Just another ski bum with a master’s degree | SummitDaily.com
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Just another ski bum with a master’s degree

FRISCO – In the mid 1980s, Frisco resident Joel Levy was one of those hermit types who left a high-paying job to hang out in the mountains and ski, bike or fish almost every day.

He belonged to a growing group of locals who had master’s and doctorate degrees but opted to live more simply, taking jobs where the pay scale difference between a high school dropout and someone with a doctorate degree was absolutely no difference at all.

Levy grew up in Texas, earned his master’s degree in geology studying such subjects as coastal sedimentology and crystalogy, then secured a job in the oil business with Exxon. For 10 years, he analyzed geology – assessing seismic data and other subsurface data – looking for oil. Based in New Orleans, he worked mainly along the Gulf coast, sometimes spending weeks on an offshore rig in the Gulf of Mexico.



In 1984, he convinced Exxon to gamble $330 million based on his prediction – and that price only gave the company the right to drill on the site in Mobile Bay, Ala. Once drilling began (oftentimes 25,000 feet into the ground), each well could cost $30 million.

But, Levy – and Exxon – hit the jackpot. Exxon leased the land from the state of Alabama, began to drill and found a well that produced 30 million cubic feet of oil per day, which was huge, considering most wells produced a few million cubic feet per day. Needless to say, the company promoted and transferred him to Denver, closer to the mountains, where he had longed to live.



Two years later, his entire world changed. He divorced his wife, sold his spacious house and left Exxon with a severance package. For five months, he lived out of his truck, traveling and backpacking throughout national parks in the Western United States.

“I didn’t see people for weeks,” Levy said. “I discovered spontaneity – being as spontaneous in life as possible and being as close to the moment of now.”

That fall, he rented Cabin No. 3, a 300 square-foot structure across from the fire station in Frisco. Rent wasn’t necessarily cheap – $275 in 1986 – but he had dodged the housing crunch and avoided sharing a condo with 10 roommates.

His winter consisted of waking up, eating oatmeal, drinking a cup of coffee, checking which ski area had the best base, grabbing his boards and spending his days on the snow. In the summer, he spent time cycling and fly fishing.

Long-distance conversations with his father revolved around the question, “I think I understand what you’re doing, but when are you going to get a job?”

“The key issue (for me) was letting go of structure, which was so much a part of my life,” Levy said. “That was the plan – not to plan.”

Within the period he considers his “four-and-a-half-year sabbatical,” he worked as a ski instructor, raft guide and fly fisherman. Then he met his current wife, Amy, and his life began to change again.

After dating for a year, he moved to Edwards, where she lived in an apartment above the mansion she was caretaking. Maybe it was living next to the Eagle River and Arrowhead Golf Course, maybe it was the fact Levy lived down the street from Arnold Palmer’s house, maybe it was the idea of marriage, but Levy began to feel responsibility creep back into his life.

So he called Exxon and took his job back – which meant moving back to Texas. In the meantime, he proposed.

“The day we moved into the house in Houston, we both were looking at each other like, “What are we doing?'” he said. “We went from spontaneity to full capitalism.”

About six months later, the couple, now married, bought a duplex in Frisco. Within a year, Amy Levy moved back to Frisco and returned to her job at Vail Medical Center. The real estate market had bottomed out in Houston, so Levy stayed at his job until they sold the house 10 months later.

When he returned to Frisco, he tried to obtain a job teaching geology at Colorado Mountain College, but the student base wasn’t there. Instead, he began to teach Word Perfect and Lotus classes.

In 1996, he started PC Applications, a computer training and consulting business. The endeavor fit his analytic, technical and teaching skills, but he didn’t see himself as an entrepreneur or salesperson.

“I discovered from all the traveling around that I was more willing to take risks,” he said. “In the end, it just got down to me and myself (type) issues. Sure, I could lose my house and all my money, but I figured, I’ll get out of it or I’ll do something else. Even the worst scenario was, “I can still get on my bicycle, and I can still go fishing.'”

He’s still applying what he learned during his sabbatical – trying to balance spontaneity and responsibility in his marriage and career while keeping an open mind about future possibilities.

“We see people leave Summit County and we wonder, “Is it our time?'” he said. “We travel and look around, but then we always come back to Summit County.”

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 245 or by e-mail at knicoletti@summitdaily.com.


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