Almost daily, I get a lot of interesting questions. The one I’m asked most often, though: “Do you think someone today can be a ski bum as you were by living in the parking lots of ski resorts?”
Answer: “Of course!”
There are degrees of a skiing-working balance, but I have said for the past 20 years or so that any job that you have in a city, you can do in a ski resort. Rent a U-haul trailer, quit your job and head for the ski resort of your choice and go for it.
If you choose to go the non-working, ski-every-day route that Ward Baker and I did, there are a couple of prequalifications that will help you along the road to ultimate freedom. In my case, spend four years in the Navy and get sunk in a typhoon before the age of 21. Ward also spent three years in the Navy and we wanted to recapture our freedom and living in a trailer was the only way we could afford it. So we did.
The only suggestion I would make is to purchase a van of some kind to sleep and live in instead of the kind of trailer we lived in for two reasons. One is that the truck or van can be a lot warmer and a lot less conspicuous.
The answer to how we got on the ski lifts every day the way we did will go to our graves with us. It is certainly a lot more difficult than it used to be because of electronic surveillance, so bite the bullet and spend enough time during the summer working to raise enough to buy an Epic Pass. You can now ski every day all winter in the resort of your choice, including Vail, Arapahoe Basin, Beaver Creek, Northstar, Kirkwood and Heavenly Valley, to mention most of them. If you are living in your truck, then there are plenty of roadside stops along the way where you can sleep for free.
However, there’s something to be very careful about. Never, repeat, never have an inside heat source of any kind that burns gasoline or propane so you don’t die of asphyxiation before you even get to use your precious pass. My suggestion is to buy a sleeping bag rated to 20 degrees below zero, and you won’t have a problem.
One of our goals was to ride a chairlift free all day, seven days a week until the snow melted in the spring.
A lot of parents will not approve of this suggestion, but I think that young people should take a year off and do something like this before they start their third year in college. Maybe they discover that they are majoring in the wrong subject and would waste the last two years of college. Most people don’t get to ski 100 days in their entire life. At the rate of days you are skiing today, how old will you be when you ski on your 100th day?
The mountain manager here at Yellowstone Club was born in Aspen, and his father worked on the Aspen Ski Patrol for 40 years.
What is wrong with a career like that? To be the first one on the lift every morning and checking out the runs for potential problems before any guests are even out of bed — that’s a life!
When Ward and I lived in the trailer, all we wanted to do or cared about was to ski all day, every day, no matter what the snow conditions were. We skied every day when Baldy was so icy we had to ride down on the Canyon and River Run lift every afternoon and could only ski using the top lift. I think that might be where the snow report category called “loud powder” originated.
Living in our trailer, we never had to shovel snow off of the sidewalk because we never had a sidewalk. We just wandered from our parking spot by the irrigation ditch to the Skier’s Chalet, where there were hot showers that we could use.
Here is the story of a friend who really figured it out by snaring the perfect job and lifestyle. I’ll call him Tom. He worked for a company called Vans to Vail and picked me up at my house in Vail one morning at 6:30 for a trip to the airport in Denver. He was very polite, and by the time he had picked up the other nine passengers at nine different locations, almost an hour had passed. On the trip, I found out that he was saving his money for a piece of land near a Midwestern college of his choice. Almost all of the 10 passengers tipped him $5 or $10 each after he told his story. He would get the same size tips on the trip back to Vail. He averaged about $125 a day in tips. As soon as the second shift driver took over, he was able to get on the chairlift by 1 o’clock for three hours of skiing. After finishing skiing, he stopped by the athletic club for a hot shower and a change of clothes. After leaving the gym, he went home.
Home for Tom was a small pickup truck with a bonnet on the back, a mattress and a warm sleeping bag.
Today there are 35,000 people living in the Vail Valley, so there is no shortage places to park in an inconspicuous red pickup truck with a guy and his alarm clock sleeping in it.
Skiing every day and banking that kind of money, not including his salary for driving, what is not to like about that kind of life for a year or so before you settle down into a career? Your parents might not approve, but who knows where a winter or two such as this will lead? I hope a lifetime of freedom for you such as I have enjoyed so far.
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to more than 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff log onto WarrenMiller.net. For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to www.warrenmiller.org.