2012 was a rollercoaster. It involved getting laid off, quitting a startup, and generally feeling burned-out from several months of working hard. So in November 2012, I packed up my things in Austin and moved to Tahoe for the season.
I'm writing this to help anyone else who finds themselves in a similar situation, needs a break from city living, or just loves snow.
For a privileged many, our array of choices in life are so much greater than the narrow set we currently perceive.
- David Heinemeir Hansson
Preparing - getting rid of things.
I'll keep this short, but these are the typical reasons I've seen people not move:
Collections - CDs/DVDs/Bookshelves
If you haven’t already, digitize and ditch physical media. For books specifically, you have three routes - selling it, sending them to a scanning service, or scanning it yourself by cutting off the Bindings and using either an office scanner (what I did) or a ScanSnap.
All the other things
Again, this requires either growing a selling muscle, or having some home base to leave things at. Craigslist and ebay have been my friends, and there's amazon fulfillment which is even more effective if you're short on time. Again, there's always the option of finding a small storage space for the things you just can't get rid of.
You've got me here. I'm a single guy who's been avoiding all of these things for now, but have met folks that moved out with their significant others and pets for the season, it just meant that they spent a little more renting a house instead of a pet-restricted condo. Alternatively, who says you have to stay the whole season? There's plenty of families (especially when their kids aren't in school yet) that just get a place for a month - enough time to get the powderlust out of your system.
Despite all this ruthless good-riddance, I still cheat and leave a few things with friends and relatives. And that's okay. You'll always have stuff that just happens to have emotional value that you just can't get rid of. You shouldn't have to become some puritanical 100-things-only minimalist.
Packing the essentials
Assuming you move into a furnished place, this is everything you need to throw into your car to move to a small ski-village area.
A Desk & Stool - I recommend a small drafting desk along since most furnished apartments won't have much of a home office setup. Pair it with an office stool (such as the swopper or super-compressible ergoergo ) because they're supposedly better for your back, and easily fit in a car.
If you're moving into a really tiny bootstrapper studio, you can use a 39" 4K display in the living room to double as both a monitor/desk and television.
A rice cooker... - with some type of timer and a steamer basket.
This is for healthy dinners ready right when you get back from snowboarding so you can get back to work, without the cost/oddities of soylent, tv dinners, or going to pricey mountain restaurants. There's fancy ones from zojirushi & panasonic, but you can getaway with a cheap one using duct tape and a timed outlet. The late Roger Ebert has an amazing guide on this topic, along with priceonomics' guide .
The rest - You need the typical modicum of cold weather clothing, including a hoodie, jacket, insulation layer, some bedding, aeropress, and whatever gear you ride on. Keep in mind electricity can go out a couple times during storms and risk of road closures, so always have some hand warmers and pantry food around.
Ready? Okay, let's figure out where to go.
Picking a Ski Town
This is going to boil down to a few factors:
Weather - I vaguely recall looking for long-term snow forecasts / farmers almanacs, but at the end of the day the riskiest resorts in terms of lacking snow tend to be the ones in California.
Proximity to lift - I recommend being within walking distance to a lift so you can take an hour or two in the afternoon out without impacting your work.
Proximity to a city/airport - This is going to depend highly on your situation, but it's worth keeping in mind that most ski towns are a long away from major airports or major cities. I found myself queuing up several errands for the 2-3 times I drove to a larger town, and making the most out of using Amazon Prime's 2-day shipping.
Nightlife - this depends on your situation, I didn't care much about nightlife, due to having day-job work and side-projects, but it's nice to have when friends come to visit.
How much you can afford - There's two factors in this - the cost of renting a place, and the price of your season pass. There's a surprising price spread in the season pass, ranging from the Vail Resorts 'epic pass' costing $400-800, to places like Telluride and Jackson Hole costing nearly $2000. Similarly, with rents it can vary depending on the location - I paid $800/month for a 1-bedroom, but places near nicer resorts can cost much more.
