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