making it work. Mason, 31, is a manager at Sun Logic on Main Street. And although Ambrogi-Yanson is currently working three jobs, all of which have flexible hours to accommodate time on the mountain, one in particular has her excited about the future. A part-time marketing job with Faction Skis—a Swiss company with its North American headquarters in Breckenridge—means she’s using her master’s degree to work in the ski industry. Whether the Faction job evolves into something full time or not, it has given Ambrogi-Yanson confidence that she will one day be part of an older generation of ski bums who tell the newbies how to live the dream.
Ski Bum: Jamas Stiber
Ski hill of choice: Vail Ski Resort
Years bumming: 14
Average yearly ski days: 90
?Thirty-nine-year-old Jamas Stiber isn’t your typical ski bum. His primary love isn’t screaming down a snowy mountain on fiberglass; it’s off-roading on two wheels (think BMX, cyclocross, and motocross). But his fast-paced recreational pursuits—and his unyielding objectives to live where he plays and to play harder than anyone else—have been nurtured by the Vail Valley for more than a decade.
Having spent his childhood as a champion BMXer in Texas, Stiber moved to Boulder with friends after graduating from Stephen F. Austin State University with a communications degree. But the People’s Republic wasn’t Stiber’s style, and a weekend trip to Vail quickly turned into a job and apartment hunt. Employment—at Charter Sports, a ski and snowboard rental outfit—came easily. But when Stiber looked for a place to live, he came to the conclusion that living in his van—yes, down by the river (and often in a Lionshead parking deck)—and joining a health club for use of its showers and toilets was a more cost-effective arrangement.
That was nearly 14 years ago. Although no one would say Stiber has grown up, he did eventually move out of the van and into a series of “dumpy, moldy, but still like $700 a month” Vail-based accommodations before moving to more reasonable and “less repulsive” digs in Avon. Today, Stiber—who has wild blue eyes and a stream-of-consciousness manner of speaking—lives in an apartment with a roommate; races bikes and motorcycles professionally; and skis to stay in shape for his fat-tire pursuits. He still works for Charter Sports (early on he helped the company move into mountain bike rentals)—but he does so now as a general manager of two of the company’s stores.
Stiber’s long-term affiliation with Charter Sports underscores what many longtime mountain-town residents say about thriving in expensive environments: It’s all about cultivating relationships and making yourself valuable to others. Do that, they say, and both you and your bank account will begin to flourish. In Stiber’s case, he gives full credit to Charter Sports for supporting his lifestyle. Not only did the company allow him to take split schedules, it also fronted him bikes, offered him health insurance (Stiber has more scars than he can count), and gave him season lift passes. He says he doesn’t make a mountain of money, but he does well enough to buy what he needs—including a lot of toys. “You have to live in Vail to have the job that gets you outside every day,” he says. “I owe a lot of what I’ve got going on to Charter.”
At nearly 40 years old, though, Stiber knows the end of his professional racing days may be near. He’s also aware that he may need to think about a career beyond ski, snowboard, and bike rentals if he wants to fund some of his grander dreams (like financing a race car team). With his communications degree, his extreme sports experience, and a few emceeing gigs under his belt already, Stiber is considering trying to move into action sports commentating. But he says he’ll never give up the reality he’s built for himself in what he calls “La-La Land.” “If that pipe dream came true and I was working for Fuel TV,” Stiber says, “I don’t think it would matter where I lived. I would still choose to live here.”
If calling motocross doesn’t happen for Stiber, there’s little question he’ll still find ways to work hard and play hard in Vail. About a year ago, Vail legalized ski biking—mountain bikes equipped with skis instead of studded tires—and Stiber has already been contemplating ways to expand, and capitalize on, the sport. “I’ve been talking to Lenz Sport Bikes,” Stiber says, noting that Lenz is one of his racing sponsors. “We’re talking about getting a fleet of bikes in Vail this season for people to rent.” That may or may not come to fruition, but it seems pretty likely that Stiber will be on the hill either way. And who could blame him? A sport that combines two of his favorite things—skiing and biking—is just another reason to hit the slopes.
