Local author Jeremy Evans says ski bums are an endangered species
Ever have one of those days when you’re sitting in traffic, coming home from a job you don’t really like, mindlessly watching the taillights in front of you and thinking to yourself, “There must be more to life than this”? Jeremy Evans had a few days like that after leaving a job with the Nevada Appeal to go to a bigger paper in Portland. Then he did something about it. He left his job in Oregon, moved to Tahoe and started immersing himself in a culture he loved, that of the ski bum. He came to conclude the ski bum is a dying breed. He’s chronicled it all in his new book, In Search of Powder, published by University of Nebraska Press.
What’s the general premise of your book?
It’s really about the changing American ski town and changes in the ski industry and how that has affected the ski bum.
“Ski bums are a dying breed.” How did you reach that conclusion?
It doesn’t mean they’re extinct. There are plenty of people in these towns for the original reasons, but people are coming up with new definitions of the ski bum, and if we’re deviating from it, maybe it’s become something else. But it was difficult for me [to say], because I enjoy these people living in these mountains, but when there’s a trend developing you have to report on that, too, and that’s where my research led me.
Tell me more about how you left Portland, why you came back and how that led to this book.
When I left here, I felt like I had to go up the newspaper ladder. But before I got to Portland, before I even got to my job, I was on a mountain bike ride near Mount St. Helens, and on that ride I ended up suffering a stroke when I was 26. Then with my commute to my new job, I was in traffic a lot, the paper was more serious—people were wearing ties, they weren’t into sports and outdoors as much as the young Carson City reporters. I thought maybe ski bums knew something the rest of the world should know about. Coupled with the stroke, I thought, ‘I’m out of here, I want to go back to the mountains.’ When I got back, I started working at the Tahoe Daily Tribune. On my spare time [I went to ski towns and started research for the book].
You travelled pretty extensively. Where did you go?
Here in Mammoth and Tahoe. I went to Telluride, Jackson Hole, Crested Butte, Aspen, Vail. There’s lots of ski towns. I just started to see all these issues I bring up in my book that had already affected the towns I visited. Each chapter approaches a different issue and has one or two ski bums or a group of ski bums that address that issue.
What are some of those issues?
Many of these ski towns have become expensive places. When they first started in the ’50s and ’60s, ski bums took most of the jobs. Now, a lot of these homes are owned by people who don’t live in them, which drives up rent. You have a lot more foreigners on special visas—from Chile, Argentina—who come in and take a high percentage of these jobs a lot of the jobs ski bums used to do. There’s also been a change in the young American. The student loans and credit card debt students have now wasn’t the case 30 or 40 years ago. Getting a job that pays $8 an hour isn’t the best idea when you have $80,000 loans. And a little bit of irony is that while the classic ski bum is dying off, skiers and snowboarders are more talented than ever, and you can make a living as a professional skier or snowboarder now. It’s also given an impression to the young generation out there that maybe I’ll go to this town to get famous, whereas the original ski bum just did it because they love it, they didn’t care about making money.
Are there any emerging ski bum havens?
Sure. Like the Panhandle area of Idaho—Sandpoint, Idaho … but you still need a job. While there are towns good for skiing, they’re not really places of employment. A lot of these ski towns become resort regions. You have people commuting 30 or 40 miles to work because the rent is so high; then you have a commuter culture you were trying to escape in the first place. That’s really obvious in Park City and where Vail is located and even Jackson Hole, Wyoming, people are commuting over mountain passes.
Isn’t that also happening with Tahoe? It’s a lot more expensive than Reno.
Here in South Lake you have people commute from Minden and Gardnerville or people in Reno commuting to Truckee. It’s on a little smaller scale.
Any ski bums from your book that stood out to you?
I gravitated more toward people in their 40s and 50s. There’s a guy, Keith Erickson, out of Mammoth Lakes. He’s got diabetes. His wife is a recovering cancer patient. He has a really interesting story. I allow the ski bums to tell the story or their towns. There’s a group called the Face Rats here in Tahoe—there’s a route at Heavenly called the Face—and in Jackson Hole there’s the ski fraternity Jackson Hole Air Force. They started the idea of ski films and magazines and getting paid to ski. I have a soft spot for all the ski bums I talked to in my book, but those stand out as interesting stories.
Anything you’d like to add?
The book has had a lot of good response. There’s some people in the industry who have been critical. They protect the image of the ski bum, and people make money based on the image of the ski bum. But I brought up issues that have been swirling in these parts for years. In general, the book is about living life and pursuing passion, which is really what a ski bum does. That’s really what I want people to get out of it—to think about their own life and maybe, are they on the right path? And these are some people who’ve pursued their own life and the ways it’s worked out for them, or not worked out for them. But really, it’s a book about people.