Why Ski Bums Become Successful:

Ryan Mulcahy |
Post ski bum life can be good.

In most modern societies, being a ski bum is looked down upon, and many people don’t entirely endorse it or hope their kids take that path. With all justification, this is a good thing. True Ski Bumming is complex, requires many strategies, and sometimes challenges who you are. But at the same time, this challenge makes you stronger and enables you to develop skills, knowledge, and the ability to overcome other challenges life will inevitably throw your way.

Being a ski bum sets you up for life.


When ski bumming, the priority is or at least should be, to ski. That is stating the obvious, I know, but with that said, ski bums do whatever it takes to make that happen. In this, the goal in many ski bumming lifestyles is to aim high and ski as much powder and deep snow as possible because for many ski bums, this is the end of and be all of skiing, and who can argue against that?

This prioritization mechanism will translate and stay with the ski bum throughout his life. If he chooses to go back into the real world, he/she will have the advanced ability to prioritize important things in his life, say jobs, family, spouses, kids, etc., and find a way to dedicate as much time to that.

Veteran Ski Bum and SnowBrains Co-Founder Miles Clark skiing bottomless powder in Japan, showing how prioritizing skiing in your life pays off.


Being a ski bum, you learn a unique way of earning and investing your money. As mentioned above, skiing should be your priority; thus, utilizing your money and resources to pursue skiing is crucial. Therefore your economic strategy has to be such that you don’t spend money on what most people do. Food and basic shelter are the first draws from your resources, and outside of that, skiing and pursuing skiing should be the majority of the remainder of your resources. In this, no fancy cars, clothes, big bar tabs from nights of partying, etc.

Furthermore, the true ski bum works excessively hard from May to November to take a good portion of the winter off and pursue skiing. Thus his monetary resources must be strategized to survive and keep skiing. Even now, working in a corporate job, I have set up a deal with my company to work every Saturday until December, to take off January and part of February to chase pow around the world, once again the ski bum mentality in me.

My brother tells a story of getting kicked out of an upper-scale restaurant while ski bumming in Vail for sneaking in and eating food off plates left by patrons, the economics of need, and accessibility. A ski bum measures success not in the amount of money in one’s bank account but in days on the mountain/skin track.

Ski bumming takes you to remarkable and unique places that few people experience.

Dedication and Commitment

To get the most out of ski bumming and have the most fun experience, one must commit to lifestyles on all levels. In addition, the level of dedication must remain high no matter what bumps in the road are experienced (low snow year, injury, running out of money, etc.). This ability to commit and stay dedicated will serve the ski bum well down the road. Marriage essentially is one enormous dedication and commitment, right? Furthermore, the corporate world promotes and praises people with full-on company dedication and commitment, and I would say ski bums would fit in well in such a position.

Finally, being a big ski bum, you are typically progressing big in your preferred area of skiing. Whether you’re going big in the park, dropping massive cliffs, or setting 3000ft ascents via a skin track, commitment and confidence in yourself are vital. Standing on top of a line looking down at a feature, you must commit to making it and be confident that you will make it. The slightest hesitation in this situation will get you in some big-time trouble; just f**ing send it. In life, if you are committed to your decisions and commitment to something, go for it with no hesitation. In the end, this will benefit you in a big way.

The author stares down Corbet’s Couloir finding the dedication and commitment inside of himself to make the line go.

Use of Resources and Simple Living

Being a ski bum requires using all available resources to stay alive and keep skiing. Additionally, dedication to a simple lifestyle is critical in making the most out of your ski bumming experience. In this, the ski bum becomes an expert in research. This is because they must thoroughly understand all the resources to make life easier and simpler. Even in my corporate job in the cluster that is Orange County, CA, I still ride my bike and public transit 90% of the time.

I am not a ski bum currently. I am financially stable and have a nice truck that is paid off, but the simple lifestyle instilled in me while ski bumming has remained in my life and makes the most sense to me; thus, it is how I set my life up. I may have inherited some of this as well. My father, an OG ski bum, lived in a storage unit in Aspen, CO, from 1970-72, cooked on a homemade BBQ grill, and showered at a car wash for 25 cents twice a week (the real-life Aspen Extreme.) He went on to be a successful businessman, father, and entrepreneur. Thus the dedication to simple living and making the most out of your resources will, in most cases, benefit your life in the long run. Additionally, once you step outside the ski bum lifestyle, you can look back with a sense of appreciation for what you have and are living.

The garage converted into a studio/loft that a good friend lived in for two seasons in Revelstoke, BC using only wood for heat. True dedication to a simple lifestyle.