Ski Bum: Tom Carrillo
Ski hills of choice: Winter Park
Resort and Aspen Highlands
Years bumming: 23
Average yearly ski days: 100
?The view from Tom Carrillo’s living room couch would seem to suggest he has broken quite a few of the ski bum rules. He owns a 2,500-square-foot, three-bedroom home in Tabernash, about seven miles outside of Winter Park, that looks out over a sweeping valley as well as Arapaho National Forest. He and his girlfriend have three dogs. He has a credit card or two in his wallet. And he definitely buys new skis at least every other year. The thing is: Carrillo has earned the right to break the rules.
At age 19, about halfway through business school at the University of Colorado, Littleton-native Carrillo says his best friend’s mom asked him a question: What do you want to do with your life? “I remember telling her that I just wanted to be happy and healthy,” he says. Simplistic? Maybe. Naive? Probably. Wise beyond his years? Definitely.
Carrillo finished his business degree but quickly decided living in a ski town and skiing every day were what would keep him healthy and happy. And so, in the summer of 1990, he moved to Winter Park. Carrillo may have appeared to be an archetypal ski bum: He got a day job at Winter Park’s central reservations and promptly quit the first day it snowed. He bounced from job to job—carpentry work, logging, cleaning rental condos, waiting tables. For two summers he lived in a tent, and for a handful of years after that he lived in a small “ghetto” trailer, which had a not-so-charming habit of growing mushrooms (unfortunately not the hallucinogenic variety) on the floor. But Carrillo wasn’t a classic ski bum: From a very young age, he knew he wanted to own a home and have a savings account while still being able to schuss down Coupler and Boiler, two of his favorite runs on Mary Jane, every day.
What Carrillo had that many people—ski bums or otherwise—don’t have is discipline. He didn’t live in a tent because he couldn’t find a place with four walls; he slept on the ground because the summers are beautiful, and he could save $1,500 by not renting an apartment from June through August. Carrillo also showed self-control when it came to the bar scene. “A lot of people get caught up in partying,” Carrillo says. “If you spend $50 on drinks every night, not only does your money disappear, but it’s also really hard to get up and ski. And that’s what you’re here for, right?”
Over the years, Carrillo chipped away at a down payment on a piece of land. He worked two jobs when he could—he’s mainly been a fine-dining server making “above-average tips”—and saved money on skiing by volunteering with the National Sports Center for the Disabled, which gave him season passes. Once he was able to purchase the property, he began saving to put a house with million-dollar views on his little patch of paradise. “For years, I didn’t buy any new ski gear, no new mountain bikes, no expensive toys,” he says. “And I never carry a car payment.” In 2008, five years after buying the land and 18 years after he left Littleton for a life on the other side of Berthoud Pass, Carrillo moved into his own home. “I have a garage door opener and a garage to park my old car in,” he says with a smile. “To me, that’s success. I’ve made it.”
The Old Hand
Ski Bum: Daryl Newcomb
Resides: Steamboat Springs
Ski hill of choice: Steamboat
Years bumming: 30
Average yearly ski days: 135
?Daryl Newcomb has a smile for everyone he’s taking care of on a mild summer evening at Steamboat’s Café Diva restaurant. He moves between tables, talking, laughing, and telling folks that calories don’t count at this elevation. Newcomb is in his element; he’s been waiting tables for more than three decades. He’s good at it and he enjoys what he does, but Newcomb is not a server because it’s the career he always dreamed of as a kid. The man many in Steamboat call “the Mayor” or “Uncle Daryl” delivers plates of perfectly cooked halibut and glasses of crisp Pinot Grigio to an upscale crowd because working at a job that starts at 5 p.m. allows him to do what he really loves.
Nearly every day from when the first snow flies until the last ribbons of white streak the slopes, Newcomb is on the hill. He clips into his telemark skis, attaches a small AM/FM transistor radio to his goggles strap, and makes for the top of the Thunderhead Express chair, where he and a rotating group of locals meet up for “the niner.” In the mornings, beginning right around 9 a.m., the rag-tag group skis in-bounds, looking for untracked lines; in the afternoons, Newcomb and his constituents duck the ropes to poach sweet stashes out of bounds. Newcomb loves the niner because it reminds him every day of the two reasons he quit college to live in Steamboat and be a lifelong ski bum: Champagne Powder and the community bred by small-town living.
