Merisa Sherman, the Female Ski Bum

Merisa Sherman, aka The Female Ski Bum, and her father on Superstar at Killington, 2006
Merisa Sherman, aka The Female Ski Bum, and her father on Superstar at Killington, 2006

Merisa Sherman’s ski blog connects emotion with skiing, highlights the beauty of the mountains, and explains the meaning of skiing.

Merisa Sherman is many things. She’s a dog lover, an admitted gear addict, bartender and a shop manager. But above all, she is a skier.

“If I walk into a bar and there’s no one that I can talk skiing with, then I’m walking out,” she says.

It’s a passion that she clearly takes seriously and one that she’s incorporated into her blog, The Female Ski Bum, an online account of skiing in Vermont.

Her writing on the blog is sparse and minimalist, while at the same time relentlessly enthusiastic, a writing style that, she says, is intentional.

“It’s very emotional writing,” she says. “It’s not ‘I went here, and I turned left and then I turned right,’ because skiing is emotional for me. It’s dancing, it’s a relationship.”

That relationship began when she was 18 months old while she was living an hour outside of New York City. She grew up learning to ski from her father at Tuxedo Forest (then called Sterling Ridge). After her parents came to Killington in 1971 for a ski vacation, they made it a habit and continued to bring their children with them year after year.

Sherman, now 35, has logged well over 50 days on-snow this season and will continue to ski well into the spring. The title of “ski bum” is one that she willingly embraces and even strongly defends:

Sherman and Vespi take a break on the summit of Mount Washington
Sherman and Vespi take a break on the summit of Mount Washington

The ski bum lifestyle is not something that you can get out of your system in a single season,” Sherman writes in her blog. “It is a way of life that penetrates every breath and thought that occurs, no matter the season.”

“A ski bum is someone who lives and breathes skiing,” she says. “Since I was a kid, that’s been me.”

The blog began in 2010, when her boyfriend had a traumatic head injury and was bedridden and stayed at home to rest. When Sherman would return after a day of skiing, he was usually resting and she was unable to share her day’s adventures with anyone. So Sherman shared her adventures with the web and through her blog, The Female Ski Bum. Sherman’s blog documents everything from trail running, to paddling on Chittenden Reservoir, to the first hot chocolate of the season, but the majority of the content documents her experience skiing, and extensively so.

“In the beginning it was just family and friends,” she says. “And they didn’t realize how beautiful mountains were. I had to explain that yes, this was really where I lived and skied.”

As Sherman continued writing, her readership expanded beyond that small circle. Her Twitter handle @FemaleSkiBum now has over 900 followers and the connected Facebook page has close to 500 likes. Her photographs and comments have been picked up by Ski The East as her writing reviews the conditions in the backcountry on Big Jay, Tuckerman’s Ravine on Mount Washington, and even the last patch of snow on Killington in July – just big enough for one giant slalom turn.

The goal of the blog, she says, is for people to reassess their skiing experience.

“I’d like people to take a different viewpoint on their skiing,” she says “Instead of ‘how many runs can I get in an hour?’ and stopping and looking around and being like, ‘I really enjoy this.’ Because there’s more to skiing than just going up and down.”

Now entering her fourth year writing as The Female Ski Bum, the kind of skiing she prefers – alpine touring – has seen a huge increase in popularity. At Base Camp Outfitters in Killington, where Sherman works as a manager, alpine touring and telemark gear has seen a 70 percent increase in sales in the past few years and the store is constantly reordering skins.

The increase in popularity, she says, occurred as alpine touring bindings and skins made their way into the mainstream. What was originally her journal documenting personal adventures became a resource for readers.

“I began to realize that strangers were knowing a lot more about me, so I got kind of nervous,” she says. “The stuff that’s in the beginning was more personal and I started to not write so much about myself and try and focus more on the skiing.”

This season, she says, hasn’t yielded too many great days, but she remembers the highlights well. This November, she skinned up Killington and skied down in knee-deep powder at five in the morning – unbelievable conditions shared with just one other friend.

“It was the kind of skiing where you jump up and down and hug people,” she says, recalling the morning. “Because it was that good. It’s just one of the privileges we get as uphill skiers.”

The solitude and companionship of the long pre-dawn ascents before exhilarating runs in perfect conditions are what Sherman says makes earning her turns so much more enjoyable.

Merisa Sherman and Vespi camp out before making tracks in the morning
Merisa Sherman and Vespi camp out before making tracks in the morning

Uphill skiing is a common practice at many mountains. At her home mountain, Killington, skiers have been picking their own lines before and after hours for generations. Unfortunately, the times when the snow is best in the early mornings or late nights, is also the same time that mountain operations are in full production – removing snow, setting up and operating snow guns and grooming trails – often with large (and dangerous) equipment.

Rather than work around the dicey situations or go diving into the woods to avoid snowmobiles, Sherman’s passion for the AT/uphill variety of skiing lent itself to another endeavor outside of her writing.

“People have been skinning Killington and Pico since the beginning of time,” she says. “That hasn’t changed, but with the advent of all this equipment, uphill travel is much easier to access by the general public. What Killington realized was that it wasn’t just a bunch of locals who know the ins and outs, there are people coming from all over the place who are not safe. They really needed to come up with a standard policy.”

This led to her involvement as an organizer of the Uphill Snow Travelers Organization (USTO), a group that negotiates with management at ski areas on behalf of uphill skiers and then distributes information to over 300 members.

“The idea was to go to Killington and say, ‘Hey, we have 350 members. That’s a lot of people that go uphill. You guys need a policy.’”

USTO recently helped Killington and Pico design and implement their uphill skiing policy, which has been put into effect for the first time this winter on designated trails. Presently, uphill travel is permitted to the summit of Pico while uphill skiers at Killington can travel to the top of the Ramshead lift. Additional access will be expanded in phases – much like it was during the emergence of snowboarding. The policy requires uphill skiers to carry a specific pass whenever they use the trails. Passes are free for season pass holders and cost $20 for everyone else.  Through the arrangement, in the event of cancelations or a change in the uphill travel route, Killington Resort management can contact USTO, which can communicate with the members.

Sherman says the dialogue was productive and the policy is a good start.

“It was a good back and forth of what is safe for them and what is enjoyable for us and trying to find routes that match that,” she says. “These are routes that we’ve been using for years, but they’re the ways that Killington thought would be safest and the best ways to start.”

Sherman says she is encouraging everyone she knows to buy one of the passes.

“Getting this pass is a vote for uphill,” she says.

Outside of her involvement with USTO, Sherman’s skiing has become more significant. This year, after losing her father, skiing is a means of reaffirming her relationship with her family.

“When I’m [skiing] by myself, I can hear myself. It becomes a dance – something between you and the mountain,” she says. “Now that I’m out skiing with my cousins, that dance can grow to include two people, or three, or four.”

While skiing with her family, Sherman says she’s been making fewer backcountry excursions and early morning skinning. But she says she’s not picky.

“Being a ski bum, your resources are finite,” she says. “Fortunately, being in Killington means we don’t have to go far.”

And when Sherman says “we,” she means one or both of two parties: her golden retriever, Vespi, or her boyfriend, Aaron. Some of their larger trips have been up to Big Jay and to the White Mountains in New Hampshire, but she skis whenever her schedule allows. Some days she can ski for eight hours, other days she’ll only have time for a few runs. The important thing, she says, is to get out and find the snow, no matter where it is.

“If it’s going to be awesome out, then we’re going to go to where the awesome is,” she says.”