FeatureProfile December 19, 2018

Those Who Live to Ski: Kent Hanney

Baldy Boilermaker

Kent Hanney, longtime local skier and lover of all slopes snowy, may very well be the only every-day skier in America who toils for seven months each year as a professional boilermaker.

What’s a boilermaker? Not surprisingly, it’s someone who makes boilers, which are large vessels of steel used to heat and hold fluids at pressure, whether fuel, water, or other chemicals. The job evolved from that of the Industrial Age blacksmith—someone who bent iron with heat and force to make something useful. Today, boilermakers might work on traditional boilers, but they might also ply their skills in fabricating ships, bridges, or pipes. Suffice it to say, they spend a lot of time behind a welding mask, cutting, bending and shaping metals to specific designs.

Hanney, who originally hails from New London, Conn., is a member of the Boilermakers, Local 237 union. His uncommon ski bum story has its roots in the northeastern United States where, as a child, he skied at Waterville Valley in New Hampshire, and Killington and Mount Snow in Vermont.

But were it not for the outreach of a friendly family, Hanney might never have taken to the slopes. “It’s all thanks to the Devanney family,” he said. “Mr. Devanney was my football coach. Nobody in my family skied, and they asked if I would like to join them. I loved every minute spending time with that family.

“And then it really got started when I got my driver’s license. My friends and I would load up my van at 16 years old and take off for the weekend. I still can’t believe my parents let me do that!”

After high school, Hanney decided to work toward becoming a professional boilermaker.  He was hired to begin his apprenticeship, but skiing was never far from his mind. In fact, Hanney actually moved west for the 1996-1997 winter, living in Boulder, Colo. He was, at that point, officially hooked on the skiing life. Finally, in 2001, Hanney traveled to Ketchum to ski. He has been spending his winters here ever since, logging approximately 100 days a year on skis.

Hanney’s passion for skiing is based on a deep appreciation of the ski culture. A fan of Warren Miller ski movies as a child, Hanney loved everything ski-related. He discovered early on that in order to fulfill his dream of living a ski-centric life he would need to get a job in his seasonal ski town home.

Hanney soon found employment in a local ski shop, PK’s Ski and Sports. Initially, his duties were to fit visiting skiers with ski boots and skis. Before long, he was promoted to the tuning shop, which opened his eyes to what living the ski culture was all about.

“One day my manager pulled me aside and said, ‘OK, you’re up! Go skiing and be back in two hours sharp!’” Hanney recalled. “It was snowing very hard, and I got turned around in the bowls. I got stuck in the sagebrush, tossed around. I was getting my ass kicked. I got back to the shop three and a half hours later, and my boss was furious. He actually took my skis and threw them out the back door. Fortunately, he handed me a pair of fat skis, and that changed my life. That’s when the phrase, ‘Know your mountain’ was coined. It was an awakening for me.”

When he first moved to Ketchum, Hanney told his friend Matt Christian, a Valley real estate agent, that he had saved $25,000 to buy a small home. “You can’t even afford a mailbox in Ketchum with that,” Christian ribbed him with a smile. It was a rude awakening to the challenges ski bums face in high-end resort economies.

But Hanney has persevered.

Thanks to his dogged work ethic—which manifests itself in long hours welding in the stiflingly hot and humid summertime of New England—Hanney was able to save enough money to purchase a condominium in Ketchum a couple of years ago, cementing his future in skiing and as a full-time Wood River Valley resident.

Looking forward to this year’s ski season, Hanney is, as always, optimistic. “I think it’s our turn,“ he predicted. “It’s like sitting at the craps table, it’s gotta come around. I don’t know what Mother Nature has for us, but I’m going to say 300 plus inches.”

Hanney’s passion for skiing is inspiring and infectious: “I’ve lived my whole life to be a ski bum, and I love it,” he said. “I’m not a ‘live in the parking lot’ type of ski bum, but I’m a modern day ski bum working all year to live in Ketchum all winter and live the dream. I love to ski, and I work very hard to make my dream come true.

This article appears in the Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.