HOW TO LIVE FOR FREE AT A SKI AREA

By Paul Maraschiello

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When I first moved up to Vermont, I was standing in the yard of an old farm, when a guy came up and told my buddy, Jacque that a developer was looking for someone to watch over the four new houses he had just finished building. It sounded like a good deal. All you had to do was LIVE there. Jacque wasn't interested, so I decided to check it out.



The information I had received on the grapevine was correct. A contractor from Jersey had built four houses and he was tired of paying his foreman to live up there and keep an eye on them. The deal was free rent in exchange for someone being there every night and watching over the place, cutting the lawn in the summer and shoveling the snow off roof in the winter. It was a great deal and I lived at Eagle Rock in Pittsfield RENT-FREE for six years!



After they sold the house I was living in, I needed a place to stay. I figured that after six years of rent-free living, I would have to start paying rent like everyone else. Fortunately, a friend needed some help setting up and running an antique shop, so he offered me FREE RENT in exchange for a little help around the shop and I found myself living in a rent-free situation, again.



I know what you're going to say, "You were just lucky, man." That's true, but many of my friends had also transcended rent payments. One of my buddies is living in the Fire House at the base of the mountain at a MAJOR Western resort, as a member of the volunteer fire department and lives rent-free in the fire house. Other ski bums I know have room and board as part of their compensation along with a FREE ski pass.



RUN A SKI HOUSE



Another good deal is running a ski house. This requires a little capital and a lot of courage, but it's a great way to have free accommodations at your favorite resort. To set yourself up with free digs, the first thing you need to do is rent a ski house. Go up in the summer and start scoping thing out. Ski houses are at a premium in November but they are dirt cheep in the summer at most resorts. The summer rental market is so bad that many owners of ski houses don't even bother to rent them out in the summer or offer greatly reduced rent in the off-season. If you are moving up full-time, this is the kind of house to look for.



By shopping around, you will be able to locate a good ski house at below market value. You must have enough money to front the security deposit, first months rent, and sometimes last months rent. Then you need to do a little math. The average ski house has bunk beds in every bedroom and is designed to accommodate a lot of skiers. Assume you find a four-bedroom place that rents for $1,500 per month during the ski season and is not rented in the off season. The owner is expecting to receive $9,000 in rent for his place, for the ski season. You could offer him $10,000 for the year and move in.

The total monthly rent is now $833 per month. With four bedrooms in a house that sleeps eight, the math works out just right. You can charge $1,300 for a full share and it works out to only $217 per month for the season or $650 for a half share and you pay $0 and run the place. If you have negotiated a year-round rental, you can find a couple of house-mates for the summer season and make money on the deal.



All you have to do to make this work, is to rent out all the beds. It is pretty easy to find roommates at a ski area. You can advertise in the local papers, on the Internet and/or put up flyers on the bulletin boards at the local grocery stores, bars, restaurants, etc., and wait for the phone to ring.



Now, if you don't plan to become a "local" at your favorite ski area, you could do this as a week-ender too.



MAKE MORE FRIENDS



An excellent way to stay at a ski area for a very moderate fee is to know people in a ski house. Often the ski house will have a very liberal "guest" policy. I got to know some people in a ski house at Seven Springs, Pennsylvania, that built a beer fund by charging a guest $10 a night to stay at their place. Although there was no guarantee you get a bed, I was always able to sleep in a bed every time I crashed there, even though the couches looked very inviting.



A friend reminded me of a gal who became a live-in part-time babysitter and got a free place to stay in ski country.



I have been a couch sleeper for many years. I find that visiting old friend and crashing on their couch is still a well established tradition among my friends and I am always delighted to reciprocate. My philosophy has always been: "You can never have too many friends in ski country" (or any place else).

ROAD TRIP

Then there is always sleeping in the van. I knew a guy that traveled all around Vermont in an old step-van. He lived in the van. A barn door had fallen on his head when he had been working as a salesman. While lying in the hospital bed, he thought of his life as a traveling salesman, knocking himself out to support his family. As his kids were pretty much grown up, he decided that this was a great time to say "the hell with it" and start life over again. He grew a beard, moved into his truck and kisses his wife and grown children good bye and became a gypsy. He sharpened farm implements in the summer and tuned skis in the winter.





As you can see, staying at a ski area does not have to be an expensive position. Even those who are members of a ski house can have a place to stay for as little as $25 per week-end night. For two years in a row, I have even stayed in a hotel (one was trail-side) for the low rate of $25 per night. A great place to stay that has all the amenities is the North Star Lodge, a ski lodge that has early season rates that are SUBSTANTIALLY less ($100.00 less for a double for the weekend) for this moderately priced lodge that includes a full hot buffet and breakfast every Saturday, Sunday and holidays.

There are great deals at every ski area before Thanksgiving, when there are thousands of vacant rooms and very few skiers, but that's another story.



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