how to be a non ultra-rich snowboarder or skier

Snow sports are expensive. I made a handy graph of some industry data, and it shows how stark the divide is between skiers / boarders and the rest of the world.

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Household incomes of skiers and snowboarders, 2013.

Considering that the median household income in America for 2013 was $51,939, nearly 3/4 of skiers/boarders make more than the median, and roughly half of all skiers/boarders make more than double the median. In short: skiing and snowboarding is a sport for people with money.

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Notice: white people with well off families participating in a sport for white people with well off families. 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with having money in your pocket and enjoying your life. But I think it’s worth reminding ourselves of just where snow sports do and do not exist in the American socio-economic system. To date, I can count the amount of black skiers and snowboarders I’ve met on two hands and still be able to fasten my bindings. Not only is skiing and snowboarding a sport for wealthy folks, but it also is a white sport and I’m not just talking about snow.

And before you spaz out and tell me about your friend Jose or Leroy that you ride/ski with, let’s let the data speak for itself, compiled by SIA/Physical Activity Council in 2013:

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White guys might not be able to dance, but apparently they do a shit ton of boarding and skiing.

This article will not be able to convince people of color and those lacking well-heeled families to participate in snow sports. But, I can offer some tips that make the whole thing more approachable. I’m not the first person to notice that snow spots are steadily becoming a sport for the wealthy, which sadly in this country also has obvious racial implications (hint: a white family on average makes 16x the income of a black family).

So without further ado, here’s the strategy I employ for paying my mortgage and snowboarding at the same time.

1) Don’t do it unless you’re going to do it a lot. Let’s just be blunt: there are a ton of up front costs that you will eat, even if done cheap. If this isn’t a sport you can really see yourself doing, pick something else. If you want to sample it on the cheap, go to a lower-priced resort in the springtime when you hopefully don’t need serious cold weather clothes.

2) Buy your skis, boards, boots, bindings, poles, and other gadgets on Craigslist. You can easily shell out $2,000 for skis/boarding gear and another $1,000 for clothes if you purchase new. For $200 I got a decent 7 year old board in okay condition and bindings that were good enough. Find the guy or gal that bought their stuff new, used it a few times, and fell out of the sport. Also, don’t be that guy or gal yourself.

3) Check the rental vs. buying math. Figure $35 to rent a board, boots, and bindings (similar rig for skiers). I got my board/boots/bindings for roughly $320, so really it can pay to rent for a while unless you know you’re in the sport to stay. Also, get boots first which are harder to size, more personal, and will chop some cash off the rental prices. One benefit to renting that people talk about is that you get a chance to experience different equipment. Truthfully I think that’s horse manure because most folks renting are just starting out and you’re not on some badass Capita Mercury for your rental board, nor should be on one.

4) Buy your clothes at the local big-box sporting goods store. I scored some sweet snow bibs on sale for $30. Do I want the $250 Dakine ones? Hell yeah I do. Are they better? Sure! Do I have $220 left in my wallet to put food in my fridge? Damn straight.

5) Buy your boots new from a store you can take them back to if they don’t fit. Sorry, but you’ll need to drop ~$150 minimum for snowboard boots (no idea on ski boots). Like most shoe purchases, if you get something that doesn’t fit it’s going to be a nightmare and ruin everything. Find them at the big-box stores.

6) Don’t ever buy any food from the lodge, ever, ever. It’s nice to have a warm cup of coffee and some eggs in the morning. Paying $25 for it though is ridiculous. Most lodges have a microwave and it will be your best friend. The food in my backpack generally looks like this:

  • 2-3 Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches, ready to be nuked. Bring them in advance or score them at the local big box grocery store.
  • Some paper towels to nuke the sandwiches and to clean up your filthy self.
  • A couple of Monster energy drinks. I’m here to shred, I’ll drink after the last chair. Speaking of chairs, drink your drinks on the chairs to save time.
  • A Cliff bar or whatever is cheap and on sale. These are sort of crap food but if you’re a little hungry it can make the difference between staying on the hill or packing it in early. Warning: cold ones are like eating rocks.

7) Get a season pass if you ski a lot, or look for discount passes. 

  • A Mammoth/June/Summit/Bear pass is roughly $800. This sounds insane except remember that for Mammoth the lift tickets are anywhere from $103-$134 per day. Average to $118/day and the season pass pays for itself on day 7. For those of us lucky enough to ride all the time, if you ride roughly 1/3 of the days the park is open you’re spending $10/day, saving roughly 92%.
  • Costco is known to carry a 4-for-$300 deal for Mammoth, bringing each ticket to $75. While not insanely cheap, it’s still much better than full price.

