Former ski bum surveys the past and future of ski towns in new book
Heather Hansman intended to stay in the Colorado ski town for only one season.
However, she found herself repeatedly signing leases and working seasonal jobs year after year.
Now she’s written a book — “Powder Days: Ski Bums, Ski Towns, and the Future of Chasing Snow.” It tells the history of the “ski bum” and how ski towns are currently evolving with climate change. It also touches on the lack of affordable housing for those who still chase the dream of living cheaply in the mountains while still managing to hit the slopes every day.
Hansman moved from the East Coast to a ski town in Colorado in her early 20s after graduating college to chase snow with her friends and scan tickets at Beaver Creek Ski Resort.
After spending several seasons in Colorado, Hansman made the difficult decision to go back to school to receive her master’s degree and then soon after became a writer. Her time in the mountains and curiosity about how much has changed since then brought her back to this project.
Hansman decided to go on a research road trip, crashing on friends’ couches in various ski towns around the country, to find out how ski bums are living in an era of climate change and among the Zoom Boom, when thousands of remote workers fled to the mountains in search of urban relief.
When writing the book, Hansman dove into the history of ski towns that popped up across the United States, stemming from the 10th Mountain Division in World War II – a group of militia who fought using their skis to navigate in the mountain terrain, and then decided to bring skiing back to the states.
Skiing evolved into an exclusive sport which included many “secrets,” Hansman writes in her book.
Those secrets, such as the best lines to ski out of bounds at her favorite resorts, are mostly now uncovered — as skiing in the mountains has become much more accessible to those who can afford to be apart of it.
DIFFERENT WAY OF LIFE
During her time in the mountains, Hansman became hooked to the way of life, but also realized some grim realities that come with living in ski towns, such as substance abuse.
She states in the book that ski towns attract those with “anti-social behavior,” not in the sense of being shy or introverted, but that mountain life is often sought after by those who wish to go against the social norm – such as not starting a career or family right away, living out of a van, and living as cheaply as possible.
“There’s that joke of, ‘You’re not a local until you get a DUI,’” she said. “I think there’s sort of two aspects there and one is that anti-social behavior, adrenaline, going to extremes that people are drawn to. I think the other is that in a lot of these communities there’s not necessarily a connection place outside of the bar… I think there’s already personality drivers and also socially enforced drivers and ways that you don’t have an outlet. You know, social outlets that aren’t substance related.”
Hansman looks back on her years in the Rocky Mountains, watching her friends who stayed and continued to live the ski bum dream. She wrote that she wondered what it would be like if she had stayed, but that making it work might have been an arduous journey.
“I was recently talking to a friend who just turned 40, and he’s a ski patroller,” Hansman said. “He’s having trouble with his knees and he has this offer for an office land management job and he’s like, ‘What’s the breaking point? I can’t do the thing the I’ve been doing for so long’… So I think it’s a pretty tricky line to follow in making that work, and you do kind of have to buck some norms and figure out how to do it on your own.”
After her trip, Hansman said that what she saw opened her eyes to even more questions about what would happen to these towns. Such questions included: Would ski bums still exist in the coming years, and if so, how would they evolve? Also, what will happen to resorts as climate change begins to take over?
Despite the many hurdles of mountain life, Hansman is considering moving back to the mountains as she has always felt drawn to them through skiing.
Hansman hopes to do a reading somewhere in the Truckee-Tahoe region this year.
Elizabeth White is a staff writer with the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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