(Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series that profiles area residents who live for riding the mountains.)
New Jersey native Kate Giampapa stretches her ski bum lifestyle as far as she can each season, particularly at the Sundeck twice a week.
Giampapa is perhaps best known in town for the yoga sessions that she teaches at the Sundeck. Now in their third season, her twice-a-week morning yoga classes are often jam-packed full of locals and visitors.
Giampapa learned about the wonders of Aspen from her college roommate while studying abroad in Spain. Now in her ninth year in the valley she has found a way to blend her love of nature with time on the mountain snowboarding and teaching yoga.
After graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a degree in art history and education, Giampapa took a vacation from her middle school teaching job and flew out to Aspen to visit her college friend, who was a Basalt native. Before the school year had ended, Giampapa quit her job, loaded up her 1988 Toyota Corolla, moved to the Roaring Fork Valley and quickly adopted the life of a ski bum.
For her first several seasons Giampapa worked as a waitress at the now defunct Cirque in Snowmass, spending all of her free time shredding on the extreme terrain and riding the Headwall everyday at the resort. Having lived in Snowmass for six years, Giampapa joked that she knows the terrain better than anyone in Aspen.
Growing up in a concrete jungle in North Jersey just 10 miles from Manhattan, Giampapa learned to ski when she was 5 years old at small resorts in her home state and neighboring Pennsylvania. Like many East Coast transplants, she mastered the sport on icy slopes, often at night underneath the lights. Her father and her uncle were the skiers in the family, while her mother acquired the title of “lodge master,” hanging out at the base of the mountain to read books and drink hot chocolate.
While she was at college, her boyfriend at the time convinced her to take up snowboarding, and subsequently all of their weekends were spent on the road driving and boarding at Okemo in Vermont. Once a season Giampapa still clicks into a pair of skis just for fun, although she admits she looks like a “total gaper” as she snowplows down the mountain.
During her tenure as a ski bum in Aspen, Giampapa, 30, has only had to purchase her season pass just once. She earns her keep on the mountain at various jobs with the Aspen Skiing Co., including her waitressing job and time spent working as a cashier at the Sundeck. She aims to get on the mountain four to five days each week, and estimates that she consistently boards 80-plus days each season.
For three years she even managed to use her college degree and taught art at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale. However, she realized that she was still young enough that she didn’t want to get stuck in a career, and wanted to travel and get out of town during the off-season.
In her early years in the valley, Giampapa worked for a local rafting company in the summer and managed to spend a month rafting in the “deepest ditch in the world,” — the Grand Canyon. The one thing that Giampapa misses the most from the East Coast, besides her family and friends, is the ocean.
A former marathon runner, triathlete and bicyclist, Giampapa was introduced to yoga by her friend Amanda Dykann the very first weekend after she moved to Aspen. Giampapa was at first skeptical and didn’t think she would get a good workout.
“Believe me Kate, it’s going to kick your ass,” Dykann told Giampapa.
It did, and Giampapa was hooked. The two went on to go through yoga instructor training together and now have their own business called Aspen Synergy. They offer free outdoor classes in the summer at parks throughout town, but the highlight of the year is their annual yoga retreat to Mexico. In its fifth year, the week-long getaway is timed to coincide with the end of ski season.
When not doing private sessions, Giampapa also can be found teaching at Arjuna Yoga in their hot studio. And although she enjoys all types of yoga, she prefers to practice in a hot room where the benefits of stretching, circulation and detox are amplified.
Of the four mountains, Giampapa’s favorite is Aspen Highlands, where she loves to hike the bowl. She has a standing date with her boyfriend to spend each Tuesday hiking and shredding in the steep and deep terrain, and playing in the trees. She experienced her first powder in Colorado, and still appreciates a fast groomer in between storm cycles.
“Even when conditions aren’t great, they still are,” she said.
Back in the day Giampapa used to drive five hours to ski icy terrain. Now she considers herself lucky enough to walk to the slopes or take the bus to Highlands. After almost a decade in Aspen she still remains in awe of her natural surroundings, especially when hiking the bowl.
“I look out and I’m no longer in New Jersey,” she said.
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