It was 1985 when Newcomb left college in Illinois against his parents’ wishes. “School wasn’t my first priority,” he says. “Being in Colorado was my first priority. And the Colorado experience I had already gained living in Winter Park and A-Basin showed me it would be difficult to ski if I had a degree.” And by that, he means people with degrees often feel compelled to work Monday through Friday during the day and only ski if they can get out of work on a lunch break or cut out early on a Friday afternoon. That kind of limited ski time wasn’t what Newcomb had in mind in the mid-’80s—and it’s not something he could abide now.
“If I’m not skiing 135 days a year, I’m dissatisfied,” Newcomb says. “Skiing every day makes me happy.” But Newcomb understands that the lifestyle he has chosen—the lifestyle that many ski lovers have chosen over the years—has what many others would see as major downsides. At 53 years old, he rents a room from a friend with a two-bedroom apartment; has never had one day of paid vacation; drives a clunker of a pickup truck; has never advanced in a career; will have to make tough decisions about how and if he can retire; and has never been married. “I do have a tremendous amount of apprehension that the way I live is incredibly insensitive and selfish,” Newcomb says. “It’s difficult to drag somebody into this life. A woman is going to want me to do things with her, which is absolutely fair, but I have got to be at the gondola at 8 a.m. That doesn’t often work out well.”
Newcomb is circumspect when it comes to advising others to choose the ski bum route. He’s quick to say the key to genuine ski bumming—or beach bumming or any kind of bumming—is that one cannot simply move to a ski town and live the same way one would in Denver or San Francisco or Chicago. “You may be able to ski on the weekend,” he says, “but if you get the same kind of job, you’ll still be working 60 hours a week—that’s not the lifestyle.”
For Newcomb, living the dream has worked out just as he’d hoped. But even in his life there were times, mostly early on, when he thought he wouldn’t make it. When employment was scarce, when jobs were demeaning, when the income wasn’t covering the bills. “You start to doubt what you’re doing, you start to doubt why you’re doing it, and you start to doubt who you are,” Newcomb says. At least, he says, until the next powder day.
NOT DEAD YET
Contrary to popular belief, ski bums aren’t extinct—they’re just evolving.
The question surfaces every fall. When the golden-brown cottonwood leaves littering the ground start collecting a coat of ice, people here in Steamboat Springs—and in every mountain town across Colorado—begin to think about winter. And that’s when they ask: “Where have all the ski bums gone?” Obituaries mark the passing of a vanished breed or decry the bum’s metamorphosis to some tamer version that lacks the swashbuckling style of yesteryear’s hedonists. Either way, as ski season approaches every year, these high-altitude pundits declare with certainty: Ski bumming is dead.
They’re not the first to note the extinction of the ski bum. Bumming apparently died out in 1969, when Dick Barrymore made The Last of the Ski Bums. As an excuse to string together powder-skiing scenes that remain just as adrenaline-inducing today (and all the more impressive for the leather bindings and long skis those experts wielded), the movie followed the roving life of Ron Funk. “He’s 33 years old and has never held a permanent job. His whole life has been dedicated to the sport of skiing,” Barrymore narrates, then eulogizes: “Ron Funk represents the end of an era. He is the last of a dying breed known as the ski bum.”
Fast-forward four decades and the argument goes like this: Ski towns have become too pricey, too corporate, too glossy for ski bums. The habitat of those who scrub dishes, sleep on sofas, and vagabond between powder shots has vanished, taking with it a subculture that sacrifices material comforts and accepts near economic ruin in order to live in the moment.
Yet if ski bums are truly extinct, then I’m at a loss for what to call the waves of young people who wash up every autumn in Steamboat, where I’ve lived since dedicating my life to ski bumming more than a decade ago. These 20-somethings arrive in rusty pickups or hand-me-down sedans that park in clusters around de facto flophouses where the distinction between tenant and guest is blurred. They dole out slices at the local pizzeria, bump lifts, and staff front desks (as I once did, wearing the property’s regulation leather vest and bolo tie). Yes, the vast majority of them drift away when the melting snow triggers a receding tide of so-called seasoners, but I think it’s fair to say that ski towns still see plenty of those pleasure-seeking rolling stones. And I believe it’s fair to call them ski bums—even if they’re just flirting with the skiing life.
