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