West Young Man

Tracking down the ski bum dream... again

By Ryan Dunfee

GOLDEN, Colo. — The stretch of I-80 crossing the plains of the Rust Belt must seem just as flat and anxiety-inducing as it has for generations of Eastern skiers making the trek West… to the promised land of big peaks, big dumps, and daily radness unknown to that segment of the skiing population who've grown up turning their skis down the icy hills of New Hampshire, Vermont or New York.

Vermont. Photo: Dunfee

Vermont. Photo: Dunfee

Cleveland. Photo: Dunfee

Cleveland. Photo: Dunfee

Photo: Dunfee

Nebraska. Photo: Dunfee

As I follow the skier's Oregon Trail, passaged before by legends from Scott and Rob Gaffney to Chris Davenport, the endless gulf of pancake-flat heartlands where Republican presidential candidates are currently wielding their bands of volunteers and campaign promises offers plenty of time for reflection. As I listen to the tireless voice of Stewart Wills list off colloquial whale names on Moby Dick on tape, I acknowledge that this isn't my first attempt to live the skier's dream in the West.

Like many reading this, I too took off with a pack of college buddies for the sunny slopes of the Rockies, in this case Aspen, in the hopes of fulfilling every ski fantasy I'd conjured up in my New Hampshire-bred brain… after years of reading Powder and watching season upon season of movie premieres. Endless days of fresh blower. Countless new tricks learned on backcountry booters built above fields of untracked powder. Legions of new, ripping friends including girls who would take their tops off and start making out with me on command. And enough tip money from visiting tourists to buy six pairs of pow skis and afford a summer ski trip to South America.

Unfortunately, as is often the case, the reality was far different. That endless pow? Yeah, it snowed, but the kind of mind-blowing storms you read about in Powder only happen once or twice a year in a 300-inch season. Plus, it takes a lot not to sit in your apartment until 10 a.m. when you know the Aspen liftlines will be as empty as they were at first chair. Topless chicks? I spent way too much money on booze in the hopes of jumping into a lot of pants, and my successes largely revolved around making out with some prude Argentine in the love seat of her apartment while her nine roommates slept on the floor around us. Those bottomless tips? They took a heavy hit as the stock market crash of 2008 was happening just as I was flying out. And that season pass your hotel job promised you so you could log 120 glorious days that season? They forgot to mention it only works two days a week. Apparently no one moves to Aspen to actually ski anymore.

While I certainly learned and experienced a lot that first season and, thanks to an additional pass bought from a departing South African co-worker, skied more than I feared I would, it was clear I had only scratched the surface of the western skiing experience I had dreamed of. But after two up-and-down winters back East, working for an adventure travel outfit, and then one mind-blowing summer skiing Bariloche’s copious trees and chutes, I decided I could not spend one more winter in New Hampshire. Against all pretentions of what I was supposed to be doing at 26, after all those skiing shenanigans were supposed to have been fulfilled and laid to rest, I pointed it west yet again in the hopes of never letting that ignorant dream of mine go unfulfilled.

I now know that endless pow takes a lot of fighting and hiking and time in the mountains to find. I now know those girls will come when they come, and they can make you give up a lot of good mornings on the hill if you let them.  And that season pass? Even if they jip me again, I'll just pull out my touring gear and get my turns all the same.  While the currently snowless slopes of Lake Tahoe, my ultimate destination, cackle and sneer at my dreams like some kind of greedy witch, I'm going to beat that bitch. This time, all the dreams will come true.