The places I recommend in the US:
Optimizing for cost & proximity to lifts, here's my picks:
1) South Lake Tahoe & North Lake Tahoe - This is the most bang for your buck, and where I ended up staying. Here's why:
- Reasonable season pass prices ($400-800).
- While I'm not against income tax, you can avoid California’s 9-10% state income tax if you stay on the Nevada side, and if you live in the Summit Village neighborhood like I did, you're within walking distance to a less crowded lift at Heavenly. Rent there ranged from $600 for a studio to $1200 for a 2br condo, both offering niceities like a neighborhood hot tub to even a sauna.
- Only three hours from the Bay Area, this was useful in getting out to demo the prototypes of Thimble to meetup groups and design shops.
- Decent nightlife, notably in South Lake Tahoe due to Nevada casinos. Not what I care about, and I never gambled more than a few quarters on Sigma Derby at Montbleu, but it's there in case you get bored.
This said, Tahoe is risky in terms of getting actual snowfall. I lucked out during the 2012/2013 season where there was a decent amount of snowfall to keep lifts open through the season. In the 2011/2012 season things weren't as great, and the 2013/2014 snow has been so scant that the stagecoach lift I lived next to delayed opening by over a month. Because of this, landlords will ask if you're already employed / have money saved, because they've seen seasonal tenants not find local work during a bad season. One option to mitigate this risk is live near Alpine Meadows, where cloud seeding is done (Nevada did this until 2009)
2) Aspen - Another great place with a good village feel. Pricier rent ($1200-1600) but has decent nightlife and a mountain that usually has great snow. Haven't personally been there in decades though.
3) Park City, Utah - I've only driven through Park City to go see Snowbird, but it felt like one of the densest communities I've seen built so close to the mountains. Found locals that have designed their lives to work hard and still make it to the mountains during the week. You should check this area out at least once to feel how light the snow is. My only warnings are the air quality outside of the mountains due to temperature inversions, and the mountains didn't feel as hair-raising as places in Colorado or Wyoming.
4) Telluride / Mountain Village - Telluride's expensive, considering the season passes are up there close to $2000 and the few seasonal rentals there start at $1200/mo and quickly go up. But either village has a gondola that takes you straight to the slopes.
5) Breckenridge - Also a decent place surrounded by a larger village, although it's colder (known as Breckenfridge) and can get crowded.
- Whistler, Canada - Great snow along with nightlife and one of the best village atmospheres. I'd go here if I had time to figure out the legalities of working in Canada. The bigger problem is that due to it's northern latitude, there's little daytime in the early season and all lifts are closed by 3pm.
- Jackson Hole, Wyoming - amazing mountains - generally you either live in Teton Village where the resort is, or the town of Jackson which is a 25 minute free bus ride away. Because of how exclusive and remote things are out here, food is expensive out here, and Teton Village itself is merely condos/hotels, fancy restaurants that close too early, and the Mangy Moose bar. That said, I met people that moved their families and work to Teton Village for a month to take a comfortable break from city life.
- Sun Valley, Idaho - Haven't been, expensive, but have only heard good things about it.
I'm not going to mention Keystone since the closest reasonably-priced rentals are a long walk from the lifts, nor Arapahoe Basin which is a great place but requires driving, nor Vail where I couldn't find seasonal rentals within walking distance to the lifts. Sorry, this is my personal dislike towards driving. Also, I haven't been to Taos, New Mexico in ages, but from memory most living arrangements there require driving.
Finding a place
This is probably one of the more stressful parts. My personal experience involved surfing craigslist the 6 weeks before the move, calling and emailing people left and right. Then I just drove out to Tahoe just after thanksgiving,stayed in cheap motels for a week, and emailed more craigslist posts telling them I can give pay them and move in immediately.
