THE HIGH LIFE
Dream of living in the mountains and skiing every day? Well, why not make it a reality? Why can't WFH be Working From High? Based in Sun Peaks for the winter, Brits Louise and Simon Hudson ski 100 days a year, often making first tracks in the powder (see image above) having discovered how to work, rest and ski, living the dream. Here's how...
The Skiing Dolce Vita is something that many people dream about but don’t really think they will ever achieve. I can still remember my teenaged self, back in the 70s, thinking that the Swans’ rep in Seefeld was the ‘luckiest person in the world’ since he got to ski there all season. But was it laisser-faire luck or positive powder planning?
As I grew up, still obsessed by skiing more than any other interest, I elongated my ski experiences from annual fortnight’s holidays to several winters working in European resorts. When I set up a clothing design business in Brighton in the mid-80s (featuring lots of après-ski tops), my time was less flexible.
However, ski strategising led my partner Simon to become a Ski Club of Great Britain rep which enabled us to spend two three-week periods per season in French and Swiss ski resorts, thus assuaging the obsession. Two more saisonnaire winters followed in 1989-90 and 1990-91 working for Crystal Holidays and then downhill disaster: Babies!
PRE-PLANNING PAYS OFF
How on earth to ski sufficiently with kids in tow? After several seasons with hubby doing SCGB stints and us tagging along, spending all our savings on childcare and early ski school, we decided to move to more affordable mountains. Another pre-planned strategy paid off at this point. Simon had done a PhD on ski marketing, started work as a tourism lecturer, and published a book called ‘Snow Business’ entirely to perpetuate our piste passion.
It worked – it led to a job offer at the University of Calgary, Alberta. So in 1999, our by now ski-mad foursome decamped to Canada. A decade skiing the Lake Louise Banff area as well as many British Columbia resorts was followed by what could look like a blip in the ski lifestyle, especially as it meant leaving my plum job as the ski writer for the Calgary Sun. Because of Simon’s career in academia, we moved to South Carolina!
But no winter woes or downhill depression for us – we were a hop, skip and a jump to all the Colorado resorts, Utah, California and Wyoming. And my job as a freelance ski journalist now with publications like The Dallas Morning News, Boston Globe, LA Times, MORE mag, SNOW, Ski Canada and The Globe & Mail, facilitated much ski hill hedonism and around 40 days skiing per season for the next 10 years.
BECOMING DIGITAL SNOW-MADS
But there comes a time in every insatiable skier’s life when days are not enough – after all, you can (and I did) end up picking all the wrong days some seasons by having to book in advance and get dodgy snow wherever you go – Squaw Valley and Telluride in sparse-snow concrete conditions were particularly lamentable.
I started craving the all-season experience with ski-in, ski-out downhill dibs just when our 60th year was approaching. Having studied digital nomads – and, in particular, digital snow-mads - for a variety of articles and books, it seemed a no-brainer that Simon should become a remote professor with flexibility to work from anywhere.
We wanted to achieve the perfect part-time passion-based lifestyle for our semi-retirement. After writing ‘A Worldwide Guide to Retirement Destinations’, we had already decided that Portugal’s Algarve would be our summer centre and savvily bought a villa there in 2014 when prices were laughably low.
CHOOSING A WINTER SKI BASE
So, where to base ourselves for our Winters of Skier-Content?
Research done during Canadian ski safaris in previous seasons had revealed the benefits of Sun Peaks Resort in British Columbia. Although it is Canada’s second largest ski area, it is not the highest profile so it doesn’t (yet) suffer from lift line longitude. And most properties around the cute Tyrolean-themed village are ski in/out which suited us as we didn’t plan to have a cost-creating car. We did not want to buy a home there either, just to rent a slopeside condo for four months over the winter.
Many Europeans, Aussies and Kiwis we had met were doing exactly the same thing. As Canadian citizens – another strategic move when we were living there full time (after all, who wouldn’t want citizenship in a ski country?) – we were able to come and go easily and our Portugal residency enabled us to spend up to 180 days outside the country. More than enough to fulfill the goal of skiing 100 days per season.
Our first winter at Sun Peaks, 2019-20, was truncated by the pandemic so we only got to 75 and the next season was obliterated by Covid as we deemed it irresponsible to travel. But we are now well into another winter there and on track to reach our 100 days – disasters-permitting. When not on the slopes, Simon works away on various virtual university projects and I fit in articles for Sun Peaks News, Ski Canada mag, my blog OneTwoSki! and STYLE ALTITUDE whenever my legs are done for the day.
|MY 9 TOP TIPS FOR SKIING THE DOLCE VITA
| 1) A property in the UK can be worth a lot more, relatively, in other countries - even some ski resorts - so look at how far your equity could go in another currency if you’re thinking of selling up. But be absolutely sure before you choose this option as once out of the UK property market, it can be difficult to get back in.
| 2) Consider renting out your main residence (and driveway, garage, etc) – in the UK or elsewhere and look at how far that revenue could go towards supporting you in a ski area for the winter.
| 3) Investigate swaps: HomeExchange.com and similar sites could reveal the perfect opportunity for a free winter season or a large part of one, either in one place or resort-hopping.
| 4) Before choosing a country, look at the regulations, visas, limitations regarding lengthy stays. Brexit has made it difficult for Brits in Europe but 90 days out of 180 can still yield a lot of vertical.
