Outdoor bums, then and now.
The times, they are a-changin’. It seems that as we press further into the millennium, along with an outrageous housing market, Bozeman’s outdoor folk are taking on wildly different looks. No longer is this town filled with the tattered clothes and meager incomes of impassioned recreationists and nature buffs happily forsaking modern comforts in the pursuit of a more fulfilling life. Nope, we’ve got a whole new face on our ski bums, river rats, and other outdoor aficionados. So read on for a quick trip down memory lane, and learn how to identify contemporary outdoor “bums” and “dirtbags.”
Then: Skied (telemark) every day; lived in a house with five other people; hitchhiked to Bridger every morning; sewed packs at Dana Design at night; couldn’t afford beer; took offense to being called a bum; listened to Widespread Panic and the Smashing Pumpkins.
Now: Skis every day (on one of seven pairs in his “quiver”); retired hedge-fund manager; owns a house in Bozeman and one in Santa Barbara; drives a $130,000 Sprinter van to Bridger; drinks PBR because his favorite AK heli-guide does; listens to conservative talk radio; tells everyone he’s “just a real ski bum now.”
Then: Fished every morning and evening; worked part-time in construction (despite holding a PhD in chemistry) to maximize river time; waders were patched in five places; tied flies because they were actually better than commercial flies; ate whitefish (and trout on occasion); didn’t have an Instagram page and hated grip-n-grin photos.
Now: Fishes on weekends, but talks about fishing every day; works four jobs to pay insane Bozeman rent; has brand-new gear and a custom driftboat to help justify constantly working; calls whitefish “trash fish” because that’s what “real” fly fishermen say; wears a flat-brim hat and trout-patterned Buff at all times; would never eat a trout (but LOVES the ahi at Dave’s); Instagram handle is @rippinlipsMT; has never caught a trout larger than 16”.
Then: Army surplus coat; crazy eyes; lived in green pup tent behind a 1990 Subaru Legacy parked in an abandoned lot in Gardiner; ate Ramen seven days a week, but had a $2,000 spotting scope; no discernable employment; monitored NPS radio channels for wolf info; related to wolves more than people; growled at anyone who approached.
Now: Patagonia garb head-to-toe, because that’s what the salesman at REI said was best; rents riverside cottage in Paradise Valley all summer; retired insurance adjuster from Ohio; drives to Bozeman for organic produce; uses $12,000 camera lenses to take wildlife photos for annual family calendar; hires guide to locate roadside wolves; points out distant wildlife to strangers like an official Yellowstone ambassador.
Then: Climbed every day without a helmet or checking the grade beforehand; ate mustard packets for protein; survived on an annual budget of $1,200; slept outside every day; all possessions fit inside one backpack, most of which was climbing gear; was one of the most unpopular stereotypes around.
Now: Majority of climbing days are spent in the gym; never attempts outdoor routes without looking them up on Mountain Project and reading every comment; consistently points out safety flaws in other groups; environmental activist who cooks organic, free-range, vegan meals; all possessions fit inside a decked-out Sprinter van; is one of the most glorified subcultures around.
Then: Took all of hunting season off; hunted in red flannel and Levis; carried nothing but a gun, bullets, and knife, no matter the outing; oriented by looking at constellations and faded topo maps; made lasting relationships with ranchers and landowners; ate liver & onions as tradition.
Now: Works all of hunting season filming content for YouTube; is covered head-to-toe in Sitka or First Lite; carries 70-liter pack filled with spotting scope, camera equipment, and more Sitka or First Lite; navigates strictly by GPS; eats tongue because he saw a cool video of Steven Rinella cooking one.