Where did the ski bums go?

Is the ski bum an endangered species? These photos suggest that the breed is alive and flourishing. Launch Gallery » Gunderson/Beyer/Fisher

[Editor's Note: Cody Townsend is a professional skier and a ski bum. So we figured he was the perfect guy to investigate whether or not the ski bum was in fact -- as a new book suggests -- a dwindling breed.]

South Lake Tahoe-based writer Jeremy Evans is not your average ski bum, but according to him, perhaps no one these days is an average ski bum. In his first book, "In Search of Powder: A Story of America's Disappearing Ski Bum," which was published this month by the University of Nebraska Press, Evans weaves together tales of resort town development and shifts in ski culture to construct the concept that the American ski bum might be on the endangered species list.

From the panel vans wedged into ski resorts' parking lots to the leather-skinned gray-hair who just flickered past you in ice moguls, the ski bum is an icon of American ski culture. Evans is worried about them. Since "ski bum" isn't typically an option on Census Bureau reports, Evans' approach in the book is less statistical analysis and more cultural survey of ski towns in the West. He visited and interviewed people in Crested Butte, Jackson Hole, Telluride, Tahoe, Park City and Mammoth.

Bonus Quiz: Pro or bum?

We asked Evans to participate in a game we like to call, Pro or Bum? The idea: Name whether the character described is a professional skier or a ski bum.

1. I quit college and spent two winters living in my hatchback while traveling through Colorado, Utah and California.

Jeremy: Bum
Answer: Incorrect. The correct response is pro, Colby James West.

2. I lived in a walk-in closet in a house with seven other people for two winters. The house was under police surveillance because of my roommate's drug operation.

Jeremy: Bum
Answer: Correct! My old friend Brian Taylor was never apprehended by the police.

3. I once ate nothing but top ramen and baked goods for an entire winter because I worked at an on-slope bakery and made less than $400 a month.

Jeremy: Pro
Answer: Correct! This Atkins diet antichrist was yours truly.

4. My car's transmission blew up and I was only left with the reverse gear, so I drove my pizza delivery route backward the entire night. This was while I was living in a storage shed in Colorado.

Jeremy: Pro
Answer: Correct! None other than Shane McConkey.

Score: Jeremy Evans hits 3 out of 4. He sure knows his ski bums.

During his travels while researching his book, Evans says, "I discovered something more intriguing than the harmonious kaleidoscope, the paradox of intense debauchery, love, drug use, and the beauty that swirls in these towns. What I discovered is that the ski bum is a dying breed." In the book, he lists rising real estate costs, an increasing immigrant workforce and corporate-owned resorts as reasons for the ski bum's decline.

Evans grew up skiing at Mount Lemmon Ski Valley in Arizona, and later moved to Tahoe to be a snowboard bum. When he left Tahoe to attempt to advance his writing career in Portland, he missed the mountains. But when he finally returned to Tahoe, Evans felt like something monumental had changed.

"All of sudden when I returned, all my old ski bum buddies were lamenting the departure of all their old pals," Evans said in a recent interview with ESPN. "I felt that things had changed. And I also felt they were only changing faster. That's when I got the idea to write the book."

Evans' story jumps from interviews with old-school ski bums to stabs at the corporate culture of prominent ski resorts. He also takes some cracks at the habits of professional skiers and the film companies that help promote them.
The book ultimately paints a picture of a ski world that has changed in the last 50 years to the point where it's pushed out the original ski bums.

But whether or not the ski bum is entirely gone? I think that's for the guy sleeping in his Toyota truck bed to decide, but he's probably too busy to let us know anyway. "Sure, ski bums could rise up and rage against the machine," Evans writes in his epilogue. "But they're probably too busy skiing, as they should be."

Launch Gallery »