 Risk Assessment

Risk vs. reward is a concept that most people face daily and, from the bigger perspective, shapes the long-term outcome of life in many ways. From a young age, most people develop the skill of risk assessment. This starts with trying to steal cookies from the cookie jar when mom’s back is turned to sneaking booze out of the house in high school. A ski bum develops a heightened sense of risk vs. reward because, typically, they are taking more significant risks in all aspects of life in hopes of greater returns.

The lifestyle itself is one considerable risk, forgoing career and everyday life to pursue the reward of skiing every day. Therefore the ski bum must be calculated and educated in their risk assessment and have the mental ability to overcome fears on the fly and come out with the reward. They will be better prepared to assess many situations for risk and determine the ultimate prize and if it is obtainable. Therefore again, the ski bum lifestyle instills important lifelong values. This is transposed into other aspects of life and, in the long term, for the ski bum.

SnowBrains co-founder Eric Bryant. photo: robb gaffneyThe Andy Hays. photo: robb gaffney
The other co-founder of SnowBrains, Eric Bryant, showcasing his risk assessment skills and the reward of stomping the Chimney Sweep at the legendary Palisades at Palisades Tahoe, CA.

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23 thoughts on “Why Ski Bums Become Successful:

  1. One major reason is that skiing experience can develop many important skills. During skiing, one must practice concentration, patience, and decisiveness. These are important skills to achieve success in life and work.

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  6. Got out of the Marines early 1966. Went to college for a semester, flunked out. Bought a used ’62 Ford with my duty pay. Worked in a paint factory until Christmas & put $800 in my pocket & headed for Aspen to be a ski bum. Packed with the patrol at Highlands every morning until 10AM for my full day lift ticket which cost $8. Crashed at night aThe Little Red Ski Hostel for $5 a night. Bar tended at a bar called Galena Street East on my fake ID because I wasn’t going to be 21 for a few more months. Left after the season was over in ‘April ’67 & never looked back. Marriage, kids, divorce & a successful owned P&C Insurance business. But have never, have never forgotten those carefree days! P.S. watch the first Super Bowl at the Jbar.

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  8. um ‘successful’ ? how/what materially you mean right
    on my 36th year in a row total of being a true low life local skier
    luck plays a huge part and yes work, work work your ass off, I mean real work like construction trades blue collar stuff, stuff that is built to last, not sit at a desk and get a fat ass.
    take winters off cause work slows down, do odd jobs to make ends meet and
    save save and save.
    buy new old stock ski equip on closeout, ditch the grrl that says she wants kids, drive a 22 yr old 4wd truck w 260-300k miles, do your own maintenance on it, not a tesla…
    stay healthy, don’t be overly risky or always drunk
    live a good clean life, be kind help others, have immense gratitude and appreciation every moment of everyday for even the smallest things like brushing your teeth
    ski 100+ days a year and laugh laugh laugh your ass off everyday.
    Yes we ski bums are successful at living a very rich life of simplicity
    be creative to make it work.
    and Git Sum

  9. No idea if you’ll see this but I found your article while trying to reconcile with the fact I am no longer a ski bum! Thanks for the encouragement and perspective!

    5 seasons under my belt (Whistler, Nelson, Golden, Fernie x2). Now pursuing graduate studies in healthcare so I can help people to keep getting after it with plans to transition into business at some point.

    I am trying to think of this period as the Apres-Ski phase of life 🙂

  10. I have one winter of skibum experience. It is rewarding in a way that is hard to come by these days.

    You could say that I’m already successful. I can get by with working 6 months out of the year in a high demand profession. The rest of the time is usually spent traveling around the U.S. or the globe. That is until I racked up 70 resort days last winter in Tahoe while living in my 5th wheel trailor. My first winter was pretty dang deep and awesome. This young professional sees a lot of SkiBum winters ahead.

    SkiBums can go the other direction too: Get your profession together, then become a SkiBum with your professional leverage.

  11. During the winter of 2012, I became a tropical ski bum, as I live in Maui, but was able to ski 104 different western USA/Canada alpine/Nordic ski resorts. I lived in a former rental car shuttle bus named MauiSkiBus. During the winter of 2015, I was able to ski 38 different areas and visit 52 different yoga studios. A ski bum from the tropics and will do it again the winter of 2017. Aloha.

  12. man, I wish I was still a ski bum, working for the man gets old no matter how much money you make. To the ski bums out there: Soak it up

  13. Why does sharing this to Facebook come with a “no marijuana” graphic? Seems…unfriendly.

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