We’re sitting in Picky Team snowboarder Austin Smith’s fire truck tiny home, watching him read the instructions on the pancake mix he offered to prepare for us.
“My best days have actually been the worst days – the days that I wouldn’t have come up for if I were living in town. Do you think I could use egg instead of milk? I don’t have milk.“
Austin has been living in the parking lot of Mt Bachelor, about 20 miles outside of Bend, in a vintage fire truck he’s converted into a 100ish square foot dwelling that would reduce snowboard bums and HGTV fans alike into a puddle of slushy envy. Parked equidistance from the main lift and the lodge shower house, he’s living the ride in, ride out life most only dream of.
“It’s definitely taught me to be less of a powder snob,” he throws a handful of blueberries into the cereal bowl he’s mixing the batter in. “This is pretty lumpy. Gotta be honest guys, this is my first time making pancakes. Not real sure how they’re going to turn out.”
He pivots to face the tiny wood stove, the truck’s only heating source, which doubles as a cooking surface. A miniature cast iron pan sits on top, greased with coconut oil. He pauses briefly to wave to someone outside taking a photo of his rig before dumping in the first serving of batter into the pan.
“Old dudes love it the most. They’re so into it.”
The truck was actually purchased by Smith’s brother from an eBay seller in Michigan, with money Austin had leant him. The story of getting the truck – which tops out around 30mph – from the Midwest to the West Coast is both hilarious and unbelievable, in large part to a pair of hitchhikers whose gratitude turned to impatience halfway through the ride and asked to be excused back out onto the side of the road. That was a few years ago, and it sat parked and untouched before Austin decided it was time to take matters into his own hands. He reclaimed the truck in ownership and appearance, and on December 31st drove it up Cascade Highway to the West Village parking lot, where he’s been happily, and simply, living since.
A drawer under the bench seat holds 7” chunks of firewood for the stove, which he feeds while the pancake sizzles and we all wait for the first flip. Some well-meaning (literal) housewarming gifts of full-sized wood bundles had to be turned away, and perhaps inspired the hatchet setup sitting outside by the camp chairs. Solar panels on the roof generate enough power for the string of lights and handful of small electronics he keeps around. Aside from the necessary snowboard gear, there are a few books, a yoga mat (as an “old man” in the sport, he stretches every day), and a hanging basket of perfectly ripe produce, which seems shocking for any bachelor pad, let alone one that’s a 40 minute bus ride away from the closest grocer. A large cooler on the floor is stocked with necessities (of which milk is not, apparently) and his down Himalayan Suit named Bernie is perched sitting up on top of the bunked bed. Everything has a purpose and a place, the only excess seems to be his collection of namesake Smith goggles.
Austin looks into the pan the way one might look down from the top of a steep run, carefully wedges the spatula under the pan-sized cake, and takes a deep breath.
Moment of truth.
[the pancakes turned out really great, for the record]
Growing up in Bellingham, WA and learning to ride on Mt Baker – steeper, deeper, and buried in snowboard lore – teenage Austin was less than thrilled when his parents packed up and moved the family down the Cascades to Bend, and the much more modest Mt Bachelor.
“I didn’t talk to them for a week. I was pissed.”
But it worked out. Arranging a shortened school day with his high school counsellor and regular bus stop drop offs by his parents, Austin quickly rose to the top of the snowboard scene, winning Snowboard Rookie of the Year and Video Part of the Year when he was 17, and taking a few primetime runs at the X-Games (where he finished a disappointing second-to-last).
Since then he’s ridden every corner of the world, shifting away from competitions and focusing more on filming and backcountry excursions. He’s been dropped from a helicopter onto spiny ridges of untouched Alaskan wilderness, ripped through the streets of Greece like a pack of heist men being chased by the cops (we’re pretty sure they weren’t), flipped into neck-deep powder in Japan, rode to the edge of the ocean, and just recently North Korea, where the lack of epic snowboarding was counteracted by the once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience. [you can read more about that in his piece forSnowboarder Magazine]
As we finished our House Special breakfast and started layering up for a few runs, a short knock on the door was followed immediately by another shaggy haired blonde walking into the truck. Austin’s neighbor, who lives in the camper truck parked one spot over, is looking to borrow an iron. The forecast had called for blue, dry skies, and the surprise couple inches of fresh snow weren’t agreeing with the wax on his board.
So what is it about Mt Bachelor that still gets Austin Smith to pull his boots down from the ceiling drying rack and hit the familiar slopes every day (other than a view of the chairlift from his bedroom)?
“[Bachelor] is fun, it’s safe, it’s never scary. It’s just a fun little playground.”
The people aren’t half bad, either.
words: Sarah Conklin ||| photos: Ben Ritter