Living in a Ski Town as a Digital Nomad

Fresh groomers Vail Chair 4

When I graduated college, I was already employed in my field. I was working remote, freelancing for a news startup called Inside.com. I was being paid peanuts: a contract rate that effectively worked out to well below minimum wage. I told the hordes of well-wishers at my graduation party that it wasn’t really a “real job,” just something to pay the bills and build the resume. I was looking. Fifteen months, several raises and rounds of layoffs later, I still work for Inside. At the time, I definitely didn’t realize how lucky I was. Although Inside has never paid me too much, they do allow me unlimited flexibility, a perk which absolutely cannot be overvalued.

So, with a remote job in my pocket, I uprooted and moved to Vail, Colorado.

First things first: for a digital nomad trying to live cheaply, Vail is an extraordinarily poor choice. I happened to have a connection to an unreal housing deal, which made it worthwhile for me. However, as a general rule, ski towns are pricey and housing is often at a premium. I wouldn’t say they’re the best environment for a digital nomad. But, if you are thinking about it at all, let me break down some of the pros and cons of living in a ski town as a remote worker:

THE GOOD

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The skiing

Oh my god the skiing. This is, far and away, the best perk of working remotely from a ski town. Since you are not working on a set schedule (most of the time), you have no excuse to ever miss a powder day. I skied 65 days this season, and I feel kind of bad about it. I had the opportunity to grab many, many more.

You are exotic

“So, where do you work?” is the question de rigueur in a ski town. Telling a girl in a bar you work as a freelance writer will elicit a different reaction than telling her you work as a server in restaurant X. This is good and bad, as she likely works as a server at restaurant Y, and is probably more capable of relating to that sphere. If you know how to use it though, you can certainly throw people off-guard

The conversations

If you are a writer or marketer, you will get a real kick out of riding chairlifts all day. The five-to-ten minute chair ride is just the right length to generate interesting conversations which can reach beyond small talk. Living as a schedule-flexible nomad, you’ll probably be riding the singles line a lot, which means you get to gorge on a buffet of single-serving friends and their stories.

The events

Ski towns often hold free events and concerts as a way to incentivize people to book rooms or trips. I was exceptionally lucky this year, as Vail played host to the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships, the Burton U.S. Open, Portugal the Man, and a whole host of other great acts and events. While not every ski town has the star power of Vail, all of them can be trusted to at least give it the ol’ college try.

THE BAD

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The isolation

You will not find many peers in the ski town. Any like-minded people are passing through for no more than a week, and they are there to relax. Coders, writers, entrepreneurs: these sorts of people do not have time for the ski town. You will not find them living here. The people who DO live and work in a ski town are usually young, immature, and there to party. They can be a good time, but they can also be alienating and exhausting, especially when you have little common ground to connect on.

The money

At least here in Vail, I am consistently and considerably out-earned by the servers and bartenders that I know. This means I have less money to spend when we are out drinking, which is one of the ski town’s three sacred activities. The other two are skiing and working.

The cost of living

Being upscale tourist destinations, everything tends to cost a little more in resort towns. And unlike a nomad touring resort towns two continents from home, nomads here do not benefit from currency exchanges. So everyday cost of living is generally a bit higher than living in a city. Rent is usually where you will be hit hardest here— short terms rentals, especially from mid-December to mid-February, will be absolutely killer. That said, if you are a nomad who makes her living by coding or some other high-income profession, you should fit right in with the regular tourist clientele.

No café culture

The local coffee shop is like a second home to many of us. A laptop and a latte is really all I need to be happy in my life. Well— a laptop, a latte, and an environment where I feel like my presence is welcome. This sort of relaxed environment is difficult to come by during winter, when the coffee shop is in the business of turning over as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. People rarely linger when there is fresh pow calling, just down the way. And from my experience, the coffee shop staff don’t want you to linger. This could vary from place to place, obviously. Though a coffee shop in a ski town will always be a very different place than a coffee shop in a university town. Internet is fine and very accessible everywhere.

How much snow does Vail get?

There’s also a lot of this.

Well, there you have it! The basic pros and cons of living in a ski town as a digital nomad. I didn’t like it terribly much, but I did become an expert snowboarder AND a more than decent skier during the year, so I guess I can’t complain! Please ask questions in the comments if I can help you at all!

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