| 5) Simon’s top tip: “Planning: don’t just choose your all-time favourite resort without looking at the overheads. Think about a longer term plan and figure out the finances. There could be some compromising on your wishlist and budgeting involved if you want to make it work for multiple ski seasons.”
| 6) Don’t forget other costs like flights, insurances including medical and dental (Simon lost a crown recently which had to be expensively replaced), transport to and from (and even around the resort if required), ski passes (and when to buy at lowest price), general cost of living.
| 7) Having decided which ski resort ticks all or most of your boxes, join all the social media groups associated with that area in order to get the skinny on accommodation and other insider info. At Sun Peaks, these would be Sun Peaks Survivors and Unofficial Sun Peaks. Also, subscribe online to any local magazines or newspapers.
| 8) Think about volunteering with the Ski Host service at your chosen resort if it is in North America. This might take a season or more to achieve as the opportunity is highly sought after in many ski areas since it comes with a free season’s pass. Look at other volunteer opportunities that might come with pass perks as well as a neat intro into the local lifestyle.
| 9) Consider ski instructor certification or another part-time job in the resort. Being able to afford your own winter accommodation is a huge plus in resorts all over North America where staff digs are limited. And ski bum jobs are no longer the preserve of the young!
THE RENTAL ROUTE
Sun Peaks – which, as well as a resort, is a municipality with its own Mayor – has a small but eclectic and growing population including those who have migrated from other parts of Canada, USA, Europe and the Antipodes to scratch their skiing itch.
Having each lived in five countries (and now new Canadian citizens), Harold and Kathy Richins (image below) achieve the Downhill Dolce Vita by renting out their gorgeous mountain home in Sun Peaks* to weekenders and weekly visitors. With its wooden rafters, soaring ceilings, stone floor-to-ceiling fireplace, and huge windows onto the winterscape, Morrisey Chalet at Sun Peaks sleeps 14, so it’s a good money spinner. There’s also a basement suite where the couple decamps whenever the chalet is rented.
Using VRBO, AirBnB and Facebook, Kathy says they are in demand throughout the winter ski season as well as the peak summer periods when the year-round resort turns to golfing, biking and hiking. Morrisey Mountain - with the aptly named Mid Life Crisis run - is the backdrop to their beautiful home as well as the scene of much groomed glee and powder play. And in summer there’s a babbling brook and the 4th hole fairway just beyond the privacy offered by their cedar and fir trees.
Recently qualified as a Level 1 CSIA instructor at the age of 68, Kathy works on her skiing proficiency by guiding visitors around the three mountains and gate training in a race camp. Harold is also a ‘Sun Host’ and dabbles in part-time contracts with a university in Salzburg which helps facilitate European jaunts.
Kathy calls the extra income provided from their short-term rentals, their 'travel money', which helps fund their passion for world travel. They are currently putting the final touches on plans for a Hut-to-Hut hiking trip in the Austrian Alps, biking along the Portuguese Way (O Caminho Português de Santiago), and hiking in the Azores and Madeira this summer.
“Offering your home or condo for rentals is not for everyone,” says Kathy. “There is a loss of privacy, and there is a lot of work involved.”
She points out the complications of rental zoning, business licensing, safety, insurance, scheduling bookings, also setting up and managing a website and Facebook page.
“Finally, finding the right Property Management company and cleaners is imperative,” she adds. “But if you enjoy meeting new people from all around the world, sharing information about your retirement paradise with others, helping extended families and friends come together in one place to create new holiday memories through renting your home, while having that extra cash to allow you to travel the world, this may be for you.”
Harold skied over 140 days last year, and Kathy is not far behind that this season.
Harold’s advice for enjoying The High Life:
Come with a yes mentality.
Get involved, socialise, join clubs and weekly get-togethers, volunteer, contribute and participate.
Try new activities and experiences such as Nordic, showshoeing, backcountry skiing, x-country mountain or gravel biking, hiking, SUPs and kayaks and participate in resort events.
Living on their boat in summer, Kelly Brown and Linda Strachan own two condos in Sun Peaks as well as a share in the building that houses a thriving local business. Living in one spacious mountain-view apartment and renting out the other, they fill their days with ski-related activities.
Linda is a Level 2 CSIA instructor and Kelly combines volunteering as a Sun Host (guiding around the three mountains) with working at Freefall Ski Shop where every pay cheque, and then some, is put toward a constant supply of new ski gear, especially Stöckli skis.
They are also avid volunteers in Sun Peaks, contributing much après-ski time to charitable and social projects. Over the busy Christmas period, they transform into Santa and Mrs Claus skiing, tobogganing and picture-posing with kids.
How to do it? Kelly and Linda recommend the following:
Go to a gym regularly to help with overall fitness and skiing proficiency and longevity.
Embrace the community, participate and volunteer.
Don’t overdo the party lifestyle – balance is key.
Make friends with diverse age groups.
Continue to travel, and while you have the opportunity check out other ski hills.
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**Louise Hudson is co-author of ‘A Worldwide Guide to Retirement Destinations’ available from Waterstones online. Check out her features on STYLE ALTITUDE including The Future for Skiing and Snowboarding 2022...and Beyond.**
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