Ski Bum Holidaze: A Mad Trees Thanksgiving

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In every ski bum’s life there comes a point in which you pack up what you have in the wheels you have and head west. Maybe you are joining friends, maybe leading the charge, maybe some are coming along to blaze the trail for the rest… Either way, it feels less like a conscious decision and more like the inevitable next step in life. “I just knew I had to be in the mountains”, is what I hear a lot. Your family may support it because they too see this unavoidable phase in your life. Chances are you owe it to your folks who put you in ski school at an early age, paid for lessons, gear and lift tickets, gas and food, and lodging to get the days in. Or, maybe because they made the same decision long before and they too see that inevitable move to the mountains and support the path. Either way, you are now on your own, doing minimum wage work, and dedicating all of your free time to the pursuit of powder.

There are also the lucky ones that grew up and never left the ski town, living their entire lives under the mountains they were born beneath, but the majority of “locals” traveled to their destination. Often times, coming from the east coast or a neighboring Mountain Time state to stay for a few months, years or seasons until they move on to follow a friend, a job, or a girl/guy to the next resort town down the I-15 or I-70. You hold a job (or two) for the winter season and a different gig for the summer season supporting the local tourist economy. This job gets you your season pass (screw health insurance, even babysitting jobs have the “free pass” benefit in this town!), but it requires all hands on deck for the Holidays. No returning home, no Turkey with the family, no presents under the familiar tree or ski socks in the embroidered stocking. You’re on duty. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have family and it doesn’t mean you don’t have holidays.

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When I decided for the first time to chase powder instead of flying east to Buffalo, NY for the annual 4am Blackout Wednesday debauchery and way too hungover Thanksgiving feast, I found myself heading to Jackson, WY where the storms were lining up and the base was being set. I reached out through my powder Rolodex to find a couch or two for the week and got set up with the Mad Trees crew out of UVM. With 18″ coming down on the pass in the 13th hour of the drive from Mammoth (and another 4-8″ forecasted each night after), the stage was set.

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5am wake up calls for 6am bootpacks and skins off the pass were standard so everyone could get to work by 9am. Pressure to make it back to open the demo shop pushed the tempo up and put the pressure on. I spent the days at Grand Targhee or on the Teton Pass with new groups to skin with and hitchhike with. At 3pm we would meet back up for another bootpack/skin off the pass to close out each day. Three intense days to kick off a big week leading up to Jackson Hole opener and a big storm on the horizon. 20″+ expected in the upper elevations Tuesday into Wednesday so we started planning an overnight hut trip (yes – in November) in Grand Teton National Park. The big storm came in warm and wet though, and shifted the plans as avalanche danger went off the charts. The intensity didn’t falter though as the crew built road gaps on the outskirts of town, ripping backflips under the lights of snowmobiles and stemming the appetite for powder with good times, friends, beers and a lot of karaoke (you can find them at The Virginian every Wednesday night). Ski tweaking at its finest.

Then, after a bluebird opener at Jackson Hole, we made 100lbs+ of food (including 2 20lb turkeys) to feed the 25 East Coasters and friends made along the way that chased a dream, followed a friend, made a decision, or just took that inevitable next step to head west. In the end, to head to a place with a job next to a big ass mountain with a shit ton of powder. A place where avalanches are real, where danger is tangible, where skill, knowledge, and balls are a must.

Thanksgiving with Mad Trees reminded me that a life of a ski bum and a holiday away from family doesn’t change the holiday at all. It just changes the family you surround yourself with. Ride on boys.

Mad Trees is a community of riders from the East Coast who are spread across the country for the epic pursuit of an epic mountain life. Follow them at @madtreesusa or madtrees.org as they shred Washington, Wyoming, Utah and Vermont.

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One thought on “Ski Bum Holidaze: A Mad Trees Thanksgiving

  1. Tori Sowul says:

    Great read! Psyched to meet you guys here in Utah!

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