Contrary to the popular belief, ski bums aren’t extinct—they’re just evolving.
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.