New ‘Powder Days’ Book Uses Vail and Beaver Creek as Backdrop

“Powder Days,” a new book by Heather Hansman, features Vail and Beaver Creek as the backdrop from which Hansman derives much of his experience as a ski bum.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

In Heather Hansman’s “Powder Days,” published in late 2021, readers are treated to a female perspective on the skier lifestyle, with the Vail and Pazzo’s area in Avon serving as one of the book’s main settings.

It is indeed unique, but locals who read the ski industry’s other book released in 2021 that featured Vail and Beaver Creek, “Wookie’s Not His Real Name,” were also treated to a female perspective of local author Laura Lieff, and were also able to explore ski bum culture through work. Interestingly, “Wookie’s Not His Real Name” also featured Pazzo’s in Avon as a filming location.

But while Laura Lieff focused on one particular ski bum in “Wookie,” Hansman details the lives of multiple ski bums in “Powder Days.” Its mission is to find answers to two major questions: can you still be a ski bum and should you give it a try?

Hansman travels from Big Sky, Montana, to Ski Santa Fe to Mad River Glen in Vermont and many places in between, but often returns to the Vail and Beaver Creek area, where she spent her first season as a skier. bum in 2005-06.

She describes Beaver Creek as “the antithesis of subtle and soulful,” and said that at her job at the resort, she was paid $8.50 an hour to “scan lift tickets and listening to vacationers with their headsets questioning my intelligence,” she wrote.

She describes Beaver Creek guests as “misguided visitors” and says she and her co-workers would be “playing games sending them away: what was the most embarrassing thing you could say to a guy who tried to grope you when you did you scan his pass? »

At the end of the ski day, “I gathered my sweaty helmet hair into a bun, took off my long underwear, hoped I had remembered a real bra to wear under my Pazzo’s t-shirt, and I’d race down the hill as fast as I could to check out the restaurant.

Deluxe plating removed

Hansman’s description of Beaver Creek and its work routine is part of a deliberate effort to strip the luxury veneer of the skiing lifestyle and access the messier parts of the culture that aren’t as easy to speak.

And she addresses it all, describing classism, racism, sexism, corporatization, mental health issues, and the many other uncomfortable topics that shape ski resort life.

We’re learning new words to describe feelings at ski resorts, like “solastalgia” – a mixture of solace, longing and desolation – which Hansman translates as “the feeling that the world is changing around you, when you’re said it would be stable.”

Other times, however, readers are given a repetition of mantras. Ten pages into the book, readers have already seen the word “dirtbag” used five times. We learn about Dirtbag Skiers, Dirtbag Secrets, Dirtbag Life, Dirtbag Culture and Dirtbag Fantasy. When ski resorts transitioned from seasonal resorts to year-round towns, “the dirt started settling in,” Hansman tells us.

The book has no bibliography, and for the most part doesn’t need one, as Hansman does a good job of citing his sources in his text. But there are times when the lack of bibliography is frustrating, when Hansman writes things like “studies have shown…” and “Katz has said publicly…”

The lack of bibliography also makes Hansman’s use of facts less credible. Hansman writes that “American skier visits have been on the order of 50 million per year since the National Ski Area Association began counting,” but according to National Ski Area Association statistics, the past decade and a half has saw an average of over 56 million skier visits per year in the United States, with five seasons seeing over 59 million skier visits.

Pazzo’s in Avon, where author Heather Hansman worked in the mid-2000s, is featured extensively in Hansman’s new book “Powder Days.”
John LaConte/Vail Daily

Vicarious Dirtbagging

Colorado residents, or those who spend a lot of time in the places Hansman mentions, might also question some of his other claims.

Hansman describes Basalt as a place so far removed from Aspen that it doesn’t feel like a real town to an outsider. She implies that the Colorado Gators Reptile Park near Mosca is for albino specimens only. She says the only groomed run from the Grouse Mountain ski lift to Beaver Creek is the Birds of Prey downhill course. She says she lived in a house that was “just at the foot of the Minturn Mile”, but also says the house was also opposite an always-lit police station.

And Hansman says that last January she visited Pazzo and saw a person named Zach who has worked there since 2005, when she also worked at Pazzo. I couldn’t find Zach, and a longtime bartender at Pazzo’s told me that it had been years since someone named Zach who fit Hansman’s description had worked there.

Technicalities aside, the book gives you an idea of ​​what it would be like to be a dirty bag in some of the country’s hottest spots, which is no easy task. And she finds places that provide a contrast to what she calls “the expanse of mountainside mega shacks” that is Beaver Creek.

“Silverton, with its single elevator and lack of infrastructure, is the antithesis of something like the widespread Vail conglomerate,” Hansman writes. “It’s refreshing in its simplicity and reality.”

Hansman ends her exploration in Silverton, where she finds a perfect metaphor for the ski bum life. In between storms, when a road out of town opens for the first time in days, she receives a text message (spoiler ahead).

“You know you are welcome to stay,” the text read. “But it might be a good chance to get out.”

“Powder Days: Ski Bums, Ski Towns and the Future of Chasing Snow” is available in eBook, audiobook, and classic hardcover from Hanover Square Press.


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