Words: Brooke Edwards
The act of helping others results in others helping you. That’s karma according to ski patroller Heather Thamm, who just got back from Nepal. When asked to expand on the definition of karma, instead of going to Sanskrit texts or Buddhist monks, Thamm cited a quote from Guns N’ Roses lead guitarist Slash, who said, “Once you’ve lived a little you will find that whatever you send out into the world comes back to you in one way or another. It may be today, tomorrow, or years from now, but it happens; usually when you least expect it, usually in a form that’s pretty different from the original. Those coincidental moments that change your life seem random at the time, but I don’t think they are. At least that’s how it’s worked out in my life. And I know I’m not the only one.” Slash would make the perfect ski bum.
The art of ski bumming revolves around one’s ability to live the life of the rich and famous on a budget of ketchup packets and saltines. The passion inherent in the lifestyle of storm chasing is so pungent that it leaves no room for planning for such necessities as where to lay your head at night. The proverbial ski bum skis bell-to-bell faceshots, dives into the après scene with abandon, and then thinks, “Hmmm, I wonder how cold it will be in my Subaru tonight snuggled up with my boots? Better have another shot.” Then, lo and behold, that cool local who took the time to show you the secret stash, sidles up, buys you a beer and says, “Dude, we’ve got a couch if you need a place to crash.” Voila, the karmic couch is born and the cycle begins.
Having spent a winter storm chasing myself, I was floored with the generosity in each ski community. I couldn’t believe how many meals were prepared for me, how often I scored a free ticket, how people I didn’t even know were willing to show me their favorite stash on the mountain. I always had a place to stay.
You need to ask yourself: What have you done for other ski bums lately? How have you fed the greater karmic wheel of the ski family? What red carpets have been rolled out for you while you’ve been storm chasing? How have you been blessed by the random kindness of strangers? Lucky for ski bums, fellow skiers are generous and forthcoming. If you do nice things for people at random—tune skis in return for a six-pack, teach your friend’s 6-year-old how to ski, stop to help a tourist find their ski on the sickest powder day of the year—these things will come back around to give you a place to stay when you have just spilled out into La Grave without knowing a lick of French or a single guide.
In theory, the ski bum won’t always live in a broken down pickup truck. The beauty of this theory is that eventually ski bums grow up and get a ski shack of their own with hopes that someday the powder in their town will be worthy and that they will get the opportunity to play host to others in the ski family and repay the universal debt of the snow gods.
Last winter in Alaska was such a winter. My cabin was chock a block full of powder hounds from around the globe, professional athletes staying beyond the film shoot, and friends of friends who’d bought a one-way ticket to storm central. From December to May, I housed and fed storm chasers with Costco backcountry snacks, salmon from our summer fishing season, and plenty of warm blankets. I finally got to return the universal favors that had helped me survive that one winter on the road. Tibetan Buddhist Monk Sakyong Mipham once said, “Like gravity, karma is so basic we often don’t even notice it.” Yet, as skiers, we notice gravity quite a bit. Perhaps we could say the same about karma.