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