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Ski book author Evans to do signing tonight

By: Jeffrey Weidel/Special to Gold Country News Service
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To some people, Jerry Goodman has lived quite the enviable life. He has resided in Lake Tahoe for much of his adulthood, owns a home on 1½ acres and literally walks to his favorite ski resort any time he gets the urge to challenge the mountain at Heavenly.

Goodman is one of many people profiled in Jeremy Evans’ controversial book, “In Search of Powder: A Story of America’s Disappearing Ski Bum.” Goodman, who has made his home in South Lake Tahoe since 1968, has lived the ski bum life for more than four decades and isn’t about to change.

Yet, the recurring theme throughout “In Search of Powder” is that following in the footsteps of people like Goodman no longer is possible.

“Ski resorts are now playgrounds for the rich,” notes Evans, 33, who spent four years writing and researching the book in ski towns like Aspen, Park City, Telluride, Jackson Hole and Lake Tahoe, where he twice worked for area newspapers. “They are being marketed as destination resorts, like a Disneyland. All of these changes have occurred over the past 10 or 15 years.
They are expensive places to live. You now have to work more and ski less.”

That doesn’t apply to Goodman. He paid $75 to live in a rented garage when he arrived for good in Tahoe, bought a home for $25,000 in the mid-1970s, and that once-inexpensive house now is worth an estimated $500,000. And Goodman managed to do it working modest jobs that left his days free for skiing.

Described by Evans as a “laid-back, fun-loving guy,” Goodman is part of a dwindling breed known around Heavenly as the “Rat Pack.” This group of self-described ski bums travel up Heavenly’s Gunbarrel chair on many afternoons and ski straight down the Face, a challenging mogul run that’s as tough as it gets at Heavenly.

Goodman sees the changes and notes people trying to emulate his ski bum ways can’t do it in Tahoe.

“This place isn’t for regular people anymore,” Goodman says in the book. “That’s why nobody is moving here.”

Evans characterizes the new ski towns like South Lake Tahoe as areas that focus “outside of skiing,” in real estate and golf course development. He notes the south shore and areas like it have become “second-home owners” for rich people who stay only occasionally in their million-dollar homes. Evans says people like firemen, teachers and ski resort workers often live 25-30 miles from the resort due to the high price of housing.

The book doesn’t paint a flattering picture of resorts like Heavenly and Northstar-at-Tahoe, which are owned by Vail Resorts. The company also operates four ski resorts in Colorado.

Heavenly declined to comment on “In Search of Powder” for this story, and several other spokespeople at Lake Tahoe resorts and the California Ski Industry Association said they hadn’t read the book and weren’t qualified to comment.

“The ski industry is sensitive. The book gets their pants in a bunch,” Evans said.

Jon Monson, director of marketing and sales at Sugar Bowl, is reading the book and offered this observation.

“Running a profitable ski resort is no small endeavor, and when successfully done it contributes significantly to the viability and sustainability of the local economy, which could be argued actually serves to help the traditional ski bum survive in their respective mountain towns,” Monson said. “Of course, the situation has changed since the 1970s. While it might not be as easy as it used to be, there are still plenty of folks living and playing in mountain communities today, happy to call them home, enjoying jobs and careers while skiing and riding as much as they can.”

Jamie Schectman of Tahoe City is founder of Mountain Rider’s Alliance, a group of likeminded people dedicated to making a positive change in the ski area industry and supporting the environment and surrounding communities.

Schectman agrees with Evans’ view of the modern ski resort.

“Jeremy’s book is a very accurate representation of what is happening in ski towns these days,” Schectman said. “Much of the soul of the mountains have been eroded. In South Lake Tahoe, the declining population (I heard something like 70 percent of homes are vacant or vacation properties) has led to closed schools, lost jobs and a lack of community feel. For many of us, skiing is a lifestyle, not just a sport. When ski areas became real estate developers in the 1990s, I believe the industry took a turn for the worse.”

That turn, according to Evans, has chased away middle-class individuals and families from being able to afford the sport and placed the ski bum in a precarious position. No longer can they emulate the life of a Jerry Goodman.

Hunter Sykes is a lifelong skier and snowboarder who worked in the ski industry for 18 years. He produced a documentary film“Resorting to Madness” – that touches on some of the same criticisms of the ski industry as Evans.

“I’m not so sure that the ski bum is so much disappearing as morphing into something different,” Sykes said. “People still want to live the ski bum lifestyle, but what I’ve seen is many of them giving up after a season of financial hardship and the unfortunate realities of trying to live on minimum wage in some of the most expensive towns in the country.

“The traditional idea of the ski bum – working at night for a pass and leftovers, living in a van in the parking lot or in a friend’s spare closet and skiing seven days a week – is history.”

Jeffrey Weidel is a Sacramento-area freelance writer with more than 25 years of skiing experience.