Sign In:


Last Step!

Please enter your public display name and a secure password.

Plan to post in the forums? Change your default forum handle here!

Check Out Our Shop

How To Win The Ski Bum Game

Success is an uphill climb. Luckily, this one includes skiing Ophir Pass. Paddy O'Connoell photo. 

On our cross-country drive to Telluride, Colorado, my best friend Scott Pittenger and I stopped for the night in Seward, Nebraska, and set up in a sketchy roadside campground. We shared a bag of beef jerky for dinner while we chatted about how we were going to fit both of our 6-foot-5-inch, 220-pounds of Midwesterness inside my two-person tent. We did what would become commonplace during the next stage of our lives: We made it work.

It was 2007 and Scott and I were young, ambitious, and ill prepared; 24-years-old with no real plan, other than to make it back to Telluride and ski our ass’s off. We were awful skiers and like many Midwesterners who move West we knew nothing of big mountains. But that winter was one of the deepest Telluride had ever seen—the white bounty fascinated us. We had to make Telluride our home, and were filled with the “I got this” conviction.

Big man selfie game is op point. Summer skiing at the top of Ophir Pass. Ophir, CO, next to Telluride. Paddy O'Connell photo. 

Unlike many novice ski bums, Scott didn’t knuckle the landing. He was motivated by an abandoned midwestern desk job and when we rolled into town, he parked his new home right by the San Miguel River.  “I started living in my truck, which made life a little cheaper. I was able to get by as a rookie river guide because I basically had zero expenses. That worked for that first summer,” Scott said.

To pad his piggybank, Scott took a second job as the night auditor at the Sheridan Hotel. He logged twenty-hour workdays five days a week and ten-hour days on the weekends. “I’d hang around dirty, smelly raft guides,” he told me, “then hopefully find a shower, and put on nice slacks and a button down. Then it would start all over. I didn’t sleep very much. It was an exhausting summer.”

Big man turns above town in Tomboy Basin. Paddy O'Connell photo. 

The road to mountain town financial security is paved with grit, stalwart resolution, and a bit of luck. Ski towns are expensive and a livable wage is hard to come by, especially with only one job.

Scott said “fuck this” and quit. And he never thought he was too good for a job—an attitude that so often derails skiers from achieving mountain town stability. He kept his head down and plugged away. “My thought was always ‘if this is what it takes to be a part of this crew, then that is what I’m going to do.’ I wouldn’t let myself think I was above this work,” Scott recalls. “This work was always going to put me toward my end goal. Hell, I was out there today working a shovel. I am always going to be doing that sort of thing.”

For years, Scott was Telluride Ski Resort’s factotum employee and he never turned down a job they offered him. He elected to learn a trade—heavy equipment operations—and stuck with it. 

Scott Pittenger peruses the resort on Telluride's famed Lift 9. Paddy O'Connell photo. 

Scott and I worked together on the Golf Maintenance crew in late spring of our second year. Then in the fall of 2009, we ran a jackhammer and rock rakes beside one another while building the Goat Path—the egress out of the Gold Hill 1 Chute. 

He started operating a winch cat during our second winter. Then Scott joined the trail crew that following summer, his first job that provided full-time, year-round employment. By his fourth winter, he was promoted to a grooming foreman and then named the assistant manager the next season. And in his sixth year in Telluride, Scott was appointed Manager of Trails and Grooming.

Early mornings and late clock-out times were the norm; some work was tedious, some adventurous, and each came with a fractional bump in compensation. Even though it took Scott six years to get back to the same salary he was making fresh out of college, he was never meant for real estate in the Midwest.

This spring, he was given the nod as Telluride ski resort’s Director of Mountain Operations. Grooming and trail work allowed Scott to seasonally impact the feel of the resort, now, he is an integral part of the decision-making process that will shape the mountain for years to come.

O'Connell and Pittenger embrace after an epic run at Telluride Ski Resort. Paddy O'Connell photo. 

This past June, we went for a summer ski mission above town. Standing on crunchy blue snow at the base of the Lightning Bolt, a classic swath that snakes in Tomboy Basin, I saw Scott’s true extraordinary character and the final sign that he was in a league all his own. “I don’t think it’s gonna happen, PaddyO,” Scotty said as he looked up the frozen white cleft in the rock and then down at his watch. “I’ve got to get back and help Meghan with the little girl.”

Meghan and Scott were college sweethearts, and she moved to Telluride a handful of months after her first visit. Scott moved out of his truck by the river and into their new apartment. They were married in 2011 and Gwynnie was born last year. When it snows, she laughs in delight and bangs on the windows of their home in Telluride.

Scott, Meghan, and Gwynnie, in Town Park at Telluride's Blues and Brews Festival. Paddy O'Connel photo. 

I have always seen Scott as an adventurer, a mountain man, the real deal ski bum. But that faded away when he said we’d have to change our plans so he could get back to his family. At that moment, it was clear his priorities had shifted. He was no longer just a skier and definitely not a bum. We made a new plan and started toward the saddle across the basin. We began skinning together, but like many of our adventures and shared life goals, Scott pulled away and arrived first. And it was all I could do to keep my eyes on him and a steady pace underfoot. 

About The Author

stash member Paddy O'Connell


I have to add something important: take care of your body! Learn to enjoy skiing without crushing yourself, don’t be foolish and hurt yourself at work.
As somebody who followed the path described in this article, I can say the thing that can derail all of this is a badly blown-out knee or a ruined back. Ski like your whole lifestyle depends on your knees, work like your whole lifestyle depends on your back….because it does. Yeah, we all roll the dice on stuff….that’s all part of skiing hard, but if you’re rolling the dice all the time, it’s a sure thing you’re going to crush yourself eventually, and then what? Take care of your body.
Trust me, I started in the tent, then in the back of my truck. Over 15 years of hard work and making the right choices I built up a skiers life: house in SLC, renting rooms to skiers, working 500-1000 hours of overtime fighting wildland fire in the summer and taking the winter off….to losing all of that with a bad knee and a bad back. Bad knee from being a young, dumb idiot running green springs trying to mach over everything like a FWT competitor.  Bad back from years of physical labor and playing pickup hockey with a knee with no acl…back sucked sideways to compensate and ground down my vertebrae. Couldn’t keep running and hiking and digging with the bad back, couldn’t afford the mortgage without that job, couldn’t find a comparable job with a ski bum resume, lost the house, had to move to find work. Eventually the whole thing spiraled down over several years, trying a few things—college, surfing, had a couple of winters without any skiing at all…. all fluttering down, down, down through several stages, into running completely out of money and moving back to stay with family in Michigan as a complete failure and finding work driving a city bus for a living. How to lose the ski bum game.
Take care of your body, don’t even think about being the hardest charger, or doing dumb shit to get yourself hurt at work, because this ski bum game doesn’t have a lot of mercy for people with messed up bodies.

Hi! Thanks so much with this fantastic new web site. I’m very fired up to show it to anyone. It makes me so satisfied your vast understanding and wisdom have a new channel for trying into the world.  I really loved khal drago i dont know why he was killed off, he was so hoooootttt friv4school!! I mean the shooting was done with drone with camera for sale but damn it was good!!!