If I had to do it again, I'd skip craigslist and call real estate agents months in advance, seeing what will soon be available from the pool of retirees using their condos as summer homes. Furthermore, I recommend finding a neighborhood with condos since they take care of all the snow-blowing equipment,etc. Finally, realize that some places may look down the street from the city center, but are actually up a mountain pass! Remember to check the terrain map if you're trying to avoid driving down a mountain pass just to check your mail (mail delivery does not occur in Tahoe Village, you get a post office box).
You’re in a fixed time environment. Unlike 24-hour gyms, the mountain’s only open from 9am to 4pm. This motivated me to wake up usually by 7am to start work, work solid until about 1pm, schedule the rice cooker, then hit the slopes until they close. Then you get home refreshed and with dinner ready, and get back to work.
Being around stuff you like to do on a fixed time helps a lot with organizing your day. You’re framing your day less around how to get work done, more around how to make the most of of a day instead.
Snowboarding isn’t the healthiest exercise, and gets worse if you buy the expensive not-so-healthy food they sell on the mountain. Thankfully when the lift is close to home, you never think about eating on the mountain unless you're with friends. To give some real data, (although weight is just one mediocre measure), I went from about 162-165 lbs at the start of the season to less than 153 lbs by the end.
Finding people and escaping back to concrete jungles
Running away to some new remote village is a bit weird at first, but unless you're going to some obscure place, you're not the only geek into living on mountains. There's enough people to warrant starting a meetup group like the coworking group in Tahoe. You'll also just find yourself inevitably talking to folks on the lift, on the weekdays especially there's a healthy mix of folks from business owners, doctors, students, or just general ski bums up for chatting.
Finally, places like Park City, Tahoe, Whistler, and Breckenridge are only 2-3 hours away from a major city. Park City's famous for being able to get you from flying into Salt Lake City to getting on the slopes within an hour, and South Lake Tahoe is less than an hour from Reno which is large enough to get errands done.
After living in a resort town then moving to a major city, I'll admit I miss it to an extent. There's something nice about only hearing mountain winds at night instead of cars, seeing homes free of the suburban-pressured concept of a well-kept yet water-wasting lawn.
Overall, I hope this guide helps you if you have the itch, and have the position to go out there, even if it's just for a month.
Special thanks to the friends (you know who you are) I met while living out there, and those that came to visit.
- If driving north to Tahoe via Nevada, watch out for the villages along the way with sudden 25mph speed limit changes. They’re typical speed trap towns.
- Montbleu tends to be the casino to go to for better nightlife, and to gamble away quarters on some of the last standing Sigma Derby machines.
- Cave Rock is worth checking out on a sunny day.
- My biased pick of tahoe-area resorts (as a snowboarder) is as follows:
Kirkwood, Heavenly, then everything else. Kirkwood is a drive but has great traverses and a more local feel, along with not—so-resort-priced food down at 7800 bar. Heavenly is despised by folks as the most touristy, but I found Northstar to be even worse. Heavenly has some great pockets on the Nevada side if you want to get away from the crowds. I didn’t get time to really try out the other places, but Squaw/Alpine seem like the next best area to check out.
- You probably don’t need special winter tires, or chains if you have an all-wheel-drive car. There’s plenty of snowplows going through the main streets, even like Kingsbury Grade since they’re state roads.
- Internet - you’ll just have to pay out the nose for this, sorry. In the area I stayed, there were only two choices - Frontier (DSL) or Charter (reasonably priced, but didn’t support all of Summit Village ). Tethering off your phone might be hard since the cell towers up the mountain won’t necessarily have LTE/3G data speeds.
Just some cool people I discovered living in the mountains:
- Chuck moore (inventor of the Forth language / greenarrays) lived around tahoe for many years up in Incline Village.
- Seth Brown lives up in the mountains of New Hampshire and made his own weather station, and did an amazing analysis of looking for resorts with the hardest terrain.
- The blog platform (silvrback) this post is on at the time of writing is made by Damian Sowers, who's written about living in Tahoe