Ski-Bum Cultural Immersion, Part 1 of 2

The credit for planning the eleven-day roadtrip to Colorado goes entirely to Mountain Man. Having gone to school in Colorado for a year, he knew people living in various locations scattered between Berkeley and Boulder and was able to set us up with a free place to stay nearly every night. Only from the Pacific Ocean to the Nevada-Utah border, and possibly between Salt Lake City and Grand Junction, would we need to find our own accommodations. Mountain Man would be the driver for the entirety of our trip, of course, since I still didn’t have my driver’s license. He’d insisted that he didn’t mind because he enjoyed driving and was used to driving me around, anyways, but I think the bigger reason was that he was homesick for Boulder and didn’t care if he had a passenger or not so long as he got there.


On Saturday, January 9, 2016, Mountain Man and I left the Bay Area. We skied Kirkwood all day and headed northeast around sunset, stopping for dinner at a casino and checking into a Motel 6 in Reno, Nevada for the night. We left early the next morning, continuing East on I-80, stopping only for gas and a classic, country-diner lunch in Winnemucca. Our final destination for January 10th (day two of our trip) was Heber City, Utah. A group of Mountain Man’s ski buddies shared a house there. They all worked and played at Park City, only thirty minutes away.


This was my first immersive experience with ski bums and I was transfixed. These people wore baggy, stretchy pants, jean shorts with suspenders and no shirt, long underwear, tattered sweatpants, ski-brand beanies, bandanas tied around their heads, and/or ski socks. Many had hair down to their butts. Some of the dudes had a man-bun; others, a beard down to their belly buttons; and others still, no beard, but a thick, well-groomed moustache. I saw cigarettes tucked behind ears and joints or spliffs hanging loosely from the corners of mouths, some lit, some waiting to be remembered. Every single person in the room was made of nothing but muscle—six-pack abs flexed distractingly when the shirtless guys laughed, or coughed through a cloud of indica smoke.


A ski bum sample

The décor in their little bungalow was just as fascinating. Tibetan prayer flags and mandala tapestries hung from the walls. Carefully-tended bongs and other glass marijuana-related paraphernalia served as décor on side-tables and shelves. Though most were moribund, plants cascaded out of hanging baskets and huddled within their respective pots on windowsills. Tribal-patterned blankets and cushions were tossed across the living room couch; stickers, sporting topics anywhere from Bigfoot to Irish pubs, were stuck to every piece of furniture, bathroom mirrors, and some walls. Shelf units were lined with meticulously-organized and neatly-labeled jars of weed and tobacco, interspersed with books and magazines about hiking, fishing, skiing, rock climbing, backpacking, and off-roading.


The more I saw, the more excited I became. It wasn’t a happy, “these are my people” type of feeling, though; it was almost an “Okay, stop, I get it already,” antsy feeling. Sitting there as an outsider looking in, I concluded that these people were an entirely different breed. I had no doubt in my mind that Mountain Man was of their blood, and that I was not. I was going to have to “catch up” to their level of coolness if I wanted to be accepted by their community, I realized, and it was going to take a lot of energy. But, I was happy to put in the effort, because if I could be like these people, I could go above and beyond these people to the realm of Ultimate Badassery.

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