Admit it. You’ve thought about it. Maybe a little—OK, maybe more than a little—but the refrain I could be a ski bum has run through your mind. Perhaps it was one of those epic powder days, or maybe it was while you were ripping down some corduroy with the Gore Range as a backdrop. Regardless, you imagined yourself there, and it looked pretty darn spectacular.

It’s all part of the magic of skiing and snowboarding: the powder, the mountains, the clear air, the azure sky, the cold. And the speed. For folks like me—with an office job, a family, a mortgage—being up on the hill and experiencing these visceral pleasures often prompts internal questions, such as, “Why don’t I do this more often?” or “Why didn’t I take a year after college to sling rum and Cokes at a dive bar so I could ski every day?”

Alas, one can only entertain these hypotheticals for so long before drifting down the dreaded river of regret. I took what many would hold to be the practical route: I landed a 9-to-5 gig in publishing at age 22, got married at age 30, bought a house, had two kids, and now have to be content with a handful of days on the slopes each year. Others—despite the conventional wisdom that ski bumming has gone the way of the dodo—made a different choice and are living the dream, as you’ll learn in “The Ultimate Guide To The (Modern-Day) Ski Bum”, our socio-anthropological look at a species that has long found shelter in Colorado ski towns.

Features editor Lindsey B. Koehler, who put the package together, never actually wanted to live the ski bum life. “But I do have fantasies of chucking it all and moving to the Caribbean,” she says. “It’s really the same dream, the same lust for something less scripted and typical. Meeting the ski bums I interviewed for this piece made me realize it’s possible—but only if you adjust your expectations.”
The “bums” Koehler profiles have given up a lot to get in their turns. There’s generally no job security and therefore not a whole lot of financial security. Health insurance is a must, but a retirement account is often nothing more than a pipe dream the ski bum reads about in (a secondhand copy of) the newspaper. Roommates, even when you’re well into your 30s, 40s, or 50s, are practically a given. Romantic relationships can prove next to impossible when your first love is the mountain.

But come this time of year, when snow begins to dust the hills and the lifts start running, the downsides of ski bumming seem to fade with autumn. And the ski bums, following their natural migration pattern, return to their native habitat. That’s what I admire so much about authentic ski bums: the singular, almost hardwired passion these people have for doing what they love. It’s about following, as Robert Frost put it, “the road not taken.” It’s about adventure and romance and sacrifice and really living for the moment. Those of you who’ve experienced the perfect run—the one with no one around and nothing but the snow, the trees, and the frigid air on your face—know exactly what I mean.

This article was originally published in 5280 November 2013.
Geoff Van Dyke
Geoff Van Dyke
Geoff Van Dyke is the editorial director of 5280 Publishing. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffVanDyke