Written by Heather Hansman
“The story of skiing is, in many ways, the story of America itself. Blossoming from the Tenth Mountain Division in World War II, the sport took hold across the country, driven by adventurers seeking the rush of freedom that only cold mountain air could provide. As skiing gained in popularity, mom-and-pop backcountry hills gave way to groomed trails and eventually the megaresorts of today. Along the way, the pioneers and diehards—the ski bums—remained the beating heart of the scene.” - Author, Heather Hansman
To celebrate the start of winter, we sat down with Heather to talk about everything from her most memorable powder day to how her career as a journalist in the ski industry led her to write a book. Get inspired by this behind-the-scenes look into the ski bum lifestyle and pre-order your copy of her love letter to skiing today!
What (experience) inspired you to write this book?
I’ve been fascinated with the idea of being a ski bum and “living the dream” since I was a kid (blame ski movies) and I moved to the mountains to work crappy seasonal jobs as soon as I could. And I loved it—I still do— but as I got older, and looked at it more critically and holistically, I got interested in what it takes to live that life in the face of all the hard things that go along with being obsessed with skiing. I think the core question I dug into the book, and the one I’m still digging into, is why I (and so many other people) peg our lives to skiing and what we gain and lose in the process.
Tell us about how you started skiing and how your passion for the sport progressed to you being a ski bum?
I’m from New England (classic ski bum cliché) and my family skied a little, but I got really obsessed in high school. I went to a big, city high school, but we had a few teachers who loved skiing, and they set up a program where we could ski for free, which became a huge part of my life. I went to college in Maine, to be closer to the mountains. The summer after I graduated, I was working as a raft guide and mentioned that I wanted to move out west. A guy I didn’t reaallllly know (who I’d never not seen wearing a costume) said he’d get me a job at Beaver Creek. A month later, I packed up my car and moved to Colorado - the rest is history.
What has been your most memorable powder day and why?
It's hard to pick one, but a few years ago, some friends and I followed a local to a very well-timed rope drop at Kiroro in Japan and skied what I think was the deepest snow of my life. I can’t wait to get back there once it feels OK to travel again.
How did your background in journalism for the ski industry help you in your path to writing 'Powder Days'?
It was invaluable. It was really important to me that the book was a reported, fact-based look at what it means to be a skier now, and that meant archival research, interviews, and digging through public records and academic papers in addition to interviewing people on the chairlift. I think it would have been a really different book without it.
What was one thing you learned about yourself during the writing process?
Oh boy. This whole project forced me to look at my values, and made me analyze why I think skiing (and everything that goes along with it) is important, which brought up a lot of interesting and surprising things. Then, I had to figure out how to get that down on paper. One of the hardest things about writing is that it’s all about feeling, and it’s super hard to explain that in words, so that became a big creative challenge.
What goal(s) do you have as a skier for this season and beyond?
More fun! The older I get, the more I want to enjoy skiing, and all it lets me do, instead of being mission oriented. So my goal this year is to not have too many goals. I can’t wait to ski with friends that I haven’t seen in a long time this winter. I want long, mellow, snacky ski tours, and lots of resort hot laps.
Who was the most interesting person or what was the most interesting experience you had while being a ski bum?
Impossible to pick one. I’m going to side step the question, and say that I think one of the best things about skiing, or really about being outside in general, is the way that it allows you to be open to new experiences and new people.
The ski bum lifestyle is often romanticized. What were 2-3 challenges of being a ski bum that get overlooked?
That’s exactly what I dig into in the book! There’s so much tied up in that question. I think the two biggest ones are the economic side of trying to make it work in a recreation town, where the value of things, like housing, are often influenced by outsiders and visitors. It’s increasingly hard to be a local. That’s tied to the other thing I think is overlooked, which is mental health and the hard parts of that romanticized dream. That can be a lot of things, from the trauma of losing someone you love in the mountains to social pressure to party to the anxiety of comparing yourself to someone else’s Instagrammed powder day, and feeling like you’re not “living the dream” when everyone else is.
What was your favorite resort to ski at?
A-Basin, where I used to ski patrol, still has a piece of my heart. I love the terrain and I love that it still feels low key, even though it’s in Summit County.
In 10 words or less, write a love letter to skiing
Thanks for teaching me how to grow up.
Whether you’re a downhill skier, snowboarder or prefer the Nordic track, this book will change the way you look at mountain towns and ski communities. More than ever, now is the time to dig into skiing's problematic elements and make changes to help protect this sport and planet we all love.