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Personal Essay: ‘I’m A Ski Bum, And I Live In My Truck’

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[leadin]Joe Howdyshell lives in his truck. The Colorado ski bum has two months before his lease begins, so in the meantime, he sleeps in empty lots waiting for snow in a 2003 Dodge Ram with no heat. This essay documents the weirdness of his life.[/leadin]

living in truck

My buddy was smiling. “I’m calling B.S. right now,” he said. He’s a good friend, and knows me too well.

But I’d just told him I was “probably” going to live out of my truck (aka, “War Pony”) for November and December in Breckenridge, Colorado. And my bud knew I had just enough wiggle room left in the next 10 days to make a different life choice.

He knows I can talk a bit better than I can walk. But his reaction was just enough to make damn sure I was going to follow through. “I’m moving into my truck!”

Jumping In: Ski Bum Lifestyle

I’d arrived at this plan fairly recently. I’ve been living in Summit County for five years and talking for four of those years about wanting a sweet room within walking distance of a sweet job on Main Street. And then I got the sweet job. And then found the sweet room.

truck life

The downside? The room doesn’t open until late December, and I found a renter for my current room for November 1st. Of course, I could find a different renter. Of course, I could find a different place for two months. But where is the adventure in that?

I’d already used the War Pony for summer living. Having a “room on wheels” is damned handy: it minimizes costs, eliminates travel from hotels, and it ensures a consistent night’s sleep. Here’s what I was working with.

The War Pony, a 2003 Dodge Ram 1500

  • Regular (6’ 6”) bed
  • Broken heater core (Read: no cab heat/defrost)
  • A brand new Ranch Supreme topper in matching gold
  • Fabric headliner to deal with condensation
  • 12V LED dome light
  • “Transformer” style sleeping/storage system, a la DeskToDirtbag.com
  • 2008(ish) ALPS Mountaineering 0-degree sleeping bag (don’t laugh, it was $60 on Steep & Cheap). Actual comfortable lowest temp: 20-ish
  • 4” Memory foam mattress

Winter’s Coming

But what about the winter? As a ski mountaineering racer I’m planning to drive hundreds of miles to races in February while camping in subzero nights in my truck, and hoping to race well in the day. Can I pull it off?

Here was my chance to use the money saved from rent to dial in the War Pony. After two months of living in my truck, I would certainly be able to travel and race effectively.


Or I’d discover it wasn’t possible. The idea is fun. But the reality might totally suck. If it doesn’t go well, I’ll end up cold, wet, sick, and defeated. In order to increase my chances of success I’ve broken down the myriad issues into five categories, each of which merit their own story:

  1. Weather: Average low temperatures in the single digits, lots of snow.
  2. Food: Eating every meal in a restaurant is costly and unhealthy.
  3. Bathrooms: Beyond regular needs, I need to look professional for work.
  4. Active lifestyle: Why live in a ski town if you aren’t getting outside and ending up with wet clothes?
  5. Parking: Lots of snow means lots of snow removal, which means very little legal overnight parking in town.

truck bed camper

Given these factors, can I turn the challenge, not into a win, but a throttling? And, more importantly, will it feel like living, and not just surviving. At this point, I’ve just begun my journey. I guess I’ll have my answers in a couple months!

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