I’ve had many people ask me about my lifestyle. I never really thought I was doing anything that wild or incredible but apparently I do. I spend most of my time travelling the world and skiing and I don’t think I’ve ever made much more than 15 thousand dollars in a year. If I’m going to be really honest with you, I haven’t seen more than 5 grand in my account since being a legal adult.
“Mate, I have to live through your adventures these days. How do you save up for these adventures?” – My mate Justin
I can still remember the Australian winter of 2013. I was 20 and that’s the last year my mum, who works for a ski resort, could get me a free pass for being her kid. It was also the last year I would be able to get free money from the government because I was at University. Ever since the lifts closed for the last time that winter, I’ve had to work pretty hard to be able to ski and travel all the time. My back to back winters have taken me from Australia, Japan, Canada and the US. Now I’m going to share what I’ve learned.
- Work for a ski resort
Free lift pass! Awesome! It will usually get you pretty rad discounts at the resort too. You will also meet everyone else up there and you’ll never pay full price for anything again!
Ski Bum Tip #1
Be careful, if you fuck up and get fired you will lose your pass. Don’t leave your bong out, don’t use fire extinguishers for fun at a party, and don’t try and hack the computer system – I’ve seen all of these occur and all of these resulted in a pass-less ski bum.
- Do a winter in Australia
Firstly, yes it does snow in Australia.
Australia is my cash cow. It’s how I fund everything. I have never been paid less per hour than my age. Not Australian? I’ve seen people get a work visa in 44 seconds so maybe consider it. You can use the semi shit snow conditions to work your ass off and get a bit of skiing in and then be cashed up ready to slay the whole northern hemisphere winter.
Ski Bum Tip #2
I am taking applications for people with Canadian or US passports to marry me. We can get rich working in Australia and then move to your home to ski. Inquire within.
- Choose the right job
Travelling to Canada/USA? The minimum wage is astoundingly low, so I recommend a serving job because you can make absurd amounts of money in tips. The best I did was $600 in two days but I’ve had friends make $1000 cash in a double shift. Or sell weed. But I’m no expert on that.
Ski Bum Tip #3
Only work at night. Day time is for skiing. You’ll also save money on partying.
- Don’t buy expensive commodities
I cut my hair with my pocket knife. Deal with it.
Commodities are things you pretty much have to have, so buy them cheap. I always do a big commodity shop just before winter at a big bulk store like Walmart. Tooth brushes, tooth paste, shampoo (Which after your second back to back winter you probably won’t buy at all) underwear, and when you get really good at ski bumming, you’ll realise that food is a commodity. In my season at Big White in Canada I budgeted so well that, after counting my receipts at the end of winter, I spent $543 on food for five and a half months. Food is fuel, not pleasure. You’re not going to get anywhere spending two hours worth of work on a cheeseburger at the bar after skiing. Which brings me to my next point.
- Dumpster diving
Free food. I learnt to dumpster dive after a horrendously warm spring ended my seasonal job prematurely. I had no money after visiting the US for my birthday and I didn’t have work for a couple months over the shoulder season. But I didn’t buy groceries either. The only thing I spent money on was my $300 per month rent.
See what I found in the dumpster:
Dumpster Dive Video
- If you’re gonna party – learn to like shitty alcohol
Here is my list of recommendations by country:
Australia – Goon (boxed wine) If you can’t drink it straight, add pineapple juice. $10 for 4 litres. Spirits are expensive.
Canada – Growers cider is good value. Wine is hideously expensive.
Japan – Vodka is 10 dollars a litre. Super cheap! Beer has a bigger tax than anything else.
USA – I love this place. It’s cheap to drink here. Beer. Liquor. God bless America. Unless you’re under 21, in that case HA!
- Become vegetarian
And if you go to Canada you’ll probably end up vegan because you could either buy a block of cheese or put a deposit on a house. But yeah, meat will rape your bank account. If being a vegetarian is a bit extreme for you, just try decreasing your intake.
