(Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series that profiles area residents who live for riding the mountains.)
On any given day this season, local ski bum Joey Gabianelli can be found skiing moguls in Deep Temerity or dropping big lines on Highland Bowl — all without poles.
For Gabianelli, 21, a typical day on the hill includes two hikes to the bowl’s summit in addition to about a dozen other runs where he drops in earlier. Gabianelli supplements his income by working a few hours a week at the Inn at Aspen. His shifts are mostly in the morning, giving him enough time to hit the slopes for at least four hours everyday.
At its best, Gabianelli’s style of skiing without poles is a show of balance and coordination, which most bowl regulars notice.
“I’ve been watching him,” said one local at the top of the bowl on a recent bluebird day. “It’s amazing, he skis like a snowboarder.”
At its worst, it can be dangerous. That’s typically because he likes to push himself to go faster and bigger, especially if he’s under a ski lift or in front of a camera.
“I go hard, I try to take different lines,” Gabianelli said with a pause. “And I fall a lot.”
Gabianelli gave up skiing with poles last year after he had a bad accident in Vermont. He took a tumble and one of his poles speared him in the side, leaving him with severe bruises. In order for it not to happen again, he decided just to give up poles altogether.
Gabianelli is in his junior year at Dartmouth College, double majoring in engineering and earth science. When he was 16, he converted his truck’s engine to run off of vegetable oil and that’s what fueled his vehicle across the country to Aspen. He gets used oil for free from Chinese restaurants in Carbondale, which he refines using thick cheese cloths. The technology has allowed him to actually save money living in Aspen, which is something not typical for most ski bums.
Dartmouth splits the school year into four different quarters — summer, winter, spring and fall — so students have the option of taking the winter off and attend classes in the summer. That’s what Gabianelli did so he could live the ski bum lifestyle and shred Highlands daily.
Gabianelli, who is originally from Atlanta, grew up visiting his aunt Nina Gabianelli, a Carbondale resident who works at the Aspen Historical Society, and skiing the local mountains. By the time he went to college, he knew he wanted to become a good skier, he said.
Gabianelli bought his first pair of skis at Dartmouth’s annual ski swap. He figured if he could excel at shredding the icy moguls at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont, he could ski anywhere, he said. Learning how to ski on the East Coast helps him appreciate all of the powder in the mountains because on an icy day in Vermont, skiers slide down blue-colored runs made of ice, he said. Gabianelli has yet to see blue ice in Aspen, he said.
“The snow is a lot nicer out here,” Gabianelli said. “There’s just more of it.”
About a week ago, he decided to finally replace his first pair of skis after a local instructor gave him a deal on a pair. Gabianelli has been riding his first pair of skis for the past few months despite that both of them have blown edges. They’re fine most of the time, except on catwalks, he said with a laugh.
The recent disappearance of beloved local Jeff Walker, who was last seen hiking the bowl on March 7, has impacted the way Gabianelli thinks about skiing solo, he said. Gabianelli skis steep and deep runs alone on most days.
“It kind of hit home,” he said. “That could have been me any day this season.”
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