I have been deeply touched by the outpouring of responses to my November column ("A Bum's Life"). Older readers reminisced over their own bygone misadventures, and younger readers wrote of their freshly shined intentions to adopt the ski-bum lifestyle. I was less deeply touched, but no less affected, by those who wrote seeking entree into the ski trade, specifically ski journalism. More specifically, those who want my job.
I suppose I should be flattered, even grateful, to have aroused such passions. And I readily admit that filling this space is, indeed, a great gig. But for those among you who aspire to it, I must warn you that apprenticeship for this position is so grueling that only the fittest-or maddest-have any hope of surviving the savage ordeal that this way leads.
My own hedonistic hegira from ski bum to SKI columnist began in Breckenridge, Colo., in 1972. I worked construction sites as a menial laborer, tossed pizzas, installed water meters, taught skiing, sold skis, dug ditches, misfit boots, hawked Native American jewelry, mounted bindings, competed at the odd hot-dog event, indulged a rich array of carnal passions and even endured a spate at that most exalted, end-of-the-line employment opportunity, pearl diving (i.e., washing dishes for two bucks an hour).
Despite this dubious résumé, I was hired by the binding manufacturer Salomon to deliver four-hour, live technician certification clinics all around the Rockies, from Ruidoso to Kalispell, Park City to Rapid City. I logged 1,000 miles a week in my battered Ford van. (I caved in the front end outside of Pagosa Springs, tore off a mirror on Elk Avenue in Crested Butte, and survived several misunderstandings about oil changes.) After my 87th clinic in four months, I was summoned by Salomon to fill an experimental office position in Educational Services. In return for developing technical-training programs for boots and bindings, I was rewarded with a pittance and the occasional opportunity to work straight through the night. I was in heaven.
By incremental steps not of my own devising, I moved up the corporate ladder until I was the North American product manager for all of Salomon's expanding equipment lines. Just when it looked like I might have something called a "career," the management changed and with it the national office shifted from Reno back to Boston. Choosing to remain in the West, I stepped off the fast track and into the abyss of unemployment. I decided to write screenplays. Great ambition; poor execution. Over the next dozen years of self-employment, I conducted seminars in technical and sales training, consulted with a smorgasbord of ski companies, struggled to sell commercial real estate (bad idea), wrote countless ski trade articles, designed a line of skis (never seen in this country), scripted a video game, coached at an extreme ski camp and co-launched an outdoor-sport website, gear-O-rama.com, that was so brilliantly ahead of its time it expired in its infancy.
My crowning achievement in this period was serving as the equipment test director for Snow Country Magazine (now defunct). I logged thousands of miles on snow and wrote well over a hundred ski and boot reviews every season. So what if every year was an exercise in financial brinksmanship?
Then came a truly dark period. Full employment at a ski equipment company suckered me in with the lure of a regular paycheck and the rudimentary benefits I had gone without since Salomon days. I had finally been anointed a Marketing Director, a challenge for which I, ripe with self-delusion, presumed myself supremely qualified. Ultimately, this view wasn't shared by senior management.
And so it is that I have returned to the realm of self-employment, which to my bank looks a lot like unemployment. Two kids in college. Starting new business. Stock portfolio kaput. But I have this column, so I've got that going for me. If it looks like a bed of roses to you, that's because you do noot see the thorns. But have I lived a blessed existence? You bet.
So to those among you, dear readers, who aspire to open this page, may I respectfully suggest that if you can concoct a parallel unemployment history and live comfortably on the lip of a precipice, like those climbers who camp out in slings slung on sheer rock faces, you, too, may one day be a SKI columnist. I double-dare you.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.