Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series that profiles area residents who live for riding the mountains.
Tomas Zuccareno is celebrating 20 years of living the good life in Aspen, and although he has skied every season during that time, he is proud to admit that he has never paid for a day of skiing in this valley.
Zuccareno, who will turn 45 later this month, grew up in Hanover, N.H. and learned to ski at the nearby Oak Hill ski area when he was 10. After majoring in photojournalism and graduating from Prescott College on the seven-year plan, Zuccareno decided to make the move to Aspen following an epic Fourth of July experience in town.
“I came for the skiing and other adventures,” he said during a recent ride on the Silver Queen gondola.
He also admits that he was a bit naive when he chose Aspen as his home.
“When I moved here, I didn’t know it was the crown jewel of skiing,” he said.
Unlike many of his fellow ski bums, Zuccareno has managed to parlay his college major into a career entwined with his love of skiing. Before the advent of the Internet, Facebook, Twitter and Aspen Skiing Co.’s “content crew,” Zuccareno was one of a handful of professional photographers on the mountain every day, shooting ski porn with his camera that would ultimately be used to help the market the ski areas.
During his first decade in town, he estimates he skied in excess of 120 days each season, mostly following local athlete and mountaineer Chris Davenport around as he hucked off of cliffs and tore through powder.
“We would create cool ski images so we could go skiing every day,” Zuccareno said.
These days, Zuccareno logs between 80 and 100 days a season, being a bit pickier based on conditions.
His “job” has continued over the years, resulting in a free season pass every year, although Zuccareno is now a bit more focused on his photo shoots. For example, this season he is working on a project to highlight the newly opened Burnt Mountain terrain on Snowmass. With tons of terrain to choose from and an intimate knowledge of each mountain, Zuccareno considers himself a “Highlands guy,” largely because of the steep skiing, including the bowl.
Another major client of Zuccareno’s is ESPN and the X Games franchise, having photographed every Winter X Games in Aspen since they came to town in 2002. He also has done consistent work at the Summer X Games in Los Angeles, and for the first time he is headed off to Tignes, France, next month. Luckily he can now correctly pronounce the French city with tutelage from Davenport, although Zuccareno insists that “tig-knees” sounds cooler.
Zuccareno acknowledges that his lifestyle and career path have led him down a road where he doesn’t get a paycheck every week or work a 9-5 job. However, he is aware that he is lucky to make a living with his camera and earn a living in Aspen, and that the jobs he takes aren’t always about the money.
“I judge each assignment on how much it’s going to improve my life,” he said. “Does that attitude keep me broke? Absolutely. Does it keep me in the ski bum pile? Absolutely.”
Notwithstanding the financial constraints of his career path, Zuccareno has still managed to purchase a home in Missouri Heights, albeit at a bank sale for pennies on the dollar. Surprisingly, as a longtime valley resident, he has never called Aspen home, referring to himself as a “DV (downvalley) ski bum.”
Prior to his current digs, Zuccareno lived in Old Snowmass and Basalt. But that hasn’t stopped him from enjoying Aspen and everything it has to offer.
Everyone in town has their favorite ski shop, and without question Zuccareno’s is Hamilton Sports. After winning 200 cases of beer in a poker game, Zuccareno shared his bounty at the shop during a “cover release party” celebrating a photo of Davenport that made it on to the cover of Skiing Magazine. The relationship between skier and shop has been cemented ever since.
Zuccareno has been around long enough to see plenty of changes come to Aspen, and laments the bigger highway with more cars on the road, driven by people always in a rush to get somewhere. He also misses some of the craziness and local color that used to be a part of everyday life. In one of his more wild adventures, he was tasked with photographing the infamous Club 81611, a strip club that popped up in the mid-90s. The assignment led him to document a photo shoot by a local artist that involved several of the dancers with Hunter S. Thompson, cow skulls and cardboard Clinton dolls.
Even with the inevitable changes, Zuccareno hopes to carry on the torch of the old Aspen, and has no plans of leaving until they kick him out.
“I just hope I’m lucky enough to do this for a long time,” he said.
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