Ski Bum Tip #4
Shop lifting cheese is pretty common in Canada… Not that I condone it…
- Commit to winter
If you want to ski bum it, you have to commit your life to it. No “on again/off again” relationship, no “I’m not sure I’m ready for a relationship” crap. You are “move in together, get married and have babies” committed. All your money and time is going to be spent on skiing. Let’s do some approximate math on my last year of skiing, June 2015 -June 2016, apologies if it’s incorrect because math was never my strong point-
Lift tickets – $1000
Flights – $2500
Rent – $6500
Equipment – $1000
TOTAL – $11,000 Australian Dollars for approximately 160 days of skiing.
Let’s say I made 15 grand that year. That only gives me 4000 dollars to live on outside of skiing in a year. That works out at around $76 per week. Not much for food or anything else. And definitely not time for a relationship with anything other than skiing!
- Thrift Stores
The best part about winter is that everyone has this cool, grungy look. This is great because it means you don’t have to spend a shit ton of money on clothes. Thrift stores close to ski resorts are a gold mine for epic hot doggin’ outfits and just rad clothes in general.
Ski Bum Tip #5
If you find yourself in Revelstoke BC be sure to check out the thrift store. I love it there so much my friends had to put me on a ban… $3 for a 90s Gore-Tex jacket c’mon! Breckenridge, CO also has a fantastic thrift and don’t get me started on Value Village in Kelowna, BC.
- This fucking website
What do you think happens when a ski company mildly fucks up a pair of skis? Send them to the trash can? Nope. You can purchase them for really, really cheap. They might have a wonky graphic or a slightly damaged top sheet but who needs good top sheets? Now you have a brand new pair of skis for like $100 USD. Bargain.
- Fly with Qantas
They are more expensive at first. But they are the only airline that gives you two pieces of checked luggage to cross the Pacific. They also don’t have any surprise charges. All food, booze, snacks and luggage are included and they are fast. I’ve flown Melbourne to LA in 12 hours. Sure, Air China is cheaper but I don’t really like spending 35 hours in transit. Guangzhou anyone?
- End of winter sales
If you’re doing back to back winters, take advantage of the end of winter sales. You can pick up gear really cheap and you’ll have brand new gear for the winter you’re about to bounce into. 50% off RRP? Thanks mate.
- Don’t be a dick
I may be fantastic at ski bumming with next to no money but I still buy completely free range eggs. Try to be a good member of society and support things that matter to you. Yeah I’m broke but I’m going spend an extra 2 bucks on my eggs. Maybe for you this is buying fair trade or donating to a charity. Find something to support and get involved.
Ski Bum Tip #5
While we’re on this note, recycle and turn the lights off you idiots. My happiness (and probably yours if you’re reading this) relies on cold temperatures and snow fall. Save the damn planet and stop global warming in every way possible. Turn off the heater and sleep in a sweater.
- Get Skilled
Please do not wake up at 30 years old and realise you’ve been a lift operator for ten years. Try and study on the side or climb the ladder of the ski resort. My first job was ironing pillow cases when I was 12. Since then I’ve been to uni, got several first aid certifications and worked in every single department at a ski resort except as a ski instructor and a rental tech. Just make sure you have some kind of goals. They keep you sane. In saying that, I am still a lifty. Ha!
Here is my LinkedIn profile if you fancy a look 🙂
- Travel and Health insurance
Unfortunately snow sports will often destroy your body. I’ve been relatively lucky, although I always manage to take my crashes with my head. So quickly –
Wear a helmet. Always.
Destroyed knees, broken collar bones, dislocated shoulders, mangled wrists – I’ve seen them all, every winter. If you’re travelling, makes sure you have a good travel insurance plan. Most travel insurance companies WILL NOT cover you if you are off piste or in the park. I use Southern Cross because they cover you in the back country if you are with a certified guide. You absolutely MUST get cover for helicopter transport. If you are in the mountains and get hurt, it is very likely you will go in a chopper.
