Ski town without ski bum?
February 25, 2013 3:27 AM   Subscribe

I'm becoming enamored with the idea of moving to a ski town for a while. I'd like to know more about what it's really like.

I really LOVE skiing (although very much a beginner). I'm out of my early 20s, and not much of a partier, although I find it easy to make friends. I would probably be living off of savings or doing remote work, but am not wealthy.

- Have you done this? Are you still doing it? - What do you like most about living there?
- What undiscovered or really wonderful places might I not know of that would be great places to live? Places in Colorado? Places off the beaten path?
- What are summers like?
- Can you point me to any good blogs/memoirs/etc. about doing this?
- Tips, tricks, suggestions, starting points?
- Other things that might be helpful
posted by carolinaherrera to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I did not do this, but my husband did for three years in South Lake Tahoe. Here's what he said about the experience -

- There were lots of other people doing the same thing. Everyone had marginal jobs, seasonal stuff, just enough to support their lifestyle.
- He got to ski - a lot - on his days off work. Since weekends were busiest (he drove a shuttle bus for one of the ski lodges), this often meant he was skiing mid-week which he said was awesome.
- He was only able to maintain this for about three years. He got tired of the wintertime crowds, the marginal jobs, and his body pretty much couldn't take the constant snow shoveling and skiing all the time.

It's kind of like living in Hawaii after visiting there. You get to see the bad stuff that you are usually insulated from when vacationing - shoveling your car out after a big snowstorm, learning to avoid the tourist areas which get freakishly busy sometimes, and getting kind of tired of what everyone else thinks is AWESOME.

If you were my kid, and you are in your 20s and have the wherewithal to do this, I would say, "Go for it!" When else in your life might you get to do this?
posted by eleslie at 5:16 AM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I did Manhattan ---> ski town three years
ago and am still in ski town. Memail me and we can chat.
posted by slateyness at 5:50 AM on February 25, 2013

A friend did this in CO for a couple of years after college. He changed his mind about going to medical school and was a porter at a ski resort for a couple of seasons while he figured out what to do next. He met his wife there too, so I think he would say go for it.
posted by COD at 6:27 AM on February 25, 2013

My younger sister moved out to Lake Tahoe after college (a few years ago), and I regularly fantasize about ditching my professional job and joining her. She lives with some other 20s-aged folk and she waitresses. She works in the afternoons and evenings and skis in the mornings and on her days off. In the summer she hikes, goes rock climbing, and travels. She gets laid off from her waitress job in the fall (slow season - Tahoe has a fairly busy summer season because of the lake) and uses that time to visit friends/family, etc., then starts back up again around Thanksgiving.
posted by mskyle at 6:51 AM on February 25, 2013

I did Mammoth for a semester. But I had already spent a lot of time there, and I stayed in my family's place so it wasn't exactly a novelty experience.

-Depending on the town, economic conditions may be very changeable from year to year (tracking various factors like snowfall, health of tourism generally linked to consumer confidence, etc.) and so this years seasonal employment may not be renewed next year....summers can be very tough in terms of jobs if there isn't much summer tourism in the town you pick. There's often an informal system of seniority in place in terms of who gets hired back first. So who's around this year may not be who's around next year.

-People often have more than one job. Day job (potentially ski or sport related, or retail) plus server or bartender some nights most commonly.

-It's a small town experience, but with a more dynamic mix of people than non-resort towns, in most places (due to the extra draw that resort, sport, tourism and its attendant opportunities adds to the typical small town).

In Tahoe, you'd have Reno, but that's more the exception than the rule.

-Summers in terms of your own recreation can be fully awesome if you like hiking, riding, fishing, biking, etc.

- Practical Things to Consider -- should include the housing situation where you want to be; there's a lot of expensive vacation rentals taking up space in many resort towns. The rental situation is often a pain in the ass. You may find that there are surrounding towns or areas that are more affordable than the resort town proper.

-You're a remote worker--do you have insurance? You abso-fucking-lutely need decent medical insurance if you're going to go skiing all the time. Do not fuck around with this. I will spare you the cautionary tales.

-You need a four or all wheel drive vehicle in good mechanical condition. Most commonly, this means a pickup truck, or a Subaru or a Jeep. Not that other options are bad, but you can expect to find someone to work on a Subuaru or a Jeep in a mountain town.

-The cost of the sport--first off, consider what you'll need in terms of season passes. Then, you'll be putting a lot of days on your skis and boots (hopefully). Vacation skiers put relatively few hours on their equipment. Things wear out surprisingly quickly when you start using them daily.

-Probably, sucky internet. If you care.

