The Ultimate Ski Bum

For some, living in a van (#vanlife) is something to do on vacation or on the weekend. For adventure photographer Adam Sauerwein, it’s a way of life.

Adam Sauerwein Age: 33 From: Buffalo, N.Y. Lives In: Killington Family: Parents Chip and Donna; sisters Kara and LeahPrimary Sports: Skiing, snowboarding and #Vanlife Ocupation: Wedding and Adventure Sports Photographer

You might not think of a young entrepreneur as the type who would choose to live in a converted school bus in Killington’s parking lot all winter, but that’s exactly what Adam Sauerwein has done.

Sauerwein has spent the last five years living out of a converted 2001 Ford e350 short school bus and shooting photos and video of his life on the road as an East Coast ski bum. During the summers, he works long hours out of his studio in Buffalo, N.Y. shooting weddings and doing event management. Come winter, he hits the road to film when he can and ski as much as possible. Most days at about 7:30 a.m. you can find him finishing his home-brewed (or bus-brewed) coffee in the parking lot at Killington Mountain Resort. 

Adam Sauerwein finds some early morning fresh tracks in Vermont. Photo by Adam Sauerwein.

It wasn’t always this way. In 2012, Sauerwein was working nine-to-five at a prominent environmental firm in Buffalo, N.Y. “I was part of the hustle like everybody else and I was living in this world where money ruled everything,” recalls Sauerwein. After getting caught in a particularly grueling traffic jam, he decided to give three weeks’ notice and dive head-first into what had been his side-hustle: wedding photography.

He bought an old school bus from his home school district (raising the eyebrows of a few former teachers), ditched his apartment, bought a Mr. Propane portable space heater, grabbed his skis and snowboard and started touring the East, looking to meet and document the people, mountains and terrain that make East Coast skiing unique. He slept in his bus in parking lots, slowly built out the interior and made a video series called “The Pursuit” about his season chasing not just powder but “local legends”—the people who give New England’s ski areas their soul. His tactic? Sleeping in the parking lot and offering lots of friendly cups of steaming hot, French press coffee.

“I wanted to meet the local guys and gals who are like, ‘yeah, I’ve been skiing here for 40 years,’” says Sauerwein, a telemark skier  who is at home in the backcountry and in the park. “The bus is a free pass to that group of skiers that exists at every mountain, the keepers of the local intel. They look at the bus and they’re like, ‘OK, you’re not a tourist. You get it. We can share our secret spots with you.”

  Over the years, he has built a bed in the bus, experimented with a woodstove, built bookcases, installed an oven and created seating. He’s found secret powder stashes on the back side of Killington, chased locals up and down Mount Ascutney and skied steep and deep trees with patrollers at the Middlebury Snow Bowl.

Adam Sauerwein hunkers down by the woodstove—in his school bus. Photo by Adam Sauerwein.

To pay his way, Sauerwein pieces together three endeavors: a business called SH Wedding Photography, his own adventure photography and videography business, Adam Sauerwein Photography, and a gig as an equipment lead for Silverback Enterprises. “People often think I am postponing life, just passing through places, but I have a great business and a career. I have a photography studio. Believe it or not, I have a savings account.”

Though Sauerwein just purchased a brand-new adventure rig and converted it (he now lives in a Dodge ProMaster Camper Van), he is still loving life on the road in the East. He has no plans to make a home chasing powder out West.

“Here, no one cares about your backstory. You show up at the same place every week, and you’re here to ski and you will, whether it’s rainy or windy, or cold. And whatever the conditions, you’re going to have a great time. You get psyched about stuff that other people wouldn’t look twice at. You find what you can. It’s this diehard skiing culture that I don’t think you quite get on the West Coast.”

Abagael Giles

Abagael Giles is the Assistant Editor at Vermont Ski + Ride Magazine. She loves free-heel skiing and exploring her home state of Vermont–one ridgetop at a time. Find her on Twitter at @AbagaelGiles.

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