Ski Bum Tip #6
If you are going to Canada, keep in mind that the province of British Columbia will put you on their health care system after you have lived there for 6 months. Awesome! You lovely Canadians you 🙂
- Have fun!
There is a reason I can keep doing this. There is a reason I’ve met people in their first winter and then seen them 5 years down the track doing the same thing. It’s the most fun you can have. It’s adult Disneyland. You get to spend your time in the most beautiful wilderness areas in the world with rad people. I often look at my friends on the chair lift and say
“Hey guys, well done. We could’ve spent our lives locked in a box working for the man but here we are. Good for you. Let’s get a beer.”
- Speaking of beer…
You must bring a back pack full of beer, or something tasty and alcoholic, for days off on the hill. Jack Daniels, PBR, sack of wine… Find what you like and put it in your back pack. Just make sure you being enough to pass it around on the chair lift!
- Speaking of back packs…
It’s best to put in some snacks too. My ideal back pack for a day on my skis contains the following items –
1 Peanut butter and jelly sandwich. 2 if it’s a powder day
3 cans of beer
If the temperature is below 0, a thermos of tea
Wallet – must contain ID for apres
Swiss army knife
Water bottle – hydration is key to life
Go Pro- Because if you’re getting rad and no one can see it, are you really getting rad?
1 chocolate snack pack
Ski Bum tip #6
You’ll need to be familiar with at least the following:
How to be a skier
Shit skiers Say
(There are great snowboarding edits too but my knowledge of them is slim to none. Shredbots? Please comment any suggestions. I support snowboarding.)
This one is for everyone but especially the Aussies. Follow the Alpine Responsibility Code. Sure, I’ve bent some rules so I’m not going full ‘Vail Resorts Mountain Safety’ on you but please make sure you keep it safe out there. Safety meetings in the trees can count but I’m serious. Don’t ski something that is beyond your ability and don’t ski in uncontrolled areas without any knowledge. The biggest gong show I have ever seen is the hundreds of Aussie’s heading out the back gates at Niseko with no knowledge and no beacons. Do everyone a favour and do your AST1. You are a risk to not only yourself but everyone else and frankly, I don’t want to ski with you if you don’t have it.
- Don’t hate me if you become a ski bum
Please do not read this guide and hunt me down in a few years and say
“Hey man, look at me! I haven’t cut my hair in three years, my parents think I’m an idiot, I’m probably an alcoholic, I have no money, my knees are fucked and I don’t know what I’m doing with my life!”
Because I’ll respond with
“Yeah and you got to ski every day, make the best friends in the world and play in the mountains. Best years of your life right?”
And you’ll say
“…….Yeah. Fuck it, wanna go skiing?”
And I’ll say
So that’s my guide to being a ski bum. Don’t pay full RRP for anything, be smart about where you work, eat as cheaply as possible, party on cheap substances and only spend money on flights and ski gear. Then have fun sliding (safely) around on mountains at mach speed with your friends and drink some beer!But I do have a warning for you. This year I fucked up my budget a bit and didn’t make anywhere near as much money as I normally do. I wasn’t eating well, I broke a bunch of ski gear that I can’t really afford to replace and it takes its toll. I don’t like leading a lifestyle that is run by money but sometimes when you’re sitting at home staring at a wall because you can’t afford to do anything except breathe, I’m not sure it’s all worth it. My next article will be exploring the terrifying increase of poor mental health associated with ski bums – so watch this space.
I always say balance is key in life. Make sure you don’t go full ski bum and just end up a bum. At 23 I’m too old to take most of the year off to ski so I’ll be working a bit harder than I have in the past. But I will always keep my favourite quote in mind.
“I’ll be poor the rest of my life so I can have fun” – Shane McConkey
And if you don’t know who Shane McConkey is… Find that out first and then re read this article.