Nearly two decades ago, I moved to the mountains to be a ski bum, chasing snow. I was a stereotype—an East Coast kid pulled west by the promise of bigger adventures and higher mountain ranges. I was also part of a counterculture that rejected social norms in favor of 100-day ski seasons.

In ski towns in western Colorado in 2005, risk was everywhere, but in a way that felt exciting. I liked the brag of drinking too much, and I was too naïve to notice harder drugs. Climate change seemed theoretical, and no one I knew had died in the mountains yet.

Corporate entities were just starting to binge-buy resorts while I somehow thought that living in my car was cool and I could exist like that forever.

But myths are complicated things to keep alive, and I eventually left ski towns to work as a writer, already seeing the ski-bum dream changing. I saw friends struggling to build careers, families and community while still chasing the fragile dream that a powder day topped almost everything. 

So recently, I went back to see what was going on, to try to track the evolution of what had been my own obsession. I looped through mountain towns across the West, from Aspen, Colorado to Victor, Idaho and Big Sky, Montana, to assess the current state of ski bums.

What I found was that everyone trying to build a life in those towns was struggling, from my old colleagues who had stuck around and wished they’d bought real estate to “lifties” fresh out of school.

“A lot of people here are living a fantasy I can’t obtain,” said Malachi Artice, a 20-something skier working multiple jobs in Jackson, Wyoming.

At the most basic level, the math just didn’t work. In most mountain towns, it’s now nearly impossible to work a single full-time service job, the kind that resort towns depend on, and afford rent. The pressure shows up in nearly everything, including abysmal mental health outcomes like anxiety and depression. 

Ski towns have some of the highest suicide rates in the country, and social services haven’t expanded to meet demand. Racial gaps are also widening in an industry that often depends on undocumented immigrants to fill the poorly paid, but necessary, jobs it takes to keep a tourist town running.

On top of all that, abundant snowfall, the basis of a ski resort’s economy, is getting cooked by climate change.

And sure, you can argue skiing is superficial and unimportant, but ski towns—some of the most elite and economically unequal places in the country—are microcosms for the way our social fabric is splitting.

Ski towns face crucial, complicated questions: Can they build affordable housing and also preserve open space? What happens when healthcare workers or teachers won’t take jobs because they can’t find a way to live in the community they serve? Will a town willingly curb growth when that’s what supports the tax base?

There are no easy answers because the problems are entrenched in both that slow-moving nostalgia that stymies change, and in the downhill rush of capitalism, which gives power to whoever pays the most: The housing market always tilts toward high-end real estate instead of modestly priced homes for essential workers. 

What we value shapes our lives, and so I think we must hold the ski industry to higher standards. If these rarefied places can find ways to support working as well as leisure-based communities, they could serve as lessons for change elsewhere.

During my tour, I saw necessary workers in the ski industry facing hard economic choices, but I also saw positive, community-scale change. In Alta, Utah, for instance, the arts nonprofit Alta Community Enrichment added mental health support when its employees reported an urgent need. 

If ski-resort towns are going to survive, the lives of their workers need to matter, and that means caring about them—from affordable housing to accessible mental health support.

By Heather Hansman 

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The Best Ski Films

The Best Ski Films

Temperatures are dropping in the Colorado Rockies, the first snow of the season has fallen on the slopes and the race is on for the ski resorts to open. Breckenridge and Vail are expecting to welcome the first skiers and riders of the 2023/24 season on November 10. Beaver Creek and Steamboat’s lifts will fire up November 22.

It’s time to book your ski vacation, tune up the skis, and grab some popcorn…what? To get you stoked about those blue-bird sky days schussing through champagne powder, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite ski films. From short films by small adventure sports production companies to full length movies by Hollywood studios. Roll the cameras….

Warren Miller is skiing’s greatest ambassador, its most entertaining storyteller, and the godfather of action sports filmmaking. He produced, directed and narrated films from 1961 until 1988. His production company has kept up the tradition of making a film each year that they tour around the country. This year’s ALL TIME is currently making the rounds. Narrated by and featuring Olympic gold-medalist Jonny Moseley, ALL TIME dives deep into the stuff of which snowy dreams are made.