Any real census, however, has to include another, more committed class of ski bums—even if they don’t fit the classic stereotypes. These diehards aren’t so much rolling stones as barnacles who stick themselves to the mountain life and let nothing tear them away—not better-paying city jobs, nor big-box shopping, nor potential mates, nor family. If you really love winter—if, as happened to me, the transcendence of making turns becomes one of your life’s very pillars—you stick around and trade up. You angle your way into a bartending job, do some construction work, maybe get your real estate license so you can set your own hours and cut back on roommates. You might even declare yourself a writer and start penning pieces for magazines like this one so you can hit the slopes when you please, without entreaties to any boss.
With some minor changes in the details, this has been my path. It’s a road that might seem like compromise to those who declare the lifestyle dead because they require ski bums to surf couches or live in a van—which, in truth, only works for a few months, maybe even a season or two. That wasn’t enough for me. Like so many of my neighbors, I put skiing first not just for one winter, but for all of them. I think of myself as a Ron Funk disciple—only I decided long ago to cash in the itinerancy for a stable, if flexible, job and a 30-year mortgage. On winter mornings, when I head out to catch the 7:40 bus to the gondola, I find a familiar cast of characters, all wearing the same ski gear they sported when I first met them years ago. There’s a house painter, a waiter, and a snowmaker. None of us work mornings (at least, not snowy ones). Sometimes we’re joined by a few freshmen, bleary-eyed but present and accounted for on what promises to be yet another epic powder day in Steamboat. Yeah, ski bumming survives. Ron Funk’s spirit lives on—in newbies, in the guys at the bus stop, and in me. —Kelly Bastone
Rules To Bum By*
1. Do not get a job that requires you to be at work before 4 p.m.
2. Do not carry a car payment.
3. Do not use a credit card.
4. Do not have children.
5. Do not buy a house.
6. Do not have a pet (not even a goldfish).
7. Never depend on a job for your ski pass.
8. Do not spend all of your money at the bar.
9. Work two summer jobs.
10. Buy health insurance.
*Some of these rules may become unnecessary as a ski bum ages.
Dude, You So Totally Need To Know The Lingo
Avie – avalanche
Biff – a minor fall
Bowl – a steep, wide run, usually high on both sides
Bumps – moguls
Champagne Powder – dry, light snow; coined and trademarked in Steamboat Springs
Chatter – vibrations produced by a ski not holding its edge on ice
Chowder – chopped up powder
Chute – a steep, narrow run
Corduroy – parallel grooves in the snow made by grooming machines
Corn – spring snow that forms into small kernels
Cornice – an overhanging ridge
Couloir – a narrow chute with rock walls on both sides; sometimes called a “coulie”
Face shot – powder flying up into your mug
Freshies – newly fallen snow
Gapers – spectators whose midslope perches, mouths agape at the stunning scenery, make it difficult for others to ski downhill
Glades – skiable terrain
Huck – to purposefully ski off a cliff
Knuckle dragger – snowboarder
Liftie – ski lift operator
Off-piste – French term for un-groomed terrain
Out of bounds – terrain outside of the patrolled area of a ski resort
Pie – novice skiing technique where ski tips are pointed together to create a triangle; also “wedge”
Pipe – short for halfpipe, a feature in a terrain park
Poaching – skiing out of bounds
Run – a resort-designated trail
Ski bum – Stereotypically, a person, male or female, who shirks customary adult responsibilities and accepts a life of near financial insolvency and substandard living conditions to devote himself or herself solely to skiing or snowboarding
Sticks – skis
Telemarking – skiing that uses free-heel skis
Tree well – a skier-swallowing indentation in the snow around a tree
Yard sale – a major fall in which the rider loses gear and clothing as he plunges downhill
Tricks of the Trade
Surviving in a ski town has its challenges. Here’s how to live it up.
Not every person who moves to a ski town can work at a fine-dining bistro that opens at 5 p.m. T-shirt shops, gear rental stores, and other small businesses need employees, too. To lure workers wary of daytime hours, many resort-town employers let their staff members “take a split.” The basic idea is that a business like Christy Sports, a ski and snowboard rental shop, structures its staff so employee hours are staggered. “A ‘split’ is where an employee may be scheduled to work an eight-hour shift that consists of a four-hour work shift, then a three-hour skiing ‘split,’ and then a four-hour end to the day,” says Paul Panicucci, manager of Christy Sports in Breckenridge. “Stores are usually open 11 or more hours a day in the winter, so it works out. Someone gets the popular ‘powday’ split, which means they may be sent out from 8 a.m. until noon; someone gets the late morning (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) split; and my personal favorite is the early afternoon (1 p.m. to 4 p.m.) split. It’s a great way to do what you love while at work.”
