Don't abuse the privilege. PHOTO: KADE KRICHKO

This winter I was floating. I had a trickle of a paycheck, a job that didn’t require my physical presence and, for the first time in a long time, I didn’t need to be anywhere. So what’s a skier to do? I packed my life into the back of a Subaru Outback, made a list of friends in ski towns, and started dialing. Hey man I’ll be in town in a week. Any way I can crash on your couch? That statement carried me from the Pacific Northwest, to Utah and Colorado, up to Wyoming, and over to Montana before depositing my powder-satiated grin back in Seattle two months later. While the route may look romantic on paper, not overstaying my welcome was a constant struggle, turning my sofa hop into a delicate dance of awareness and creativity that was, frankly, exhausting. But for those looking to snag a couch and not burn any bridges, here are some tips I picked up along the road that kept my ski dream alive and even earned me some return invites.

Never show up empty-handed
, or you’ll be pegged as the schmuck that you are right away. PBR is the most accepted form of currency, unless you want to risk it and try to nail the area’s popular microbrew. Hard alcohol isn’t suggested—you never know if that bottle of Jose Cuervo will bring back the traumas from last Taco Tequila Tuesday. Or bring a fresh baked loaf of bread. People love that stuff.

Be flexible—literally
. You might be on a bed, but you’re probably on a couch, an ottoman, or playing human Tetris in a corner, so you’ll need to be limber. Stretch out the back and hammies, unless you want to cramp hard the next day. Bring your own sleeping bag and pillow. Your host will have loaners, but no guarantees if they got washed since Pink-Eye Pete rolled through town last week.

You might not be a chef, but cooking for your hosts guarantees an invite back. Figure out a (cheap) marquee dish and stick with it. One POWDER editor cooks up a mean Annie’s Mac and Cheese and Hormel Chili stovetop casserole, while my go-to has been a dish of Beef Ramen mixed with peanut butter and Sriracha that sort of passes as noodles in Thai peanut sauce. Still overwhelmed? If executed properly, a DiGiorno pizza paired with the aforementioned PBR will make you the Guest of Honor.

Learn the local bus or shuttle system. Chances are your hosts have season passes, and people with season passes are lazy. They roll out of bed at 11, ski three runs and head to the bar without thinking twice. For the rest of us, maximizing the day is key, so we want to get to the hill as early as possible. Hook up with the bus or shuttle and hop a (usually) free ride to the mountain to earn your early turns. Plus, après becomes a little more fun when you realize there’s a big yellow ride in the parking lot waiting to take you home.

When you go out at night, understand where you stand on the totem pole—the bottom. The host holds the key, so if he or she wants to leave the bar, you better leave too, unless you know for sure that the blonde you’ve been chatting up at the bar is going to take you home. If the key holder leaves and you blow it (and you probably will), prepare for an extended field test of your new Primaloft-insulated puffy in the back of your car or slumped on your host’s front stoop. Not recommended.

And here are a few other things they don’t teach you in ski school: Throw your boots in a garbage bag as a courtesy to your host. Nobody likes the unsavory wafting of athlete’s foot.

Collect grocery cards
. Every store has them, they’re free, and you don’t need to sign a damn thing. Saving five bucks on granola bars and beer might be the key to extending your gas tank, and that ski bum adventure, to the next couch.