From the evolution of mountain culture and the birth of ski towns to icons and innovators like the original hotdoggers. ALL TIME is a celebration of the past seven decades that defined winter sports. It isn’t a greatest hits collection, rather a film experience reimagining the moments that got us to where we are today, the compelling people, and the outlandish locations in the history of skiing and snowboarding. It’s a nod to the legacy of Warren Miller and a glimpse into where the sport will go next.

From humorous antics to awe-inspiring scenery from around the world to exhilarating ski scenes, you can find the complete archive of Warren Miller’s films here.

And Warren Miller’s autobiography is on our list of favorite books about skiing.

From the depth of the creative visuals to the groundbreaking, never-been-done-before scale of the shoot, Afterglow is hailed as one of the most cinematically profound ski movies ever made. This short film is shot entirely at night and is as beautiful as it is eerie. It uses massive lights and features skiers wearing custom-made LED suits ripping down slopes in British Columbia and Alaska.

Follow Jeremy Jones and other top freeriders as they travel to the world’s snowboarding meccas and venture past the boundaries of helicopters, snowmobiles, and lifts to explore untouched realms. Hang on tight as Jeremy faces the biggest challenges he has ever encountered in snowboarding. All night hikes, sleeping on peaks, camping 65 miles from civilization, 20 below temperatures, 10 day storms, and 20 mile days bring the adventure back into riding. Deeper puts the viewer in the athletes’ boots, from the trials and tribulations to mind-boggling breakthroughs in the sport of snowboarding. The athletes also discuss backcountry and avalanche safety, and risks associated with extreme sports.

Valhalla is a daring spin on the classic ski film format. With dynamic ski and snowboard action complimenting a narrative-driven approach, the film follows one man’s spellbinding path to the North. Weaving story and character with award-winning, face-melting backcountry ski and snowboard cinematography, Valhalla is a vivid explosion of color, storytelling, powder snow, and riveting nostalgia. The Denver Post writes, “Valhalla breaks the helicopter-worn narrative of ski movies that pitch audacious skiing against a backdrop of blaring tunes with little story and cliché chats with surf-lilted athletes who are always ‘just stoked to be here riding with my friends.”

All.I.Can is a stunning exploratory essay that compares the challenges of big mountain skiing to the challenges of global climate change. Shot on 6 continents over 2 years, the world’s best skiers deliver inspirational performances while ground-breaking cinematography expands our vision of the natural world.

Journey through Morocco’s majestic desert peaks, Greenland’s icy fjords, Chile’s volcanic craters, Alaskan spine walls, and more.

For history buffs and anyone interested in the 10th Mountain Division, this film by Vail’s own Chris Anthony, is a must-see. It’s an award- winning documentary about the legendary World War II 10th Mountain Division, based out of Camp Hale, Colorado. Mission Mount Mangart tells the story of the first American ski troop. The film showcases the soldiers’ resilience and determination in the face of adversity and offers a unique and captivating perspective on a pivotal moment in history. The film won Best Historical Documentary at the Cannes World Film Festival in 2021.

A classic starring Robert Redford and Gene Hackman. David Chappellet, played by Redford, is a cocky ski racer who joins the U.S. ski team and clashes with the team’s coach, played by Gene Hackman. Chappellet is a mean-spirited skier who is focused only on becoming a champion and shows little interest in being a team player. The film received positive reviews upon its theatrical release and film critic Roger Ebert at the time called it “the best movie ever made about sports – without really being about sports at all.”


Watch the Balkan Express adventure film

Watch the Balkan Express adventure film

Ski mountaineers Max Kroneck and Jochen Mesle cycled from Greece to Germany and skied seven spots along the way. Watch the full film here!


All we need sometimes is one special moment to make hardship worthwhile. When long-time adventure buddies Max Kroneck and Jochen Mesle gazed out across Valbona valley in Albania, blanketed in virgin POW, and with it all to themselves, it made the trials of their Balkan Express adventure project worthwhile.

