In Search of Powder: A Story of America’s Disappearing Ski Bum
by Jeremy Evans
225 pages, Bison Books/University of Nebraska Press, 2010
“In Search of Powder: A Story of America’s Disappearing Ski Bum” is an elegy to a dying alternative lifestyle. Evans has compiled a diorama of the economic and cultural dynamics of the decades that transformed insulated, funky ski towns into glitzy, accessible destinations. He reminds us of what we already know: The ski bum’s habitat is shrinking and, ironically, the ski bum’s iconic mythology contributes to the degradation.
As a recreational pastime became an option for post-Vietnam escape, the very mystique of the free-spirited, ruggedly individualistic, dropout skier fueled the extractive growth of ski areas. Pitiably depressed mining towns became publicly traded entertainment resorts. In those exploited places, Evans observes, the ski bum became an endangered, if not terminal, species.
Evan’s sketches and interviews of former ski bums turned legit (or not) include representative stories from personalities in Lake Tahoe, Mammoth, Telluride, Park City and Jackson Hole. Some characters you’ve heard of, some you haven’t. Some grew up on time and quickly abandoned “the concept of knowing what makes one happy and being undeterred in actualizing it” to cash in.
Some—the boomers—just got old and gave up, realizing that skiing takes muscles and it’s hard. A flock of current whippersnappers—kids who would have been ski bums back in the day—have tapped into the very system ski bums purported to reject and (horrors!) the little entrepreneurs have gone pro—perhaps the deepest cut to the repopulation of the purist ski bum.
In a chilly summation that fits these realities, one ski bum morphed into a ski area executive admitted to Evans, if you aren’t willing to make the sacrifices it takes or if you just can’t afford the Mega-resorts, “..tough shit…. Go find some place that’s not famous and make something out of it. We worked hard to make this place nice. Don’t come crying to me now because you can’t afford to live here.” Then he frets, “On the other hand, if we don’t have any new people coming in, we’re dying.”
Fret not. Though the dropout mentality has all but vanished from the American psyche and college grads deep in debt go straight to the real world, Evans reports those dead-end jobs that ski bums once pounced on are now filled by immigrants. Still drunk with that idea of unfettered freedom and self-actualized happiness, they are the new bums on the block.
Where have all the ski bums gone? Maybe they’re already gone—to those innumerable places that aren’t famous yet. Maybe they’re grinning at the ironies Evans describes. And maybe they’ll do it right this time, use “In Search of Powder” as a primer, and think twice before they decide to make a place nice and famous—and in the process destroy their own habitat.
Wayne K. Sheldrake is the author of “Instant Karma: the Heart and Soul of a Ski Bum.”