8) Don’t go to expensive resorts if you’re learning. June Mountain, 20 minutes north of Mammoth, is awesome: long runs, almost always empty, beautiful scenery, and ~60% the cost of Mammoth. The last I checked, lessons were roughly 1/2 the cost of Mammoth. If you’re taking lessons, you’re going to be on a narrow slice of the mountain anyway. Why pay big bucks for a ticket to a mountain that you’ll only see the beginner slopes on? Plus, some spots (like June Mountain) have kids riding for free.

9) Don’t rent from the resort. If you need to rent, you will almost absolutely find cheaper deals and a better selection in town. Look around on Yelp and call around. Also, they probably open earlier and stay open later. You won’t need to cut into your slope time by waiting around in the gross-stinky rental area.

10) Stash your backpack in the trees. If all you have is sunscreen, some food, and an IPA for later sitting in your backpack, go off trail a bit and stash it in the trees. Lockers at Mammoth are $5 per use. So if you go in and out of your locker three times, which is of course why you have a locker, you can rack up $15 right there. Put your wallet/phone/keys on your person and keep your stuff in a bag in the forest. No one wants your crappy old Jansport bag.

11) Stay somewhere cheap. I spent a week with my daughter buzzing June and Mammoth before we moved up here, and I found a $50/night AirBnB in Lake Crowley. It was a little… rustic, but it worked and we had a great time. We brought groceries with us, cooked in the kitchen, and popped the PS4 onto the TV to hang out in the evenings.

About the worst thing you can do is roll into a nice resort armed with nothing but a credit card. The more you need to do in a resort town and the faster you need it done the more you will pay through the nose.

As much as I feel for the businesses that cater to an increasingly affluent white crowd, the business owners and employees of those businesses save their pennies as well. When the owner of the “local board shop” goes on vacation you can bet that he or she is shopping in advance and trying to stretch their dollar. I hope that this article helps other non-ultra-rich snow spots enthusiasts get more enjoyment from an activity which seems to be getting more and more out of reach.

(not) getting your mail delivered in mammoth lakes

From the US Postal Service’s Comprehensive Statement on Postal Operations (2001):

And neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, nor the winds of change, nor a nation challenged, will stay us from the swift completion of our appointed rounds. Ever.

They even tout their “rain/sleet/snow” delivery on Twitter, so it’s not like I’m picking some dated notion of delivery services from the pony express era.

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Yeah, and maybe I’m a Chinese jet pilot.

Well, down here in Mammoth Lakes, CA, we don’t get mail delivery. Why? Well, the snow of course! To be fair it’s not just the USPS. Being the middle class white American that I am, I ordered a package on my Amazon Prime subscription. A different delivery truck service rolled up and the driver had a conversation with me as I grabbed my box:

“So, you’re the new owners here?”

I looked back at the house, and failing to deliver a funny joke I replied, “Yeah, either that or I’m going to get arrested I suppose.”

She just stared at me with that townie-who-hates-everyone-else look and said, “Well just so you know, I won’t go up this hill in the winter. So consider that.”

There was a part of me who wanted to fire back: “Look, pal. I ferried a god damn $15 fridge part across the Sea of Cortez for some dude I never met and have smuggled more shit across the border than a low level narco trafficker. Sure, it was generally blue masking tape and watermaker membranes, but that’s not the point.”

But instead I thanked her for the advice, realized this was one of those times when I should probably holster my opinion until I have more information on the subject, and have proceeded to try to secure all my winter belongings from the Internet before the snow starts dumping. To be clear though, I’m not the only person to notice the third-world-nature of package deliveries in Mammoth: here’s a good article from June 2016 in The Sheet News.

MammothLakesPostOfficeBuildingFront

The Mammoth Lakes Post Office: a place where you will spend a lot of your time getting to know “yellow cards”.

So off we went to secure our new PO Box. Because the USPS doesn’t deliver, after proving that indeed we are residents in Mammoth Lakes, we got a cigar-box sized box for free. There are a couple of rules. First, every year we need to prove that we’re residents.

Second, and perhaps most hilarious, we need to check our box every three days. Mind you, these are the same people saying that they (as a professional delivery service) lack the ability to get to you six days a week, but they do require 8,000 people (+/- a few) to schlep their asses to the post office 100 days a year. Some old lady in a Civic apparently has better chops to getting her mail than the USPS can get it to her.

