Reverse Ski Bum… What Is It and How Do I Get In On It?

Jonathan Thomson | | BrainsBrains
The Palisades at Sqauw have called many a ski bum, young and old! Image: SVAM

Like many of us, your humble author grew up with a love… wait, a passion for skiing. As a youth with delusions of grandeur, I saw myself checking out off the grid (before there really was a grid) and spending days, weeks and months living the dream and putting down big lines all day and talking to the beautiful people all night. Rinse, repeat, do it all over again the next day.  Like most of our youth dreams, those that were not acted on immediately seemed to slip away way too easy.  Life: aka school, work, kids, spouses, cars, houses soon became the new normal and those dreams of living the ski bum lifestyle soon vanished.

Hot Dog the Movie
Harkin, Sunny, Dan, Squirrel, Kendo, Slasher…who wasn’t inspired?  Image: Metro Goldwyn-Mayer Studios

Luckily for most of us, the passion did not vanish. Somewhere in between the demands of life, growing up, and adulting we’ve managed to hold on to our passion and still satisfy the need to be on the hill as often as life will allow, whether that be 5 days or 50 days. Be it with the family and kids, or with your boys from back in the day, those days on the hill managed to keep the fire alive and every once in a while we remember that crazy kid who thought life was going to be all powder, chutes and zipper lines. But what if we want more?

Regular trips with family and friends keep the passion alive…where will the passion take you? Image: Quan Nguyen

For those of us who have aged gracefully enough, we enter a new phenomenon taking over the mountain towns across the country.  I submit to you the Reverse Ski Bum.  As the 40s creep up and kids are off to college we enter a new phase guided by resources that were not available when we were young. The days of stealing Saltines, butter, and honey in the lodge for lunch, or praying you have enough gas to get to and from the hill are over. Armed with more personal resources and more options to live a life on the hill dreams can still come true.

Reverse Ski Bum Shirt
Reverse Ski Bum… if there’s a t-shirt it’s a thing, right?

With the availability of the multi-resort passes, homes on wheels, ability to work anywhere, better equipment, and in-town resources there has been a surge of folks in their finest season in life (my biased review of the 40s) hitting the roads and living the pseudo ski bum lifestyle.  The fact that it is happening on the back end of where it was supposed to happen, in reverse, is something to strive for and celebrate.  The trick is how to execute and make this happen in real life and adopt the lifestyle. What boxes need to be checked and how can you convert from corporate life to a refined ski bum life where you can chase the snow, ski the world, and live your best life. Here are the necessities:

  • Income:  While quitting your job and grabbing your skis or board may be ideal, ski town life is expensive so an income is still necessary. Luckily the remote workforce and opportunity to work remote is only growing. According to Forbes by 2027 over half of the workforce will be remote meaning companies will need to adapt and provide opportunities to the future of work.  Additionally, ski towns like Mammoth ae adapting with coworking spaces that are both functional and affordable.  Mammoth’s The Fort, which boasts both in-town and ski-in/out coworking spaces, can be had for $99/mo and that includes a full Ikon pass.
  • Accommodations: Ski town living is affordable said no one ever.  Luckily there are more options than ever. The sprinter van phenomenon, complete with all the comforts of home and more, along with connectivity can provide a home on wheels that can move from town to town allowing you to live life on the road and on the hill. Off the lot and conversion options are abundant and can be had for small or large budgets depending upon needs and your resources.  Additionally, the availability of home swaps, ski leases, co-living options that are now prevalent on the internet for all styles of living.
  • Lift Access: Is there a better time to want to spend as much time as possible on the hill?  With the Ikon and Epic pass, it is now possible to live the dream of the ski bum vagabond lifestyle chasing pow across the country and world, or posting up at your favorite resort that has unlimited access for dollars a day.  The affordability of these passes related to the days available is off the charts and was unfathomable in the original days of the ski bum dream.
  • Necessities of Life aka food and drink: Ski towns are no longer food deserts where one is reliant on local mom and pops charging exorbitant prices.  The ability to distribute food nationally by the major chains has resulted in a presence nearly everywhere, keeping prices down to earth and allowing for reasonable food budgets. More restaurants and bars means more competition for your dollar, even high-end restaurants such as White Buffalo Club in Jackson Hole are in on the happy hour game offering 5-star meals at bargain prices. Your smaller local watering holes are even more likely to be budget-friendly.
  • Freedom: This may be the hardest to attain. Aside from the above, spouses, kids, and mortgages are still a factor in the decision and process. What comes along or gets left behind will vary greatly from opportunity to opportunity depending upon current life standings.

