Ski bums wrapped in concrete

  • Jeremy Bernier lived in his van, underground, this ski season

    Ray Ring
 

(This is a sidebar to an HCN magazine cover story on the New West's servant economy.)

Vail, Colorado

Jeremy Bernier finished his ski season, working his day job and going home each night to sleep like a troll under a bridge. Instead of postcard scenery, when he woke up each morning he saw a grey concrete sky. Still he can muster a grin.

"It's really convenient," he says. "We're here in the center of town, you can't beat it for being free."

He's the essence of the stereotypical ski bum: young, fit and footloose. Just before the ski season began, he and his buddy, Jim Noland, putt-putted into town in a 17-year-old Volkswagen camper van. They were both 23, fresh out of the Marines, intent on hanging out and doing whatever to support a ski habit.

Then they discovered that even ski bums have scarce habitat in ski country. On their starting pay of $8.75 an hour as seasonal bus drivers for the town, they couldn't find an apartment whose price they were willing to pay. For a two-bedroom, they were looking at $3,600 up front for first and last month's rent, plus deposit.

They tried squeezing into an apartment where some people were already living; Noland slept in a closet for a month, until the landlord found out and wanted to charge another $150 a month. "We said, no way," Bernier recalls. "It's not worth it, to work your ass off just to have a place to live."

So they moved into their van, wrapping themselves in mummy bags and cooking on a camper stove, searching each night for a parking spot where they might not get rousted. The Safeway lot wasn't too bad on nights when it wasn't windy. Then, below the bus terminal, in a lower level of the town's parking garage, they discovered a separate room dedicated to maintenance shops and machinery. Voilà.

They can just wedge the van in between the clutter of pipes, ladders, shop vacs and coiled fire hoses, though there isn't quite enough clearance to raise the camper pop-top all the way. The concrete floor features oil spills and tire tracks. Dust from the grinders in the shop overlays everything; the air smells grimy.

After a month and a half of living underground, Bernier and Noland are quitting and moving on, maybe college bound. They've saved up a couple of hundred bucks by being frugal, they've accomplished some skiing, had an adventure. "The worst part," Bernier says, "is about three in the morning, the maintenance workers come in and start up the street sweeper (which is parked a few feet away). It's loud. But you get used to it."

- by Ray Ring, HCN senior editor

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Job Announcement: Executive Administrative Assistant (Part-Time) Announcement date: October 27, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: November...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Job purpose The Executive Director is a proven leader with demonstrated and sustained experience managing people, budgets, fundraising, and contract compliance who guides a well-established...
  • COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition seeks a Communications Associate to support the advancement of GYC's mission by working closely with the Communications Coordinator and program staff...
  • MONTANA DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    YOUR POSITION WITH TNC The Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure significant...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND OPERATIONS COORDINATOR
    Development & Operations Coordinator Terms: 1.0 FTE (full-time), Salary DOE ($45,000 - $55,000) Benefits: Paid Time Off (12-24 days/year depending on tenure), Paid Holidays (10/year),...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • CARBON RANCH PLANNER
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • EDUCATION AND OUTREACH DIRECTOR
    Education and Outreach Program Director The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic,...
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...