Cycling in temperatures that dropped to -15c, flats, a minor crash, intimidating street dogs, exhaustion, and the kindness of strangers – they experienced all this and more while cycling from the coastal city Thessaloniki in northern Greece through the Balkan region to Munich, Germany during late winter 2022. All up, they cycled 2500 km and skied seven spots in seven countries

Their minds were blown by the mountains and slopes they discovered along the way. Their minds were even more blown by the fact they had them all to themselves. It turns out, freeriding hasn’t really caught on throughout the Balkan nations. Neither have bike lanes. They met some inspiring locals who enriched their journey. And that was the point; it was an adventure as much about connecting with the local cultures as it was about cycling and freeriding.

We caught up with Max and Jochen and asked about their experience. Read on below and click here to find out where you can watch the adventure documentary that’s been picked up by the BANFF Mountain Film and Book Festival.

Watch the full film below!



How and why did you come up with the idea for the project?

Max: We really wanted to experience some mountains, cultures, people we didn’t know. We looked at a map of Europe and saw that the Balkans are pretty interesting. We’d never been there and wanted to learn about the people living in the mountains there. The sport side wasn’t the main focus of the project. It was about getting to know the culture and people.

How did you connect to local people?

Jochen: Before we left, we tried to get in contact with local mountain guides and local artists. We connected with four people and met them along the way. And of course we met a lot of people on the road. Those people gave us a good insight into life there.

What was your route?

Max: We started in Thessaloniki. We went skiing at Mount Olympus in Greece, then we cycled through Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzgovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and back to Germany.



How did your Suunto watches help you?

Jochen: In combination with Komoot it was so good to be able to plan and also be spontaneous along the way. We didn’t need to think about navigation. We spent some time in the morning planning and then just followed our watches. We didn’t get lost once! It was cold in the beginning and it was interesting to see the temperature on our watches. I’m a statistics nerd so I I enjoyed getting all the numbers. We also used the heatmaps in Suunto app sometimes, especially in Albania and Greece where there are more mountaineers, and it seems like they use Suunto too! So we could use the heatmap to hike up.

What was something that surprised you as you traveled through?

Max: We met a mountain guide in Kosovo, Uta, who is trying to make mountaineering more popular in Kosovo especially amongst women, since there are so few. She also talked about their home mountains; they are so beautiful, yet very few of the locals use them. They’re mostly empty. It’s crazy this region is so close to ours, but almost nobody there is into mountaineering. We were pretty much always alone. We met some Italian ski mountaineers in Kosovo once. Then we saw them again later in Albania. But that’s it. Most western Europeans don’t know about all the incredible spots.

Also surprising was learning that it was not so long ago that the first freeriding equipment became available there. A mountain guide from Kosovo told us he could only buy freeriding skis and touring bindings there 10 years ago. The market is just not there. These sports haven’t taken root in the culture. Maybe amongst the richer people.

We also didn’t see any cyclists along the way or cycling tracks. Cars play a big role in the Balkan countries.


Did you find many beautiful ski runs you’d like to go back and ride again?

Max: For sure. We had seven days of skiing in seven different countries, starting with Greece. It was a bummer that we had to keep moving forward and weren’t able to spend more time in each place, especially in the countries further south. We saw beautiful mountains in Montenegro, but we couldn’t go skiing there. We really want to go back. But at the same time, it was also nice to keep moving forward. We had really good snow conditions in the southern countries, but the further north we went, when we expected better conditions, it actually got worse.

You guys are backcountry skiers and mountaineers – do you have a background in cycling, too?

Jochen: Max and I met at local ski parks. We both made our way to the backcountry and went to freeriding comps together. A few years later I invited Max to a film project — that’s how we got to know one another better.

Back in 2018 we did a similar project and made a film about it: Ice and Palms. We started from our doorstep in Germany and cycled to the Mediterranean and skied the mountains we know and love along the way. That’s when we started to enjoy riding bikes.


Where can people see Balkan Express?

Jochen: There’re lots of screenings coming up, and we’ll be doing live talks, presenting our book about the project. Then, in the middle of winter, people will be able to watch the film online. It’s so cool to see such a wide range of people are getting inspired by it.


