STOWE, Vt. — We’d left the boundaries of the Stowe Mountain Resort shortly after we got off the gondola, and were trudging up a mountain road buried under 4 feet of snowpack toward the summit of Mount Mansfield, the highest peak in Vermont, when Brooks Curran finally spotted what he was looking for. He had found the fantasy.
On the downhill side of the road was an open expanse of untouched powder, running to a stand of evergreens painted white by the snow, all framed by a panoramic view of the mountains to the east with not a person in sight.
It was everything that skiing in the East aspires to be. And everything that, most of the time, it is not.
Finding and photographing this elusive ideal is Brooks Curran’s specialty. Making a living from it is why the 26-year-old from Waitsfield, Vt., may just be the modern incarnation of the quintessential New England ski bum.
Last winter, I set out to find the person who fit that description, scouring the local ski industry in search of the guy Matthew McConaughey would play in the movie. There were lots of nominees, who all seemed to work part time at the lift and live in a van full of yellow Gatorade bottles. But the suggestion of Curran, which came from Chris “Rooster” James, one of the cofounders of the clothing brand Ski the East, was so different that it stumped me. I would have been tempted to ask if James understood my quest had he not also suggested a second guy who lived in a van full of yellow Gatorade bottles.
“Brooks Curran. Most widely published guy for East Coast imagery in the industry right now. Has photography in his veins,” James wrote in an e-mail. “His dad, Dennis Curran, was a very established ski and commercial photographer back in the 1980s to early 2000s. Home mountain is Mad River Glen, and he has a super tight pack of MRG guys that he grew up skiing with that have moved out west (traitors!) to Jackson Hole, and he meets up with them every winter. But he spends most of his winter in the East bouncing around.”
He sounded interesting, but I wasn’t sure how he fit the assignment. In my mind, a ski bum is someone working a hustle — a little bit of work for a lot of time skiing. Loading the lift, teaching lessons, working the ski patrol, cutting trails in the summer, all to scrounge up enough money for gas, grass, and a season pass. Curran, on the other hand, seemed to do nothing except ski and take photos of him and his buddies living a dream ski life. I spent a year lurking on his Instagram, trying to figure out how he qualified as a ski bum, until it hit me: This was the next-level ski bum hustle.
There was no side job to get to ski. Skiing was the job. Sometimes he was in front of the camera; usually he was behind it. It was not a gig that had him rolling in cash, but as long as he could capture fantasy shots for his industry clients to feed their social media machines, he could basically ski nonstop until the last bit of snow melted away. (His most viral post, filmed in late May 2019, showed just that: a GoPro clip of him and a buddy skiing the last crumbs of snow, along with plenty of dirt and some streams, on their last run down Mad River Glen.)
Was it that easy? Was that all there was to it? Did he need an assistant? These were the questions going through my head when I finally reached out to Curran, who thought it was hilarious that he’d been nominated as the modern version of the ski bum. A few weeks later, when I met up with him and two of his buddies, Joe Cavallaro and Dave Trumpore, on a perfect day at Stowe, my immediate thought was that he was not my McConaughey-esque character. Yes, he had the shaggy hair and a wispy mustache, but he was clearly smarter and more hard-working than the ski bro of lore. And he was on something of a mission born of local pride.
“I grew up thinking that if you wanted to ski powder or big mountains, you had to go west. But that’s because there was no one to show you what’s out here. There’s this cliché in the West that the East is crowded and icy, so part of me is trying to stick it to them by showing what’s here if you know where to look,” he said with a quiet confidence.
That meant starting each day with a simple directive. “It’s about finding a place where people aren’t.” Which is why the first thing we did when we got to the top of the gondola was to leave the resort behind and start hiking up Mount Mansfield toward solitude.
When we found the untouched powder he was looking for, he and Cavallaro — a buddy from the University of Vermont who grew up in North Andover and now works for the ski manufacturer Nordica — quickly concocted a plan to take full advantage of the blank slate. Cavallaro would go first, skiing a bit down the mountain road before veering into the deep powder for one huge, snow-throwing turn. Curran would take a photo, and then Cavallaro would stop immediately after he made the turn and hunker down in the snow so as not to disturb the most important commodity: the untouched powder.
Curran would then hand his camera to Trumpore — himself an accomplished action sports photographer — and basically repeat what Cavallaro had done, only he would make his big turn inside of the one Cavallaro had laid down, so that in the photos it would be another pristine illusion, with no indication that Cavallaro was ducking down in the background.
The whole thing took about 10 minutes. With a grinding work day mercifully behind them, they went back to the resort and skied the rest of the day. (In truth, this was an unusually laid back day for Curran — he later dragged a Globe photographer on an agonizing backcountry hike because he couldn’t score a lift ticket during school vacation week.)
When I later saw the photo of Cavallaro on Curran’s Instagram page, I thought for a moment about what it didn’t show: the lift lines, or the astronomical ticket prices, or the teenagers trying to run you over, or the afternoon ice. It wasn’t reality. It was what lived right next to it.