The Ultimate Guide to the Modern-Day Ski Bum
Contrary to the popular belief, ski bums aren’t extinct—they’re just evolving.
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.