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Book Review

In Search of Powder: A Story of America’s Disappearing Ski Bum
by Jeremy Evans
Bison Books
2010 ISBN-13-0-8032-9 $16.95

Reviewed by Forrest Whitman

“Ski all day, drink all night and fight off the chicks!” That was the mantra of the cool ski bums of the past. Jeremy Evans was once one of those ski bums and loved it. He quit the ski bum life for a time, but went right back to it, or at least writing about it. Even a small stroke didn’t slow Jeremy down. Now he writes for ski magazines and is well known in ski circles. The fact that he got the legendary snowboarder and skier Glen Plake to write the forward tells us something about Jeremy’s popularity. Alas, the ski bum life is not what it once was. As we move into winter it’s wise for prospective ski bums to read this book and think twice.

Back in the 1970s iconic figures like Johnny (the Elvis of Gunnison) could survive only on their good looks and reputation. Colorado Central readers who studied at least part time at Western State during that era knew the legendary Johnny. The also knew why the school was nicknamed “wasted state.” Johnny could get free drinks and soft drugs from everybody. The chicks would line up to spend the night with him. Like all ski bums, he frequently had to hole up with too many buddies in a messy space, but that’s ski bum life for you. These guys called it “the life,” and what a life it was. They pioneered alpine jumping. They carved out Purgatory. They pioneered “the den of the face rats” at Tahoe. The ski industry owed much to the ski bums.

So what’s killing the ski bum life style today? The short answer from this book is the corporate takeover of the industry. Old timers from Park City, Utah remember “clown days.” Those were the days when all kinds of vices came put to play and all kinds of ski bums played them. The corporate owners of the new Park City closed down clown days in favor of family skiing holidays. The same thing happened across the west. Casual labor was no more tolerated by the big corporations. If a ski bum had a few petty convictions on his record he couldn’t get casual work. Even the resort town cops are not as easy to live with these days. All of this has made life harder for ski bums.

There’s another factor Jeremy hints at, but doesn’t quite get. The “chicks” aren’t what they used to be. His account of ski bum “Jack” and his girlfriend making love up in an aspen grove (with the leaves pinging on her naked back) makes for good reading. But that fantasy is going away. Today young women, or at least those I meet as I celebrate wedding ceremonies, are nothing like the women in this book. They insist on equality in all things. They really do. They are just not content to be the backdrop for some young handsome ski bum’s story. They might do that for the odd walk on the wild side, but prospective ski bums should not count on it. I kept wondering if Jeremy would ever interview a woman. He doesn’t.

My few “niggles’ aside, this is a great read. The reader will get an inside look at all the famous ski resorts of the west. You’ll meet some of the ski bum legends we all heard about back in the 70s and 80s. I couldn’t put the book down. Jeremy might even remind some of us of the ski bum mantra: Enjoy life!