May 19, 2019 Features & Images » Feature Story

The ultimate ski-bum road trip 

click to enlarge The ultimate ski-bum road trip. - PHOTO SUBMITTED
  • Photo submitted
  • The ultimate ski-bum road trip.

Australian Jaden Munro snowboarded 30 resorts in five months thanks to his Epic and Mountain Collective passes

Like a lot of seasonal workers, Jaden Munro left Whistler wishing he'd done a lot more riding. Sure, he'd had some great days, fallen in love with snowboarding over two winter seasons, and met a bunch of new friends. But working—as an employee at Whistler Blackcomb's tube park—had kept him busy all winter long.

Back home in Australia last year, Munro, 22, took a job in construction, started saving money, and hatched his plan. With Whistler Blackcomb's purchase by ski-resort conglomerate Vail Resorts, and the introduction of the Epic Pass—the company's multi-resort ski pass—he would be able to ride at all 18 North American Vail Resorts properties, as well as numerous others it has reciprocal agreements with and enjoy all the snowboarding he could fit into a season. Moreover, with a Mountain Collective Pass (another multi-resort pass offering), Munro could ride two days at 22 more resorts, including Aspen Snowmass, Jackson Hole and Revelstoke Mountain.

So, last November—after a one-and-a-half-year hiatus—Munro returned to Whistler and crashed at a friend's while he looked for a van to buy. Then he hit the road, embarking on a road trip through Western Canada and the United States to snowboard as much as possible. In total, he skied 127 days at 30 resorts—and kept his spending to the bare minimum.

"I've just realized I'm an upper-class homeless person who ... just puts ski clothes over my PJs and (goes) snowboarding every day living in my van," he wrote on Facebook at the end of last December. "My hair is always knotted and messed up. Probs gonna end up with shit natural dreads."

When Pique met with Munro in April, a natural dread—hanging from the back of his wild mane of black hair—was apparent, and his battered jacket and pants looked like they had been through a war.

Over the course of the season, Munro rode at some of the most exclusive ski resorts in North America, rubbing shoulders with high-flyers and fellow ski bums alike. "I know how to do everything on the cheap," he says. "People look at me funny when I'm brushing my teeth in the bathroom in the morning and whatnot."

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED
  • Photo submitted


In an effort to save money, Munro crashed in his van every night of his trip.

One night, in Banff, it hit -17 Celsius, and everything froze—it was so cold he had to "defrost his boots" with the dashboard heater. "And even then, they were still pretty cold," he says.

The only time he paid for shelter—or at least a form of it—was in Aspen, when it hit -21 C. "I thought that that was maybe a little too cold—so I paid a couple bucks to sleep in an underground car park to get away from the cold."

Munro believes that growing up in Murwillumbah, an Australian town of about 9,000 people, prepared him for the chilly nights. The hilly New South Wales community is surrounded by rivers and creeks, and Munro likes to spend time in them, even when they are bitterly cold. "Over a long time, my body has built up a tolerance against cold water," he says. "I've put it in colder and colder water over my years—in various parts of the world."

During his trip, he only got kicked out of one place. He had just turned in for the night in Bend, Ore. when an officer knocked on the back door, then handed him an exclusion order. "He could have made it for any park, but he was a nice guy, and just excluded me from (the) one park," recalls Munro, grateful for the officer's compassion.

Red country

If you're living out of your van, you need to find ways to occupy your time after the hill shuts down, and Munro found that shopping (but rarely buying anything) was a good way to burn time and meet locals.

At a Best Buy outside of Park City, Utah, he met an employee who "turned out to be a military child."

The next thing he knew, the man took Munro to the Park City Gun Range, where he let him shoot his .45-calibre handgun, and an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. "And then he paid for me to use a fully automatic XCR-L rifle," recalls Munro. "The gun range had to have a special licence to be able to own it."

Munro figures the guy wanted to give him a sense of what it's like to live in a Red State, where you can "pretty much get any gun you want and have concealed firearms and whatnot." 

