Words by: Darryl Hunt
(photo credits stated in captions - cover photo by Mike Wiggley)
Freedom - it's what makes it all worth it.
The question of what to do with your life can be a complicated thing. Cost of living, inflation, societal pressures, and future financial security are all major issues you have to think about when deciding what's 'next' in life. We all love to ski, but is it worth the risk to forgo the social norm and chase 'the dream'? I've always thought that getting a 'real job' was the risk - the thought of doing an entire winter hearing "you should have been here yesterday!" or even worse, having your job relocate you somewhere flat and warm, making you miss an entire season. What is the true motivation that makes someone, year after year, choose the life of a ski bum, when there is such uncertainty in it's future? It's the freedom of making yourself available to ski when and where the skiing is good. Is the life of a ski bum the most responsible choice available? Not by a long shot, but if skiing means enough to you, the freedom that comes with 'bumming' it can far outweigh the career path and even attempting to go pro (if you think you have what it takes).
Photo by: Brandon Willms Skier: Darryl Hunt
There aren't too many days where you are skiing sub-par conditions when you are a ski bum. On a busy weekend where most popular zones were full of people, scrambling to get to their line before someone else could ski it, our group had this area all to ourselves. No stress, no crowds, just a relaxing day of skiing blower pow with friends.
If you were to listen to the voice of reason, 9 times out of 10, the path you will find yourself going down is the one of post secondary schooling, a good career with a salary, and paid vacation. It seems though, that even doing the school and career route has it's risks. The Occupy movement in the fall of 2011 is a good example where sometimes, doing what your supposed to do just doesn't pan out. If by chance you are successful in finding a good job in your field after graduation with benefits, pension (if those even exist in the near future), and paid vacation, props to you. Sure, you might have to work in some city on the east coast, but being a weekend warrior is better than not skiing at all. Don't forget about that vacation you take every winter, which you had to book in the summer, only to find out that the destination you choose doesn't actually have much snow when you show up. Shit.
Photo by: Mike Wiggley Skiers: Darryl Hunt and Jesse Bartlett
Jesse was supposed to be on Vancouver Island the week this picture was taken. With the island having a horrible start to their season he changed his plans and came up to visit me in Revelstoke instead. Here we are on a bluebird day (a rarity in this neck of the woods for January) gaining the ridge near the top of our line. Being open and flexible with your winter is the key if you want to maximize your time skiing in the winter.
The fickle thing about this sport is it's complete and utter dependence on the weather - sometimes you get skunked. I'm not going to say much for this winter, because it's still early in the season and I don't think it's fair to just write it off for most of western North America quite yet. The winter of 04/05 on the other hand - that season was one for the books, and not in a good way. Living in Fernie, BC at the time, it was a very bad snow year across British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest, with record low snowpacks, some hills not even opening for the season, and all around a bad year for the industry. I felt sorry for the tourists coming into town all winter, hoping for a week of awesome skiing, only to spend way to much money to drink in a bar on the opposite side of the continent. It's gotta be tough on the working class skier to look forward to something with such high hopes, only for reality to set in and realize it's just not going to happen. During that winter, there were rare storms hitting the odd place at random times. Before going to bed one night we saw that Lake Louise, a 4 hour drive north, was going to get hit by a storm in the early hours of the morning. With an early wake up, we jumped in the car, drove up there and skied two days of relatively unforecasted pow with minimal crowds. In March that year I even went back to Ontario for two weeks to finish off their ski season because the park was prime and fresh snow just wasn't happening in BC. When you make skiing priority over a career, it's very rare to end up in a situation where you've spent a lot of money to travel somewhere just to find out it is less than stellar.
Photo by: Jesse Bartlett Skier: Darryl Hunt
I feel grateful this winter living in Revelstoke. With most of western North America having a bad start to their season, we have been doing very well for ourselves. Being able to stay close to home and ski some of most consistently light, deep pow I have in year hasn't escaped me. Nothing can compare to charging familiar terrain in optimal conditions.
If you believe you have the skiing skills, do you put your name in the hat for that illusive career as a pro skier? While similar to ski bumming in a lot of ways, it is completely different world all the same. If you are good enough on skis to have a legitimate go at the pro life, I say take it. As the saying goes "you'll never regret the decisions you make, only those you don't". If you see the opportunity and don't take it, it could very well haunt you for the rest of your life. For a brief time in my teenage years I thought I had a chance. It didn't last very long, but for those few years I was travelling around doing as many contests as I could, trying to make it. I had great time, put way more money in than I got out, and travelled to some great ski destinations. After two or three years though, I came to terms that perhaps 'professional skier' wasn't making it on my business cards. A funny thing happened last winter though. The longer you are in the skiing world, the more frequent interesting opportunities open up that would normally not exist. Last year I had a few cool opportunities (both brought to me, and self manifested) that had me following the snow and exploring new mountains most of the winter. At one point I found myself at Mount Cain on Vancouver Island for a backcountry festival. While I was there I ran into a pro friend from back in the Kootenays. She was there to film for a tv show, and while hanging out, she told me that she was stoked for me and was jealous of how I'm living. I was both taken aback, and in agreeance at the same time. Having someone who gets to travel around, skiing for a living say they are jealous of someone doing similar things, but fully on their own dime, (and with much less heli time) gives weight to the freedom that being a ski bum allows. On one of the days we were both at Cain, she sat around on top of the peak with her crew of fellow skiers and filmers waiting for light to hit this south face just right to farm some turns on an untouched slope, even though the snow wasn't very good and the terrain left something to be desired. While this was going on, I was across the bowl lapping steep north facing chutes with good, untracked snow, having an awesome day with lots of great skiing. I've seen this time and time again over the years. Yes, being a pro skier is awesome, there is no doubt in my mind, yet there is a part of your freedom that is lost when you are constantly trying to get the shot.
Photo by: Brandon Willms Skier: Darryl Hunt
Another day, another pillow line. This is a special zone that not too many people know about. While not too far from some very busy, popular skiing, this area always seems to get overlooked. After every run we do here we always wonder why a film crew hasn't come and filmed these pillows. With other pillow zones near by that are logistically easier to film, I guess this area just gets overlooked and not worth their time to try and get footage. We aren't complaining, that's for sure!
Besides all that big picture crap, being a dedicated skier has huge benefits day to day, especially on a powder day at your home mountain. As mentioned earlier, weather is such a huge factor in skiing. So much so, that knowing what has been going on with the weather can be the difference between an amazing day in the hills and a mediocre day. Going on a trip somewhere to ski and want to know where the good snow is? Don't ask the front desk of your hotel, nor the lifty or the fellow guests at the hotel bar - find the young guy who looks like he knows something others don't and follow him (if you can keep up!). Knowing what the snowpack is like, which way the wind has been going lately, what elevation the freezing level was at recently, what zones were open in past days, and knowing the the nature of mountain weather. There's just some things you can only know by being out there. When I hang up my ski bum towel and move on, this is what I will miss most about the life I live. Having the knowledge and confidence to go where it's good, when it's good, and ski it with my highest potential. That's something you just can't buy with your career, and the added bonus of not having to deal with any of the stress that comes with the getting the shot mentality of the aspiring pro.
There are many ways to live your life and have a feeling of fulfilment. If skiing good terrain with the most optimal conditions is what gets you stoked, you may have a life of ski bumming in your future. That is, after your futile attempt at going pro of course.