Is the Reverse Ski Bum equivalent to the dirtbag ski bum we dreamed of being when we were in high school or ready to call it quits in college? ABSOLUTELY NOT, nor should it be.  That’s the beauty. If you’ve paid the price of the corporate grind, built your empire, or even have managed to scrape by til you have that freedom, the options we have today are much greater than at any time in the past. Is it easy?  Of course not. It takes major life changes and logistical planning to execute, ones that your ski-crazed author is still navigating for a 2020 exit.  The Reverse Ski Bum lifestyle is out there and available, so start searching because in the immortal words of the late great Warren Miller, “If you don’t do it this year, you will be one year older when you do.”

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12 thoughts on “Reverse Ski Bum… What Is It and How Do I Get In On It?

  1. I think one of the things that’s allowed me to be a 50 something ski bum is the financial responsibility I’ve practiced for the last 30 years. I never buy new cars, only old Outbacks. I’ve paid extra on my mortgage for 20 years and now I owe practically nothing on a valuable house. I do not make a lot of money and never have made more than 70k. In the last few years I made less than 50k – but I have no debt at all. Repeat, ZERO debt. I rarely eat out but get to exercise all the time and do a lot of other things that to me are more valuable. I have a seasonal job that is April to Nov leaving me Dec to end of March to ski and travel. And, definitely the Ikon pass has been invaluable. I put about 44 days on my pass last year at Alta, Jackson, Aspen, Bachelor, Deer Valley, Solitude, Tahoe & Mammoth. My per day Ikon pass is about $24 a day to ski all those places. It’s a smokin deal if you have the time.

  2. Got the kids working the mountains. Dependent pass, day pass discounts, epic pass. I’m good!

  3. Post college and pre kids/pre marriage SkiBum here. Learned to ski 4 seasons ago at the ripe age of 30. Now can do 4 laps on Diamond Bowl + 3 laps on Bushrat at Blackcomb in one day. Posted 1 million feet of vert in 42 days last season (Progress). Saving all year and taking winters off has been one of the most rewarding decisions I’ve made.

    And now, I have a great girl in my life, and may be starting a new path with less skiing. But, my 4 years of glorious memories have filled my tank to power through the next chapter.

    -Fulfilled Reverse SkiBum

  4. Grateful I was so fortunate to make the dream work when was young and in peak athletic form.
    Old n slow now and very risk adverse to injury.
    Huck now?
    More like credit card air, you can barely slide a credit card under.
    As we age our skills an abilities naturally decline, just part of the process.
    Justify the lifestyle anyway you want but young, dumb n full of ——, wasnt such a bad lifestyle.
    Don’t need to try n make up for what was missed.
    Feel sorry for the younger gen who don’t get paid enough and cannot find affordable housing to make the lifestyle choice work so much anymore.
    Not OK Boomers….

  5. OK, but bump it up a few years to retired person transitioning to ski-bum. I did take a break during college to live at a tinsel-town resort in Colorado but realized the lifestyle would not ensure financial security for my future family and me. I went traditional and started saving toward a comfortable retirement filled with skiing with the goal of ski travel in mind. 45 years after my college break I am fortunate that the industry offered me the Epic and IKON passes to help me spend my money as I explore resorts. I am just about to pull the trigger on one of those 4WD camper vans and visit every resort with a Walmart parking lot…and revisit Chrystal Basin, WA with their camper-designated parking area. That will beat sleeping in my SUV and eating out of a cooler.

    I have a tee shirt that says “You don’t stop skiing because you get old. You get old because you stop skiing.” I think that just about sums up my life now.

  6. Decisions decisions
    57 yrs old no kids no wife self employed blue collar tradesman have a home in the Tahoe
    Area still ski 100 + days a year , rock climb, mt bike etc, yes living the dream still healthy and strong, not a bum.
    So was about choices to pursue the passion of outdoor sports how to make work fit around that and not get sucked into the linear world of job, titlement of some corporate career or such.
    Make your life such that you never have to go anywhere on ‘vacation’
    From climbing big walls in yosemite and otjer sierra and utah crags to skiing in La Grave France Chamonix Val d’Isere Verbier and others in New Zealand and Argentina and heli skiing in the early days in Alaska, have very few regrets.
    Either you do or do not. There is no try. Yoda

  7. Interesting post. We tried doing the work remote thing and it felt like a Bald faced lie of living in the mountains. Like one foot in the city and one in the mountains without truly being part of the community. It did give us a stepping stone to make the leap into mountain life and after 5 years still excited that we left the hectic corporate world behind us… and now ski more.

  8. Just a note… I know very few ski bums who are just about to enter their 40’s whilst sending their kids to college. We are late to the kid gate because we were too wrapped up in other gates on mountain. I like the philosophy though

  9. I did it two years ago at age 58 and live in a little log cabin on the open range outside of Taos, NM and am a full-time ski instructor in winter and do facility maintenance at a local ski resort during summer…living the dream.

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