Article written for Backpacker News in 2003........
The editor of Backpacker News called me up with a problem. She was doing a piece on "Snowchasers" and was having a hard time tracking down a 'true ski bum' to interview. Luckily I know one very well. My son has been chasing snow from Alaska to Whistler from November to April for the last 4 years. He and his friends are renting a house in Pemberton, BC this year, but I even have a hard time tracking him down. I just tried calling him and since conditions are less than perfect he's off on another chase according to one of his housemates. The snow this week is the surf in Sooke, BC. I imagine he's sleeping in his Honda Civic on the beach.
My son has been skiing since he was 3 years old and has pretty much been on a quest to spend his winters in the greatest of style since. The last time he worked during the winter was at Skiing Louise when he was 19 and that's what really got him started on this search for snow. He's 24 now and has spent winters in Fernie, Alaska and Whistler. Fortunately he has a great paying summer job and can afford to take the winter off, sort of.
According to my son you must budget your money accordingly. After saving all summer the first thing you do is buy the early bird pass at the hill of your choice, buy all the gear you need. (skis, boots, climbing skins, avalanche transceiver, shovel, probe, quality jackets and pants etc) As for casual wear - don't bother cause you can't afford to go out - ever. Next rent a house with as many other ski bums as you can and post date all your rent cheques for the winter so you know that's covered. (actually the landlord insists) Make sure one person in the house has a car. Do not buy furniture or other household stuff. Your parents can supply that. A mattress and a sleeping bag are adequate if you don't have parents. Take as many board games from each parents home. Remember you can't afford to go out anywhere after skiing. Make sure your food budget includes beer and get as much rice and pasta and tomato sauce as you can to keep you full. At Christmas you can save a bit of money by going home for about three weeks. (Whistler is too busy anyway) Eat lots while at home, stash food from cupboards in your bag, go grocery shopping with your mom just before you leave and tell her you'll pay for the stuff you're putting in the cart at the checkout. (She will likely give in and pay for it all) To keep fit and avoid those annoying gym fees make sure you go ski touring at least 3 times a week. Make sure you paid off your credit cards before you got laid off your job. You'll need to use them by March when you're out of money and driving to Alaska to spring ski.
Enough about money! My son and his friends say it's the lifestyle that counts. Each day a true ski bum gets up at 6 am is out the door by 7 for first tracks. Otherwise you are just considered a regular bum. They go to the most extreme places they can find and ski until dark. Backcountry skiing has them staying in huts or snow caves and Whistler/Blackcomb has so much terrain and backcountry access they have yet to ski it all. When it's raining to the top of the mountain they play scrabble or cook. Oh, the life of a ski bum.
So now that the editor of the magazine has forced me to chase after the mind of a snowchaser one thing has become clear. The ski bums I know are energetic, wonderfully enthusiastic young people. I love hearing their stories and am happy to be a small part of their life. I think I might be a ski bum when I grow up.
Mom of Ski Bum
PS Son is now raising two ski bum babies and has given up ski bumming for the time being.