I'm not sure about blogs or memoirs, but most of these towns have small local papers. For instance, Mammoth has the Mammoth Times and The Sheet. I'd suggest keeping tabs on the papers in the towns that have caught your eye so far--that can give you a feel for what living there is like (right down to the police blotter.)

That's off the top of my head. I'm happy to answer any questions, here or via memail.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:26 AM on February 25, 2013

My brother in law has done this for about five years now, since he quit college. He spends his winters in a big resort town in Colorado where he skis by day and works in as a maintenance guy in a hotel afternoons/evenings. In the summers he works as a camp counselor elsewhere in the country. For about six - eight weeks or so in spring/fall he lives at home as he transitions between one place and the other, and he usually picks up landscaping or day labor type work. He's a very mellow, doesn't need/want much kind of guy, and he seems happy and the lifestyle seems to suit him. His parents want to see this as just a temporary thing, and every year he keeps doing it they get a little more angsty about what he's doing with his life. But he does really seem to like it a lot.

Stuff I know that has come up for him:

- he looked specifically for a job that includes a ski pass as part of the compensation package. He probably couldn't afford a pass paying out of pocket, especially not up front at the beginning of the season.
- very high cost of housing and general cost of living in the resort town. He can't afford to live there and needs to live in another town about 30 minutes away. He needs roommates to be able to live there. He can't afford to eat out, etc.
- Difficulty of getting a lease for just the time he wants to be there working and skiing. He often has had to deal with finding a subletter for the summer. This usually works out for him, but it's always a seat-of-the-pants kind of thing.
- He tried living for the first year or two with no car, and it was really hard - there is public transit but it's slow and the schedule wasn't always good.
- Insurance situation, as mentioned above - he doesn't get insurance through his job. I think his mom was worried enough about him not having insurance that they get him a major medical, just for their peace of mind.
- At this point he's usually able to get rehired for his same job back, or can shop around and look for a better one. The first year he went out there the economy was really bad and the ability to find work was not a given.
- He's been offered a career/management track with his hotel family, but turns it down because it means working full-time and being transferred elsewhere around the chain. I don't know how much this bothers him, but I'd say a lack of traction in terms of a more sustainable career is something to be aware of. It's not bad in your early 20s, but pushing 30 is probably something you need to think more consciously about.
- He's able to support himself and keep his car repaired and buy new skis. I don't think he has much in the way of savings or anything, but he's fine with all that. His parents do not (and would not) assist him other than the major medical policy.
posted by handful of rain at 8:59 AM on February 25, 2013

You owe it to yourself to check out my ski town, Taos, NM. The town itself is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of place, so you'd need to see if it's to your taste. But the mountain, a half hour away, is one of the great ski areas in the world. It's challenging, so if you ski regularly, you'll get good fast. I know a number of people who came here to ski and wound up joining Taos' highly-rated ski school as instructors. We get less snow than we used to, but still 200 inches per season. If you ski weekdays and cherry-pick conditions, you can ski 40 or 50 days a season on good-to-great snow, without lift lines. We're the most sun-soaked ski area in the U.S. Don't be intimidated by Taos' reputation for steeps. There's plenty of intermediate terrain. It's a great place to learn. And it's a beautiful mountain. The town is 7,000 feet high, so summers are moderate. Taos is no place to earn a sumptuous living, but it sounds as if that's not an issue for you.
posted by markcmyers at 9:00 AM on February 25, 2013

I learned to ski at Taos and Mammoth. Taos really is amazing, but the town is qualitatively different than most ski towns. That is A Very Fine Thing, in my view, but I'd echo markcmyers that visiting before committing to it is essential.

Also, while the mountain is magnificent it is somewhat small and there are no other options nearby.

And poling back from the Kachina side on Rubezahl really sucks until you're good enough to avoid it.

posted by snuffleupagus at 9:19 AM on February 25, 2013

One thing I would keep in mind is how this will affect your resume. You don't say what your field is but if you can "work remotely" or at least do some consulting, I highly recommend it so that your skills don't atrophy, and so that you have something to talk to recruiters about when you decide you want to go back to the professional world. "I decided to be a ski bum for a few years" doesn't sound very ambitious. "I am a dedicated skiier and wanted to live somewhere where I could actively pursue my hobby, so I moved to Tahoe and continued my consulting practice, and am now interested in going back into the corporate environment full-time" is a lot more appealing.

Sorry I'm job-hunting right now so this is how I view a lot of things!
posted by radioamy at 10:35 AM on February 25, 2013

One place that might not leap out of you at first is Salt Lake City. As a legit city there are lots of services and job opportunities besides the typical tourist-centric jobs that exist in tiny ski towns. The areas around the city are an outdoorsman's paradise in all four seasons and there are some absolutely stunning National Parks that are a few hours away.
posted by mmascolino at 8:05 PM on February 26, 2013

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