On Display: Living in the Richard Allen Ski Museum

There is a strange code of honor with ski bums.  Some
things that are considered “cool” to the die-hard skier are a mothers worst
nightmare.  There are guys who live in caves and old mines in the mountains
above Telluride, all they own is their ski equipment and season pass. 
A good friend of mine lived in a tent in Breckenridge at 10,000 feet all Winter. 
The more duct-tape a bum has on their clothing the better.  And every
person in a ski town with bum friends and an actual house lives in perpetual
fear of the couch crasher who never leaves!  Regardless of how silly
it may seem, suffering for the sport is a brand of excellence among ski-bums. 
The more you are willing to go through just for the privilege of skiing every
day, the more “cool” you are.


Bekah & Todd pose in museum pieces

Bekah and Todd pose in pieces from the Richard Allen Ski Museum

I’m afraid I will never rate among the legendary ski-bums.  When I decided
to make my living on skis I was disqualified from their ranks.  To really
qualify I would need to either:  not work at all in the Winter, only work
a night job, or have had parents who own a ski area.  However, last year
I did score a few oints for myself in the true ski-bum category.  Last
Winter I lived inside a ski museum.

 The Richard Allen Ski Museum near Pagosa Springs, Colorado may be the
largest private ski collection in the world.  The museum itself is located
inside a huge barn on Richard’s property.  Also inside the barn is a small
apartment, which is where I lived for a year.  In fact there is a large
window that looks into the apartment from the museum outside.  When I lived
there we had a sign just below that window:

 North American Ski Bum

Skiabummis Sapiens Americana

The Richard Allen Ski Museum is proud to have an actual living specimen of
the North American Ski Bum here on display.  If you are quiet and patient
you may actually catch a glimpse of the Ski Bum between its daily forays into
the San Juan Mountains.  Please do not feed the Ski Bum as it may then
follow you home and seize control of your couch.

  • Range:  Scattered throughout the mountain ranges of North America,
    though some migrate occasionally to mountains on other continents.

  • Sleeping Habits:  Erratic;  goes into hibernation from mid-May
    until October.

  • Feeding Behavior:  Ramen Noodles, potatoes, beer, and ‘Power Bars’.

  • Mating Habits:  Research is inconclusive.

  • Population:  Endangered, the population is rapidly dwindling.

 So not only was I living in a ski museum, I was on display!  It ended
up that few people came to the museum during the evening while I was there, but
many did read the sign and peer through the glass at my “enclosure”.

 I came to really love being surrounded by the museum.  I spent many
evenings wandering around the displays, getting to touch and study two hundred
years worth of skis at my leisure.  Richard has such a large collection
of ski gear, pictures, and paraphernalia – its just too much to absorb in one
visit, even several visits.  Living in the museum gave me time to really
study and come to appreciate the collection.

 Countless nights I wandered about the museum:  looking at pictures
of legends, smelling old waxes, trying on fifty year old boots and clothing,
and flexing skis from twenty decades.  Under a window I’d find a picture
of the first snowmobile, very strange looking.  Off near the edge a pair
of champion Phil Mahre’s skis, like solid steel.  From a corner I’d pick
up the 25ft tall ski poles used by a guy in Aspen who skied on stilts. 
I would roam the museum randomly those nights, letting my attention fall on
whatever treasure it found.

 Many of the old skis are works of art.  Layer after layer of rare
wood laminated together and polished to perfection.  Many skis were experiments,
strange side roads that helped steer the way to our modern equipment: 
skis made out of solid magnesium, skis with both tip and tail bent for freestyle
maneuvers, skis with weird ridges running down their length. . . and countless
others.  Richard does not even have room to display all of his collection. 
He has a room with skis stacked up against the walls.  He has boxes of
skis straight from the factory fifty years ago, still brand new.  There
are boxes of old waxes, boots, clothing, poles, books, and pictures.  A
walk through the ski museum is truly a walk though the history of skiing.


After one year in the ski musuem I ended up moving, in search of more space. 
I will always have fond memories of living inside Richard’s ski collection. 
I still sometimes dream I’m back in the museum, walking around at midnight in
ski boots from 1935, looking at the pictures, and trying to imagine what it
was like to be a skier then.  By living there I may not have suffered enough
to be a “true ski-bum”, but it was still cool!

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