Chicagoan finds dream in life of a ski bum

By RACHEL ANDERSON/Montana State News

In the Northern Rockies, mountain culture thrives with the changing seasons. Big Sky resort in southwest Montana offers very few traditional jobs.  A 9-to-5 grind is nearly nonexistent.

And Barry Hukill has been living the dream for more than two decades.

Growing up in a suburb of Chicago, Hukill became accustomed to the city life early on. Being the second oldest of four siblings, he was expected to set high standards.

But now at the age of 42, Hukill is a venerable member of the Big Sky ski-bum community.

“I do what I love year-round,” said Hukill. “I was never meant to follow the social structure of corporate America.”

As a youth, Hukill rebelled against authority figures like his father and stepmom, eventually being sent to boarding high school in the neighboring state of Wisconsin.

After graduating from Kenosha Military School, Hukill wanted to break free of rules and regulations. Leaving everything familiar behind, he headed west.

Having skied the small hills in the Midwest, Hukill wanted to explore the dramatically bigger terrain of the mountains.

At the age of 18, Hukill took a position as a lift operator at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort in Utah.

“I skied every chance I could,” said Hukill. “I felt a sense of freedom and serenity that I had never experienced before.”

After completing three winter seasons in Utah, Hukill was asked by a friend to head north to Big Sky. What he anticipated to be another seasonal adventure would turn to be a love affair he could not stray away from.

The snow had begun to cap the peaks in the Gallatin valley in early October 1991 when Hukill first arrived in Big Sky. He had lined up a job at Big Sky Resort.

“My first glimpse of Lone Mountain left me speechless,” said Hukill.

With little money and basic housing accommodations, Hukill was able to do what was most important – ski.

“It was my first season out here, and I skied over 100 days,” said Hukill.

Hukill has continued the 100-plus days of skiing every season since.

After finishing his first winter here, Hukill felt no immediate desire to leave.

“I hadn’t spent enough time in Big Sky,” said Hukill. “I wanted to explore more of what the area had to offer.”

Odd jobs like landscaping and construction provided minimal income, but Hukill was able to get by.

“I lived in a camper and a bus,” said Hukill. “Doing what I loved was more important than complex amenities.”

Later finding an almost equal passion for golf, Hukill became a veteran to seasonal work. Tuning skis in the winter, and working in golf course member services in the summer.

“I had found my niche,” said Hukill. “Work to live.”

Lone Mountain Sports, located in the Meadow Village area of Big Sky, has been Hukill’s place of employment in the winter for 11 years. Offering slope-side ski breaks and a ski pass are among the top benefits.

Living in a one-bedroom cabin by the Gallatin River just outside Big Sky, Hukill is content with the simple things in life. The ski-bum lifestyle stuck.

During the offseason, most of locals eagerly anticipate their escape out of Big Sky country. The stresses of working hard and playing even harder seem to catch up. Hukill, on the other hand, embraces his home

“I also enjoy my time between seasons [off season],” said Hukill.

The simplistic lifestyle of small town living is not for everyone, but Hukill has found happiness in life at its most basic form

“I do what I love everyday,” said Hukill.

A true inspiration to a culture that sometimes puts values on material things, Hukill brings a positive light on breaking away from the norm.

“Search for what you love, and it will find you,” said Hukill.

Montana is a magical place, and Hukill never left. Twenty-three years later he calls it his home.

– Edited by Hannah Ballantyne

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