Ross Janzen has successfully lived as a ski bum for over 20 years, and he is easily recognized around town by nearly everyone for his vibrant, enthusiastic, carefree personality.
The local legend moved to Fernie in the late 90s, chasing work as a roofer. Unable to work, due to a bizarre dump of a metre of snow, Janzen took a journey up the ski hill, and upon discovering the quality of powder, he never left.
Since his arrival in Fernie, Janzen has seen it change in many ways.
Pre-2000, the attitude towards ski bums in Fernie was extremely negative.
“It’s better than it used to be. There were bars you couldn’t even go in when I moved here, because they’d call you out before you even sat down at the bar.”
Ski bums were known as ‘Toques’, because the locals didn’t wear toques, they wore hats.
“It was a hard town,” said Janzen.
In the 90s, there were about a thousand ski bums in town. Mornings were always a rush to get to the ski chair at 8 a.m.; otherwise one was forced to be in a line up all day.
”You had to get ahead to get powder,” said Janzen. “Now it’s not like that.”
Janzen believes this is due to the influx of people with secondary housing. In addition to this, tourists constantly flowing in from the States, Alberta and Saskatchewan give Fernie a very vast and culturally expansive population.
“The reason I like it (Fernie) so much, it has that very small town community, where you know your friends, you know your neighbours, and everyone takes care of each other,” said Janzen. “But it also has a large international community, there’s people here from everywhere.
“Every year you get three or four hundred new souls from all over the world.”
The now-42-year-old Janzen has traveled all over the world, chasing the sport of skiing.
Traveling to Europe in the early 2000s, Janzen worked the summers in English speaking Europe (UK and Ireland), and he spent the winters in ski resorts. Two winters in France in Les Arcs, and two in Verbier, Switzerland led Janzen to compete in many competitions through the International Freeskiers and Snowboarders Association (IFSA) Freeride Tour.
Returning in 2006, Janzen competed in a North American competition, and then flew back to Europe whenever there was a big competition.
Janzen has competed in snow sports on a global scale, including the first Monster Energy Enemy Lines competition in Fernie in 2013. He placed third overall, out of 24 athletes.
“That’s the fastest I’ve ever gone with that many people around me,” he said.
Janzen was not able to compete the next year, due to being involved in a serious car accident four days prior.
Janzen has broken over 15 bones in his body, most of these due to crashes either through skiing or mountain biking.
“I crash a lot,” said Janzen. “I’ve broken a lot of my body.”
Some of these breaks include his tibia, fibula, radius, ulna (forearm), thumbs four times, collarbone, ribs, vertebrae in neck, a knee injury which required surgery, a broken foot, a spiral fracture and five major concussions, two with loss of time.
“They should call me the radiation man, with the amount of x-rays I’ve had,” said Janzen, smiling.
Despite all of his traveling, Janzen has stuck with Fernie due to its unique atmosphere, mountains, and people.
“Everyone is incredibly friendly, that’s the thing about Fernie, everyone wants to help each other out, and is interested in where you’re from, what you’re doing or why you’re here. And we love the valley so much, we don’t try and hide it from them, we want to show it to them and help people experience it, and I really appreciate that.”
To Janzen, being a ski bum is a lifestyle.
“What a ski bum is to me; the most important thing in their life is skiing. They’ll do what needs to be done, so they can ski as much as possible. Say if you have a nine to five, you’re going to miss one of those days people talk about, and that’s super important when you’re in that lifestyle, that’s the thing. It’s all about those days,” said Janzen.
With rent being higher than it has been in a while, Janzen has seen this take a toll on the ski bum population in the city. In his eyes, the ratio of people working in order to ski, and the people working nine to five jobs, has created a two-tier society. Janzen considers himself one of those people who works in order to ski.
“I’ve never really had year-round jobs,” said Janzen. “I always had my jobs in the summer to make as much money as I can, so that I can ski the winters. I’ve been trying to transition through that to try and find something else so I could have more of a regular lifestyle.”
Last summer, Janzen worked for Back Country Experts, making a majority of the trails in the area, as well as constructing provincial trails in the Elk Lakes.
”But I’m trying to transition out of that so I can work a more year-round lifestyle. It’s hard working seven months, six or seven days a week, so that you can take the winter off. You make all your money from May 1 to November 1, and then spend it all. Your job is going to the ski hill.”
“Being good at skiing doesn’t pay very well,” added Janzen with a laugh.
In Janzen’s eyes, life as a ski bum was more viable in the past, than it is now. With times progressing, older, cheaper living accommodations are being replaced with newer structures that pitch themselves out of the range of affordability for those making minimum wage.
“There’s the people that work for the people that come here to spend money,” said Janzen. “My first year, 20 years ago, I paid $256 plus tax for a ski pass. Now it’s $1599 plus tax.”
“It has lost a little bit of the ski bum flavour in town,” said Janzen. “Heiko wanted people skiing.”
“He loved it, and he is a huge reason why the town is, the way it is. I respect that. He was a special man.”
At the age of 42, the local legend is still going strong.
“I definitely don’t feel 42,” he said. “I do sometimes. I have a rib that sometimes goes out of place from a crash a couple years ago… How old are you supposed to feel at 42?”
Janzen has no plans of leaving Fernie. As of the new year, he has started a new job at the Fernie Hotel and Pub. He is in charge of some of their marketing and sales.
“It’s really interesting work, I really enjoy it,” said Janzen. “Like I said, I’m transitioning to something more where I can sort of build the community I’m a part of, and try and help it become more vibrant.”