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Bum Life: I’m Too Old to Be a Transient Dirtbag

It hit me recently that I’ll never be a ski bum.

You know the guy (or girl) that moves to a town and takes a low-pressure job like snowplowing or parking cars, and shares a condo with six other guys and spends all of his free time skiing the local resort. I was obsessed with ski movies as a kid (shout out to Aspen Extreme), and I always assumed I’d live that lifestyle at some point during my tenure on planet earth. I would spend a year or three devoting myself to the art of shredding the gnar and then get on with my career and start contributing to the gross domestic product like a good citizen. 

I don’t think I’ve ever really given up on that dream, I just kept postponing it for other things like college, graduate school, “real” jobs, marriage. I would get to it, though. I might be a little older when I moved into that condo with half a dozen guys at the base of the hill, but I’d still do it. 

But I had a moment of clarity recently as I approached my 47th birthday, where I had to admit that I might be too old for that lifestyle now. To be honest, I can’t even fathom sharing a bathroom with several other dudes at this point in my life, and my disgust with communal bathrooms outweighs my desire to ski sick pow on a regular basis.  

This epiphany was sobering, because, if my window for being a ski bum has closed, that means I’m going to die without ever having skied the Powder 8’s competition (Aspen Extreme) or raced the cheesy corporate shill for my job and soul of the mountain (Ski School) or thwarted the development mogul’s plans to turn my blue-collar mountain into a high end resort (Out Cold). I’m 47 years old, halfway through my life and, apparently, I haven’t lived at all. What the hell have I been doing with myself? 

Hello mid-life crisis. 

Having reached this pivotal point in my story arc, I can understand how some men (and women) make bad choices that cause permanent damage to their loved ones. I’m talking about grown men who bleach their hair, buy a motorcycle, and move in with their yoga instructor. I’m not really into yoga or motorcycles (I’m ambivalent about bleached hair), but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally think about spending all of my money on a really nice van and driving west until I reached a very tall, very snowy mountain. Or hell, a beach with a solid right break. I had plans to be a beach bum too. Watching The North Shore, which takes the standard ski bum movie plot and moves it to Hawaii’s surf culture, was just as formative to me as Aspen Extreme. I always planned on squeezing the surf bum life between my ski bum years and writing the great American novel. I’m a reasonable guy, I could make beach life work. 

But I like my wife and kids. I can’t leave them. And uprooting their lives so I can live my ski/surf bum dreams probably isn’t realistic. Would my potential roommates even be cool with the fact that I’d be bringing my wife and kids along for the ride as we used our sick ski skills to stick it to the man? Probably not. So, I just have to admit that the window for that sort of adventure is closed for me. 

It’s fine. I’m older now. I have responsibilities. I need to shift my focus to activities that are more age appropriate. I’m in the “birding window” now. That’s cool. And glamping. That seems like an appropriate activity for someone in my stage in life. I do have a bad back and sleeping on a plush queen mattress in the middle of the woods sounds better than sleeping on a thin inflatable pad that deflates halfway through the night. Maybe the glamping tent would have electricity so I could plug in my C-Pap machine. So yeah, I’ll just spend the next few decades looking at birds and bedding down in overly priced canvas tents decorated with faux bearskin rugs, lamps, and writing desks. I’m psyched. 

Or maybe I just need someone to write a different sort of ski/surf bum movie. One with a decidedly older cast of characters that are still shredding the local hill/surf break and using their ski/surf skills to fight the property developers for the soul of said local hill/surf break, but instead of all of them sharing a one-bedroom run-down condo with a communal bathroom, each of the characters has invested well so they can live in a reasonably appointed standalone home with their wives and children. And those homes are in a good school district, because that’s important too. 

And instead of partying all night, these ski/surf bums will occasionally have two or three well-crafted local IPAs and share a charcuterie board and talk about podcasts they really like before going to bed at a reasonable hour, so they can get up early the next morning and have enough time to stretch their bad backs before shredding deep pow for the soul of the mountain/surf break. And yes, there would be great ski/surf scenes but probably not a lot of aerials because the characters have bad backs and if they get hurt it would seriously impact their productivity at work. And this movie would have plenty of zany pranks and shenanigans, but the kind where women are treated with respect, nobody gets hurt (see: bad backs, above), and everyone can make it for charcuterie and IPAs at the end of the day. 

That’s a movie that I’d watch. Hell, that’s a movie that I could use as inspiration for the second half of my life. So maybe I haven’t missed my ski/surf bum window, after all. Maybe that window has just evolved into a different, custom window made from recycled materials that have superior insulative properties. Maybe it’s just a more responsible, well-appointed ski/surf bum window now.  

Cover photo courtesy of the author.

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