(Moving On Up)
In the last decade or so, housing authorities in many resort towns have instituted deed-restricted housing programs. These plans vary by area, but they all exist for one purpose: to create affordable housing for those who live and work in Colorado’s ski towns. Deed-restricted real estate generally works like this: A town like Telluride would purchase a parcel of land, partner with a developer who works with contractors to build the homes, and sell the homes below market price—often as much as 30 percent below. These homes have deed restrictions, or governing bylaws, that regulate appreciation value, meaning buyers cannot expect to make big returns on the homes. To qualify to purchase a deed-restricted house, an applicant usually must be employed for at least 30 hours in the surrounding area and plan to live in the home full time.
Everyone who lives full time in a ski town should be able to score a free season pass. Although many ski bums abide by the rule that no one should depend on his day job for a pass, it is often the easiest way to nab that all-important card-and-lanyard combo. And, if you’re not planning to ditch work without warning, it really shouldn’t be a problem. But there are other ways to get a season pass without having to throw down six bills. Most resort websites have a page dedicated to their volunteer programs. For example, at Vail Resorts, there are a limited number of volunteer positions—as guest service agents or helpers for children’s ski school—that can result in a “free” pass. At Winter Park, 12 days of volunteering throughout the season will allow you to ski free.
Although it’s not always the case, it’s fair to say that a healthy percentage of the 20- and 30-somethings who eschew the real world for the ski world have some serious skills on the mountain. For those who can streak down a slope at 80 miles per hour or launch themselves off a jump and nail the landing, joining an equipment manufacturer’s competition team could be a golden ticket to a small paycheck, free travel, and complimentary skis as well as exposure to other companies looking for walking, talking advertisements. Colorado-based Icelantic Skis has had such a team—comprised of both professional and semi-professional athletes, some of whom compete and some of whom serve as on-the-hill product representatives—since 2006. “We sponsor our athletes as a way to prove the legitimacy of and improve our products,” says Scotty VerMerris, Icelantic’s team manager. “Icelantic has a story to tell, and we don’t require our athletes to be competitive to tell it. We’re more interested in a stellar skier with a lot of character, a passion for skiing, and a love for our skis and our brand.”
Books every bum should have on the shelf.
Instant Karma: The Heart and Soul of a Ski Bum
by Wayne K. Sheldrake (2007, Ghost Road Press)
In Search of Powder: A Story of America’s Disappearing Ski Bum
by Jeremy Evans (2010, University of Nebraska Press)
Powder Ghost Towns: Epic Backcountry Runs in Colorado’s Lost Ski Resorts
by Peter Bronski (2008, Wilderness Press)
Living the Life: Tales from America’s Mountains & Ski Towns
by David J. Rothman (2013, Conundrum Press)
All In The Family
Ski bums are not alone in their single-minded pursuit of recreation. Here, we compare the high-altitude shirker with his next of kin.
(The River Rat)
Sinewy and strong with calloused hands, most river rafting guides have nervy personalities. Big water, huge drops—no problem. Unlike ski and beach bums, river rats have to change hemispheres twice a year to run enough raftable waterways to make a living, or they simply find a teaching job that leaves their summers wide open for white-water.
Relation: First cousins
(The Beach Bum)
Bronzed, toned, and often clad in nothing more than a faded bathing suit and plastic flip-flops, this branch of the family is partial to coastal towns—with names like Santa Cruz, Kill Devil Hills, and Haleiwa—with bitchin’ surf breaks, fish taco stands, and cheap rum. Beach bums, like ski bums, need flexible work hours—after all, you can’t be stuck on the job when the surf’s up.
Relation: Separated at birth
It may not be immediately obvious, but thru-hikers—independent and self-sufficient souls who amble along long-distance trails like the Continental Divide and Appalachian trails—are often just seasonal ski bums riding out the summer months. From late April through September, they tread the elongated and elevated backbones of America just for the “fun” of it. Come winter, they find jobs as servers or lifties or guest service agents in Park City or Steamboat Springs or Lake Tahoe.
