From Rebel to Entrepreneur: The Fascinating History of Ski Bum Culture.

Ski bum culture is a fascinating subculture of adventurous individuals who prioritize skiing and snowboarding, often living in mountain towns and working low-paying jobs. Explore its history, evolution, and impact on the skiing industry.

From Rebel to Entrepreneur: The Fascinating History of Ski Bum Culture.
Photo by henry perks / Unsplash

Ski bum culture is a unique and fascinating subculture that has developed around the world over the past century. Ski bums are individuals who prioritize skiing and snowboarding over other pursuits in their lives, often living in mountain towns and working low-paying jobs to support their ski lifestyle. They are known for their laid-back attitude, adventurous spirit, and love for the outdoors. In this article, we will explore the history of ski bum culture, how it has evolved, and its impact on the skiing industry.

The origins of ski bum culture can be traced back to the early 20th century when skiing began to gain popularity as a recreational activity. The first ski resorts in North America were established in the 1930s, and as skiing became more accessible, a community of dedicated skiers began to form. These early ski enthusiasts were often wealthy and privileged individuals who could afford to spend their winters in luxury resorts.

However, after World War II, skiing became more democratized as returning soldiers and other middle-class Americans began to take up the sport. The rise of the ski industry led to the creation of more ski resorts and the growth of ski towns. These towns, often located in remote mountain regions, attracted a diverse group of people, including ski bums.

Ski bums of the 1950s and 1960s were a unique breed of individuals who were drawn to the mountains for their love of skiing and the outdoor lifestyle. They lived in small cabins, ate cheap meals, and worked low-paying jobs such as lift operators, ski instructors, and ski patrol. They spent their day's skiing or snowboarding and their nights drinking, socializing, and listening to live music. This lifestyle became known as the "ski bum" way of life.

In the 1970s, ski bum culture began to change as the sport of skiing evolved. The introduction of modern ski equipment, such as shaped skis, made skiing more accessible to the general public. As skiing became more mainstream, the ski industry began to focus on creating a more upscale image to attract a wealthier clientele. This shift in focus led to the development of luxury ski resorts and the growth of the ski tourism industry.

Despite the changing landscape of skiing, ski bum culture remained strong in certain mountain towns. Places like Jackson Hole, Aspen, and Whistler became known as hotspots for ski bums and other adventurous individuals seeking a unique lifestyle. The ski bum community continued to thrive, with individuals living in communal houses and working in low-paying jobs to support their skiing addiction.

In the 1980s and 1990s, ski bum culture faced new challenges as the cost of living in mountain towns increased. Real estate prices skyrocketed, and many ski bums found it increasingly difficult to afford to live in these communities. The ski industry also became more competitive, with larger ski resorts buying out smaller ones and pushing out smaller independent ski areas.

Despite these challenges, ski bum culture continued to endure. Many ski bums adapted by finding creative ways to support their lifestyle. Some worked seasonal jobs in the winter and spent their summers travelling or working in other industries. Others became entrepreneurs, starting their businesses in mountain towns or creating new ski-related products and services.

Today, ski bum culture continues to thrive in many mountain towns around the world. While the lifestyle has changed over time, the core values of adventure, community, and a love for skiing and the outdoors remain at the heart of this subculture.

The impact of ski bum culture on the skiing industry has been significant. Ski bums have been instrumental in shaping the sport of skiing and snowboarding, introducing new techniques and pushing the limits of what is possible on the slopes. They have also been a driving force behind the growth of the ski industry, with many ski bums going on to start their businesses, creating new opportunities for themselves and others in mountain towns. This entrepreneurial spirit has led to the creation of new ski-related products and services, such as eco-friendly ski gear, specialty ski tours, and ski-related mobile apps.

In addition to their contributions to the skiing industry, ski bums have also had a significant impact on mountain town communities. They have brought a sense of camaraderie and community to these towns, creating a vibrant social scene and supporting local businesses. Ski bums have also been involved in environmental advocacy, working to protect mountain environments and promoting sustainable practices in the ski industry.

Ski bum culture has also had a cultural impact, inspiring books, films, and music. The classic novel "Ski Bum" by R.D. Rosen, published in 1979, chronicled the adventures of a ski bum in Aspen and became a cult classic among ski bums. The 1984 film "Ski Patrol" also portrayed the ski bum lifestyle, with its humorous depiction of a group of ski patrol members at a fictional ski resort. The music of bands such as The Grateful Dead and Phish has also been embraced by ski bums, with these bands often playing at ski resorts and other mountain venues.

Another interesting aspect of ski bum culture is how it has evolved. In the early days of skiing, ski bums were often seen as rebels and outcasts, living on the fringes of society and rejecting the traditional 9-to-5 lifestyle. However, as skiing has become more mainstream and the ski industry has grown, ski bums have become more entrepreneurial, finding ways to turn their love of skiing into successful careers and businesses. Today, many ski bums are highly educated and skilled professionals who have chosen to live in mountain towns and pursue their passions, while also making a positive impact on their communities. This evolution of ski bum culture highlights the adaptability and resilience of this unique subculture.

Ski bum culture has a rich and fascinating history, dating back to the early days of skiing in the 20th century. Ski bums have played a significant role in shaping the sport of skiing and snowboarding, as well as in the growth of the ski industry. Their adventurous spirit, love for the outdoors, and sense of community have created a unique and vibrant subculture that continues to thrive in mountain towns around the world.

A fun fact about ski bum culture: the term "ski bum" was coined by ski industry insiders in the 1950s as a derogatory term for those who lived in mountain towns and worked low-paying jobs in the ski industry. However, ski bums embraced the term and turned it into a badge of honour, celebrating their love for skiing and the mountain lifestyle. Today, the term is widely used to describe those who prioritize skiing and snowboarding in their lives, and ski bum culture is celebrated as a unique and valued subculture within the skiing community.