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED
  • Photo submitted

New resorts

During his trip, Munro saw a range of different resorts, from modest community-owned ski areas like Diamond Peak in Nevada to Beaver Creek, a Vail Resorts-owned property located within a gated community that was the former home of late U.S. President Gerald Ford.

Munro's visits all took on a similar pattern. "I'd rock up to any town that I went to, and I'd go the snowboard shop," he explains. "I'd ask them about what's cheap to eat, where to sleep, and all the various things that I wanted to know about the mountain and area."

The car-camping situation was toughest in Vail, which Munro described as the "most ski-bum-unfriendly" resort he visited. Drawing on advice from a long-time instructor he met in Park City, Munro crashed at a "shopping centre" on the outskirts of town. "All the buses in Vail are free—so as long as you can find the free parking, then you can get into Vail for free," he says.

While cognizant of the fact he wouldn't be able to ski at so many top-tier resorts if it weren't for the seemingly inexorable consolidation of the ski industry, Munro believes that the trend could have downsides. Personally, he began to feel that one resort felt like the next.

One thing he sees as a symbol of that homogenization is the uniforms ski-resort employees wear. Many of the Vail Resorts properties Munro visited used the same sort of outfits (with different logos). "There's no flavour to it," says Munro, of a sartorial trend he hopes never comes to Whistler. "There's no individuality."

Multi-resort passes can also redirect skiers to quieter resorts, frustrating locals who may have moved to them for their more low-key ambiance. That's the case in Crested Butte, Colo., according to Munro, where locals are "not very happy" and are contending with "excessive lines" since Crested Butte Mountain Resort was added to the Vail Resorts portfolio back in September 2018.

The Epic Locals Pass—a slightly more restrictive Vail Resorts pass offering—allows unlimited skiing at Crested Butte, meaning that the resort saw tons of visitations during the busy winter season when the other Colorado resorts were restricted, says Munro.

Locals are now finding themselves competing with "utter Jerrys" on their once-quiet mountain, he believes. It all simply adds "more stress on (workers) who are just not getting enough money as it is."

(There have been similar reports of frustration from Jackson Hole, where locals have attributed a double digit rise in visitation in the 2018-19 season to the resort's decision to join Alterra Mountain Company's Ikon pass—the main competitor to the Epic Pass.)

Travelling on the cheap

Munro says that overall, he spent about $23,000 on his trip. And while that figure might not seem like nothing, it includes insurance as well as pricey flights to and from Australia.

He comes by his thrift honestly, having travelled extensively with his parents, often to developing countries.

"Since my dad is a surf bum and my mom knows how to travel cheap ... I've learned how to do everything on the cheap from a young age" he explains.

His big tip (and this won't come as a surprise to anyone around Whistler) is to "not party all the time."

"You need to be fickle with your money when it comes to that sort of stuff. I have not gone out nightclubbing once this whole season," he says.

"Sure, if you're going on a one-month holiday and you got $20,000, you can go out every night and what not. But if you are trying to stretch $23,000 for five months, you can't be going out and blowing $200 bucks on booze." 

In other words, live within your means, don't buy "expensive meat," and avoid buying the touristy stuff, explains Munro.

"I didn't buy stickers at every resort. Because if I bought stickers at 30 resorts, I would have spent a couple hundred dollars just on stickers," he says.  

Whistler—still his No. 1

In total, Munro estimated he got 30-plus powder days, with especially memorable days at Crested Butte and Park City.

But according to Munro, his favourite resort remains Whistler.

"Whistler is an actual proper town, where you can ski right from the top of the mountain and walk straight into the village," he says. And unlike many of the other resorts he visited, Whistler has a vibrant nightlife that isn't "dead" after 4 p.m.

Moreover, despite its affordability problems, Munro feels that Whistler has a good selection of food and entertainment options for seasonal workers who, like him, need to find ways to stretch their money.

"Without the seasonal workers, there would be no town," says Munro, adding that he wasn't able to grab a cheap slice at many of the resorts he visited. "I couldn't just go out and get a cheap snack like Fat Tony's or Misty Mountain or anything like that—you pretty much had to buy a proper meal somewhere."

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