Relation: Close enough to be siblings
(The Dirt Bag)
These ambiguously employed rock climbers travel (read: hitchhike) around the world—Brazil, Greece, Venezuela, and plenty of spots in North America—in search of new routes and often bivvy in the dirt wherever they happen to find vertical rock. Their lifestyles more closely resemble the subsistence living of nomadic tribes than the slightly more settled existence of ski bums.
Relation: Kinda like that uncle you’re pretty sure isn’t really your uncle
Q&A: Dream Job
The skinny on the gig every bum wants.
When the lifts finally stop for the day and the skiing public has vacated the slopes in favor of cozy après spots, Vail Resorts’ Katy Hanlon makes her way up the hill. For the past seven seasons, the 29-year-old California native has worked as a night-shift groomer, fashioning piles of snow into a manicured surface for the next day’s guests to enjoy. It’s a highly coveted ski-town position—cat operators usually work four 10-hour shifts and start between $9 and $11 an hour—and one that Hanlon, Vail’s first-ever female terrain park grooming foreman, isn’t planning to give up any time soon.
You drive a snowcat for a living—how does one become qualified to do that?
I actually got a ski area operations degree from Colorado Mountain College in Leadville. Plus, I received on-the-job training during my first year grooming at Vail.
What’s it like being up there at night?
It’s a different world. There is a peaceful but eerie quality about the mountain at night. I love the way the trees cast shadows when I drive by and how the snow looks like diamonds when the lights hit it. I get to see the wildlife that emerges from the woods to hunt in the cover of darkness. It’s a surreal feeling knowing I’m one of a small group of people that are on the hill at night.
Is that the best part of the job?
The best part is building the terrain park features. I like the creativeness of that. I like when my team and I come up with an idea or a new design for the park, and then take that to the snow.
Any other perks?
I’m a passionate snowboarder. This job is the best for that because I can ride every day if I want. Other jobs might “enable” skiing or riding every day, but [ski patrollers and lifties] are on the job during the day. Not me. It’s awesome.
So when do you sleep?
Sleep? What’s that? I clock out around 2 a.m. or later each night. I get to sleep anywhere from 3 a.m. to sunrise most mornings. As with any job, you need to go home and wind down. I like to eat something, maybe watch some television. If I’m not already asleep, I make myself go to bed when I hear my husband’s alarm go off at 7 a.m. for him to go to work.
Then you get up and hit the hill?
You know it.
What’ll Ya Have?
One of the most important rules of ski bumming is not to spend all of your hard-earned dough at the bar. But it’s OK to throw one back every now and again—especially if you trade in the tourist traps serving $11 mojitos for a cheap cold one at a place where the natives drink.
In…Vail (Lionshead area)
Pull up a…Seat on the deck
At…Bart & Yeti’s
And order a…Coors Light
Because…At less than $5, it’s about as cheap as you’ll find in Vail
Or try…Garfinkel’s for a pitcher and a plate of nachos
Pull up a…Barstool
At…Mahogany Ridge Brewery & Grill
And order a…Pint of Uncle Daryl’s Dunkelweizen (yes, that Daryl; see page 89) and some $1 tapas starting at 4 p.m.
Because…This downtown eatery is owned and frequented by locals
Or try…Gondola Pub and Grill, where locals young and old crowd into both the downstairs and upstairs bars
Pull up a…Table near the TVs
At…Winter Park Pub (aka the Pub)
And order a…Happy hour drink (discounted domestics, crafts, and wells from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. every day) with a basket of wings
Because…It’s a decent spot to watch the game, and more often than not, you can also catch some late-night live tunes
Or try…Ullrs Tavern for a nightclub vibe
Pull up a…Patch of standing-room space at the bar
At…The Eldo Brewery and Taproom
And order a…King’s Kolsh or Northside Ale
Because…A pint of craft beer is only $3.50 during happy hour
Or try…Kochevar’s, the oldest bar in the Butte
Pull up a…Seat at a beetle-kill-wood high-top
At…Ollie’s Pub & Grub
And order a…Left Hand Brewing Milk Stout Nitro
Because…Nothing beats a $3.50 brewski during happy hour
Or try…Blue River Bistro’s two-for-one happy hour martinis