The ski bum comes back to B.C. mountains

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How’s this for the best job in the world: being a ski bum for three months, all expenses paid. Only in dreams, you say? Think again.

According to Kate Ediger, winner of Kootenay Rockies Tourism’s 2012 Ultimate Ski Bum contest, young people with their hearts set on nothing less than spending 100 days or more on snow are being courted as social-media spokespersons for winter-sports resorts like never before.

“Being a ski bum has become almost a cool thing. Now you’re cherished and sought after,” the 25-year-old told the Georgia Straight during a Skype conversation from Namche Bazaar, Nepal, where she and her husband, Matt, were trekking before returning to their newly acquired cabin close to Powder King Mountain Resort, near Mackenzie in central-northern B.C. “I realized two years ago that I wanted to direct my life towards snowboarding. To anyone aspiring to be a ski bum, I’d say you don’t have to work nine to five. Save up and enjoy being in the mountains. That’s how I inspire other people to be ski bums too.”

Through a daily stream of blog posts and video reports, Ediger did just that. On the phone from his office in Kimberley, Chris Dadson, president of Kootenay Rockies Tourism, told the Straight that the Ultimate Ski Bum contest was a social-media exercise from beginning to end. “In terms of participation and views on YouTube and our Powder Highway website, it was by far the most successful campaign we’ve ever staged. We had 253 entries, from which 10 finalists were selected to produce one-minute videos pitching why they should be the chosen one. That prompted 11,000 Twitter messages, our Facebook ‘likes’ grew by 5,000, and we estimate the total impressions generated globally by the contest at 1.2 million.”

As for what accounted for the campaign’s success, Dadson said that the mystique of the ski bum is still as prevalent now as in the 1970s, when the original ones appeared. “People who sit at desks still dream of spending their winters on snow. In today’s faster-paced world, there’s not as many young people drawn to be ski bums as there was when belonging to the mythical UIC [Unemployment Insurance Commission] Ski Team first became common with seasonal workers. A new type of ski bum is starting to emerge. We’re seeing a pretty big comeback in the concept as boomers retire. Fitness levels are higher now than in previous generations. Sixty is the new 40. These are folks who can hit it hard for hours a day, not just a couple of runs on the groomers.”

It seems just about everyone now employed in the winter-sport business started as a ski bum. On the phone from his office near Kamloops, Sun Peaks Resort president Christopher Nicolson recalled how he spent his first three years as a ski instructor living in his van. “We all got into the business that way,” he said with a chuckle. “Ski bums embody an aspirational element to those of us for whom life gets in the way.”

In 2009, Sun Peaks launched its own “I want to be a snow bum” campaign. Nicolson said the campaign was significant at an embryonic stage in the resort’s new-media efforts. “It was the first time we built a strategy around a social-media exercise. Even today, our industry is still coming to grips with how best to use interactivity as a marketing tool.”

The winner of the snow-bum contest was a Brazilian, Thiago Lucena, a 28-year-old freelance videographer who streamed content about his three-month adventure in the Thompson-Okanagan through a variety of platforms. Since returning to São Paulo, Nicolson said, Lucena has continued to spread the gospel of skiing in B.C., and he will return this winter with a planeload of like-minded wannabes.

That’s exactly the kind of response winter-resort marketers like Chris McLeod seek to foster when targeting mountain enthusiasts. On the phone from his office, the Whistler Blackcomb spokesperson said that he embodied the dream of everyone who has ever contemplated living in a mountain town and skiing 100 days a year.

“When I moved to Whistler in 2003, I had my ‘dream year’. Then I quickly realized I wanted to be here long-term, so I switched tracks. There’s definitely still a ski-bum culture in this town, but, like a lot of others, we’ve grown families while nurturing that dream. Now it’s more likely split between being a ski bum two to three days a week and working on your career the rest of the time. Although we’ve never run a ski-bum campaign, our social networking targets the inner ski bum in everyone’s fantasy. Our primary aim is to inspire people to explore the outdoors.”

One person who heard the call of the wild early in life is freeskier Jacob Boyd. Immediately after completing high school, the East Vancouver native moved to Whistler, where he found work over the past year in construction and restaurants to finance his time on the slopes.

“Technically, I consider myself a ski bum but not in the dirtbag way,” Boyd said by phone. “I’m trying to get by and be comfortable and ski every day. I’m on a well-defined path to
my goal of winning big-mountain competitions and having people get to know me through the way I ski. My long-term plan is to focus on filmmaking. That’s the only way you can give someone a look at what you can really do on skis.”

Boyd readily admitted to being a performer. “It’s not dancing or acting or political; it’s doing what you want to do and looking good.”

When he was 13, a higher calling beyond simply winning races came to the former Cypress Ski Club member when he saw Eric Pollard’s short film “Push”.

“It opened my mind to different points of skiing than producing numbers. His main intention was to be as fast and aggressive as possible while at the same time giving his runs a beauty element beyond just going big.”

After three months on the road—during which she snowboarded 80 days of the 120 total she clocked season-long—Ediger wondered if she could ever top her ski-bum experience of a lifetime. “The day I finished my road trip, I cried forever.”

With sunrise-coloured Himalayan peaks visible behind her on the Skype screen, Ediger recounted a recent conversation she’d had with Greg “2 Mill” Hill, the Revelstoke backcountry skier who logged two million vertical feet on snow in 2011. “I asked Greg if that would be the end and he said, ‘No, there will always be bigger things.’ After experiencing a 10-year progression in my riding skills in three months, I now know how much my body will take. My life will never be the same. I’ll never have the dollars for all the heli- and cat skiing I did. The freedom to do that was insane. It’ll be hard, going back to smaller terrain, but now I know I will definitely always be pushing the sport.”

No contest there.

 

ACCESS: For a comprehensive listing of B.C.’s 13 major winter-sport resorts, visit Tourism B.C.’s new website, www.skiittobelieveit.com . Click here to view Kate Ediger’s winning Ultimate Ski Bum contest entry.

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Ian Shepherd
As a recently retired person who is on the leading edge of this end of WW2 phenomenon, I wanted to comment on the "comeback" of the ski bum. While I never was a member of the UIC ski team I regularly plowed my scarce recreation dollars into the ski industry in the 20th century. But in the 21st century I no longer do so. Compared to my earlier experiences, today's alpine environment does not welcome me nor many of my friends who are at the same stage of life. The incredible cost of constantly renewing downhill gear together with the outrageous lift ticket prices have driven most of us middle class folks away from the big hills. Almost all of my fun is based on one outdoor activity or another in every season so fitness is not a problem but good value for my recreation dollar is a concern. Want my demographic back in the numbers the large ski areas used to see? Start by offering half day lift tickets which begin, as they used to, at noon & generously discount those tickets when sold to over 65yr seniors. Yep, mid-week is just fine now. And don't forget to reward loyal customers - mostly locals - with the kinds of programs we now all use in grocery stores, gas stations, air travel & etc. Maybe a super season pass pricing? Just sayin...
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