Images by @maxkroneck / @jochen_mesle / @elflamingofilms


Extreme adventure at the edge of the word: sail and ski in Norway

There are few more thrilling places to ski tour than the Lyngen Alps, a 55-mile chain of peaks that punctuates Norway’s fragmented northerly fringes. ​

“Sometimes you have to do things you’ve never done to get to places you’ve never been.” These are the words of wisdom offered by our mountain guide, Espen Minde, as we take a break from climbing 1,000 metres on skis up an unnamed peak in Norway’s Lyngen Alps. Something, indeed, I’d never done before. We’re also climbing straight into a blizzard. Normally, in conditions like these, I’d have turned back or maybe not even set off in the first place. But Espen, being a Norwegian mountain guide, isn’t put off by driving snow, howling winds and zero visibility. And as our group — comprising six other skiers — has every confidence in Espen’s years of experience touring these wild, often unnamed mountains, we plough on.

Ski touring in the Lyngen Alps isn’t always like this, of course. Aboard the Arctic Eagle catamaran, the comfy floating accommodation for our ski and sail trip around Norway’s northeastern shores, we’ve seen all weathers. On the first day, having sailed for three hours from its base in Tromsø, Arctic Eagle anchored off the coast of Vanna island, afternoon sunlight glinting on the waters of the fjord as our captain, Håkon, ferried us to the rocky shoreline.

Once on dry land, we start our 1,031-metre ascent of Mount Vanntinden. The snowbound peaks of the Lyngen Alps bear down on us from all quarters, rising majestically up into a baby-blue sky. There’s not a soul to be seen and not a sound to be heard other than the gentle lapping of sea against shore.

boat on waters with mountain in the backgorund

The Arctic Eagle, which offers ski and sail trips around Norway’s northeastern shores, uses a mooring on Vanna island as its gateway to the Lyngen Alps.

Espen leads us at a gentle pace, with breaks to take in the view. It’s late April and we’re well north of the Arctic Circle so we have plenty of daylight. The views as we ascend become more spellbinding, the slowly sinking sun casting an increasingly golden glow across mountains and sea. By the time we reach the summit, the sun is just above the horizon and we’re on top of the world in every sense. It’s high fives all round, a fast round of photos, then we need to get moving to get back to the boat before dark.

We remove the climbing skins from the base of our skis (the sheathes that allow you to ascend without constantly slipping backwards), flip our ski touring bindings to ‘descend’ mode, don a couple of warm layers, tighten up rucksack straps, clip into our skis again and set off downhill.

skiers touring amongst the peaks

Adventurous skiers can climb the peaks of the Lyngen Alps before they begin their descent to the Lyngen fjord.

We’re able to spread out and enjoy big, swooping turns across huge snowfields almost all the way back down to the fjord, skiing into the setting sun, a glorious landscape of deserted mountains and dark-blue sea spread before us. Whoops and hollers of excitement are inevitable and why not? There’s no one else around.

Back aboard Arctic Eagle, everyone is ready for a beer, but not before one unavoidable Arctic ritual: a quick dip in the icy Norwegian Sea. With the water temperature at around 5C, no one stays in for long. Warm and buzzing after a hot shower, we gather in the catamaran’s galley around the large table to enjoy freshly caught cod and cold beers, before Captain Håkon, who’s sailing us east to anchor off the coast of Arnøya island for the night, shouts: “Quick! Come up on deck!”

The Northern Lights are doing their thing in the starlit skies above. A relatively muted display of pale-green swirling waves passing over us, but it’s a winning finale to the perfect day. Not every day is so blessed, of course. This is Arctic Norway and the only predictable thing about the weather is its unpredictability, but over the course of the trip we get to ski amid the most incredible scenery, in everything from sunshine to mist, sleet and snow. Eventually, six days after setting sail from Tromsø, Arctic Eagle returns us to its home port. Exhausted, sunburnt, weather battered and happy, we step ashore and say a sad farewell to Captain Håkon and Espen, safe in the knowledge that it’s absolutely worth doing things you’ve never done to get to places you’ve never been.

By Alf Anderson, National Geographic

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