My suspicion is that the real reason for the lack of residential (and business) delivery is because this is first and foremost a chilled-out-mountain-town. I’ve noted before that Mammoth gets regarded as “a mountain with a town, rather than a town with a mountain.” Recently there was a good article in The Sheet News about whether Mammoth is “.. a Town? a Resort? a Resort Town?

If you look at Long Island, New York, even in the middle of Hurricane Sandy delivery workers still showed up. Hell, even after 9/11 mail delivery was back on schedule less than 24 hours later in downtown Manhattan. From the linked article above:

All Postal Service employees reported to work on Monday morning [following Hurricane Sandy], according to USPS spokeswoman Darleen Reid, and while certain routes will be disrupted (such as evacuated areas of New York City), and a handful of coastal offices are closed, everywhere mail can be safely delivered, it will be. As far as Reid knows, the Postal Service has never failed to deliver mail to an area for a 24-hour period in its entire 237-year history, unless there were physical obstacles — mounds of snow, flooded streets — that made it impossible.

Sure, in some areas of Mammoth Lakes there will be “mounds of snow”, but for plenty of the town the roads are cleared quite quickly. Indeed, the entire snow-spots thing only works if in the midst of the gnarliest conditions visitors can get into town, do some shopping, hit the slopes, grab dinner, and get to their hotels. Mammoth Lakes’ Public Works Department even has a rather well thought out snow removal policy, and bolsters its ranks with part time drivers to supplement the full time staff.

And taking it an obvious step forward, it’s only “dumping snow” typically ~5 months a year, leaving the other 7 safe enough to ride a unicycle through town.

The real reason as I see it is because of the obvious difference between Mammoth Lakes and Long Island: one has the New York attitude towards functioning, somehow, every day, regardless of what the hell is going on. Terrorism, heat waves, blizzards, hurricanes: everyone has a job and needs to get to work.

Mammoth, on the other hand, is a place visitors (and most residents) go to on vacation, for retirement, or to spend more time in a relaxed setting. The amount of people who need their mail delivered on time up here is small. Yes, I know the winter weather is brutal. But I posit that if everyone up here needed to work a 9-5 and get their mail on time in order to pay the bills (including property taxes), this would have been resolved a while ago.

$600 later, i own two tons of wood pellets

So in our home we have a wood pellet stove. Gone are the days of conventional wood fireplaces which aren’t as efficient and are nearly impossible to keep burning at a steady rate unattended for long periods of time. A pellet stove on the other hand generates a tiny amount of ash, is better for the environment, and can auto-feed itself for 24-48 hours. For the uninformed, wood is usually the cheapest way to heat a home. Coupled with pellet stoves, wood is not only cheap but better for emissions:

Pellet fuel appliances are more convenient to operate than ordinary wood stoves or fireplaces, and some have much higher combustion and heating efficiencies. As a consequence of this, they produce very little air pollution. In fact, pellet stoves are the cleanest solid fuel, residential heating appliance. Pellet stoves that are certified by the EPA are likely to be in the 70% to 83% efficiency range.

In the Town of Mammoth Lakes, it’s actually required that you have an EPA approved fireplace which basically means you’ll get a pellet stove.

I’ve been given a guesstimate that we’ll use 2 tons of pellets this winter. I’ve also learned that they’re on sale in the late summer, with the price steadily cranking up through winter. Also, you have to schlep the pellets around in the snow and ice if you get them too late. With all that in mind I put $605.00 dollars on my credit card at High Country Lumber and loaded up.

WinterIsComingPellets

Each one of those pallets represents 1 ton. They are *huge*.

The problem was evident the moment I backed up my not-so-small truck: these pallets are massive. Where the hell am I going to put them? The nice guys are letting me grab a dozen or so bags at a time over the next week, but where in the heck am I supposed to store two one-ton pallets, each consisting of 50 bags, 40 pounds a pop.

This is where some dude who’s been living in the mountains for 4,000 years chimes in: “Well sonny, I’ve got a perfect place in my garage here to store them. Super easy to get to, they stay nice and dry. Just do that.”

Well old timer, I don’t have a damn garage. All I’ve got is my wits, some muscles, and a desire to not have my family die of hypothermia in the winter. It very much reminds of me of sailing life, whereby miles under your keel taught you tricks and tips that made life so much more enjoyable. I’m sure next year I’ll have this stuff figured out, but for now I get to be a monkey fornicating with a football