Where to Go When You’re Low on Dough

by Dan Giesin | December 5, 2017

There was a time when the word “dirtbag” was a very derogatory term, used to describe filthy, generally impoverished vagabonds.
But dirtbag has evolved — thanks mostly to the late, great mountaineer Fred Beckey — into a less frowned upon appellation. Nowadays, a dirtbag is defined as “a person committed to a given lifestyle to the point of abandoning employment or other societal  norms in order to pursue said lifestyle.”
One said lifestyle is skiing and snowboarding. And there is a large contingent of young men (and a few women) who embrace that lifestyle to the fullest, camping out in ski hill parking lots in RVS, cars and even tents and spending their days rippin’ on the mountain.
Here’s a six-pack of ski hills that are part and parcel of that ski-bum lifestyle.

Mt. Baker

Driving along the highway leading to Baker, “you get the feeling that you are entering an environment that is dedicated solely to skiing and riding,” says Tahoe-based photographer and filmmaker Dory Breaux. “There is no glitz and glamor along the highway; there aren’t 5-star hotels on the hill, and the base area feels like you are at a mountain, not a resort. The best part is the ticket prices: I can’t think of any other mountain with the terrain and snow that this place has that you can ski for less than $90 a day.”

Wolf Creek

A little-visited hill — except by locals — in southwest Colorado, Wolf Creek has snow in bunches (nearly 480 inches of Rocky Mountain light annually), a high elevation to keep the powder in prime condition, no extensive resort buildup, some of the best inbounds, hike-to terrain around and relatively inexpensive prices. They also let you car camp in the parking lot at no extra charge.

Jay Peak

Tucked up near in the Canadian border in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, Jay Peak is the epicenter of the state’s laidback ski- bum culture. With typically the most snow in New England, great tree riding, remoteness and relatively cheap prices, Jay doesn’t disappoint. But be advised: With often the coldest overnight temperatures east of the Rockies, be sure to have a zero-degree bag — and perhaps some wool blankets — in your possession if you plan to spend the night in the parking lot.

Arapahoe Basin

This Colorado hill “screams dirt bag and ski bum,” says Breaux. “The tickets are reasonably priced; the mountain is laid out for skiing, not “resorting’, the snow is great, and most of all the vibe and atmosphere is all about having fun, not about how you look while having fun.” The Beach, a.k.a Early Riser parking lot, is ground zero for A-Basin‘s ski-bum culture.

Mt. Bachelor

This central Oregon hill allows you to sleep in the parking lot, albeit in a vehicle not a tent. The laid-back atmosphere and lack of a “village” makes Bachelor a ski area, not a resort (that’s down the road a ways in Bend). There is also a very, very good selection of breweries in the area. One fellow traveler says Bachelor is a “very playful” mountain “that rides like a good wave.”

Grand Targhee

This powder haven located on the west side of the Wyoming’s  Teton range is way away from civilization (the nearest town, Driggs, Idaho, is about 30 minutes away). Targhee averages about 500 inches of snow annually; it has minimal lift lines; the pricing won’t break the bank, and the parking lot is open for overnight stays.

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