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Is it time to stop glorifying the 'ski bum' lifestyle?

Mardi Fuller smiles at the camera in an orange ski jacket and in ski gear with snowy mountains in the background
Peter K Brandon
/
Courtesy Photo
The ski bum has been called "the soul of the sport" and "the North Star" of ski culture. Mardi Fuller is challenging the glorification of the ski bum archetype.

You may have heard of the ski bum. It’s someone who forgoes a traditional lifestyle to spend more time on the slopes. But with rising costs in just about everything and as New England winters are warming, skiers say it’s becoming harder to live the ski bum life.

In a recent opinion piece for SKI Magazine, outdoor enthusiast Mardi Fuller wrote about why celebrating the ski bum archetype actually makes skiing less diverse.

Fuller has spent decades exploring the New England backcountry and is an advocate for racial equity in accessing the outdoors. She was the subject of a 2022 documentary “Mardi and the Whites,” a film about her relationship with hiking as a Black woman in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and how she's encouraged more Black people to join her in the outdoors.

Fuller joined NHPR’s All Things Considered host Julia Furukawa to share her thoughts on the ski bum mythology. Below is a transcript of their conversation.


Transcript

Mardi Fuller: So the ski bum, at least in its archetypal form, is someone who prioritizes skiing above all else. And [they have] the luxury of saying, you know, skiing's what I want to do most in the world, and I'm going to organize my life so that that's possible and I'm just going to kind of skate by and ski as much as I can.

Julia Furukawa: What are some of the reasons why this ski bum lifestyle isn't accessible to everyone?

Mardi Fuller: Skiing certainly takes commitment of money and time to get to the mountain and to afford the gear, pay for the gear. There are so many people who are passionate about skiing that don't have access to the ski bum lifestyle, you know, families or folks with health conditions that preclude them, you know, living on such a low income and not having health insurance.

Julia Furukawa: You argued in your piece for SKI Magazine that the ski bum lifestyle is out of reach, if not dangerous for Black people, BIPOC people, and harmful when it comes to encouraging diversity and skiing. Can you tell me more about that?

Mardi Fuller: When I am listening to the description of a ski bum archetype and the way that it's kind of glorified and held up as a North Star and pinnacle of skiing, immediately I start thinking, gosh, well, that's just for a subset of people. Because for me as a Black woman, it's not attractive to me and it's not feasible.

We know that Black people face over policing. And there are aspects of the ski bum lifestyle that involve some casual rule bending, sometimes rule breaking that a white person is much more likely to be able to get away with than a Black person. If a Black person ducks a rope at a resort or skips onto a lift line, they might be penalized a lot more heavily. They might be arrested.

My critique really applies to any of these downwardly social mobile personas like ‘hiker trash’ or ‘dirt bag,’ like the climbing dirtbag. There's all of these kinds of motifs that are just much easier for a white person given their social capital to decide to take on.

Julia Furukawa: As you wrote in your article, the death of the ski bum seems to somewhat be upon us, whether we like it or not. And so maybe it's time for some other ski icons to take its place. Who or what do you have in mind?

Mardi Fuller: So I don't wish that the ski bum would disappear. I just simply wish that the ski bum would no longer be at the center of the iconography that we laud and glorify when we think about, you know, what is skiing and who exemplifies skiing. And so that may be people of color like me, that may be professional athletes that don't get featured as much as the talented white men do, so women and other women of color. Maybe it's queer folks. Maybe it's folks who have disabilities and are, you know, skiing with all sorts of various accommodations. Maybe it's parents focusing on teaching their kids also. I would love to see us tell stories and narratives about all sorts of people who love sliding down snow on planks and boards.

Michelle Liu is the All Things Considered producer at NHPR. She joined the station in 2022 after graduating from Northwestern University with a degree in journalism.
Julia Furukawa is the host of All Things Considered at NHPR. She joined the NHPR team in 2021 as a fellow producing ATC after working as a reporter and editor for The Paris News in Texas and a freelancer for KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.

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