I’VE SURFED FRIENDS COUCHES FOR YEARS. THAT’S WHAT SKI BUMS DO.
Entering your personal information on a website can feel strange, especially if you are asking to sleep at a stranger’s house. At least that’s how I felt at first. That was before I experienced, firsthand, my initial couch surf on a road trip to the Northwestern United States using Couchsurfing.org (CS). I first heard about CS through my friend Andrew, my old roommate from Salt Lake City. Back in 2008, he graduated from the University of Utah and set out on a three-month motorcycle adventure to commemorate the completion of his degree in Environmental Science. When I asked him where he was staying along the way, he answered, “I’m surfing couches:’ I’ve surfed friends’ couches for years; that’s what ski bums do. But I had never heard of a service or a website that offered up free futons and floor space from random people. A beta version of Couchsurfing.com launched in 2003 as a non-profit by four friends and business associates: Casey Fenton, Dan Hoffer, Sebastien LeTuan and Leonardo Silveira. Founder Casey Fenton came up with the idea after a short trip to Iceland where he contacted local college kids in Reykjavik to see if he could sleep on their couches. According to their company history, Fenton realized that the people he contacted were interested in showing him “their Reykjavik.” This personalized experience through local people is what led the founders to create a company with a unique vision statement: “A world where everyone can explore and create meaningful connections with the people and places they encounter.”
When winter finally hit the Pacific Northwest last season, I headed there to find some fresh snow. Although I knew people in the area, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to see how CS worked. I was traveling with another skier, Alex Paul, so we wanted to be sure there was space for both of us. It wasn’t a problem. CS had a couch request system that allowed us to specify how many of us there were as well as all the other details in our profile like our ages, interests and reason for traveling. Other peoples’ profiles were extremely helpful as well. CS made it easy to find people to stay with that had the same interests as us.
CS works on a reference and rating system run by its users (think ebay). This keeps the safety factor high and allows total strangers to build friendships through the trust of a worldwide network of other couch surfers.
The first couch we surfed belonged to a girl named Kelley in Bend, OR. She met us after her shift ended at the local Patagonia store. We showed up to her small home near Bend’s city center with a six-pack of beer and a couple guitars. Kelley also played guitar and sang. It was the perfect combination for a great jam session as we taught each other the chords to the cover songs we all knew the words to. It was a great introduction to a new world.
After a great night’s rest and a shower, it was off to find the snow we were in search of. We invited Kelley to Mt. Bachelor with us and we spent the day making turns together on unfamiliar runs, in a new place and with a new friend. We may not have stayed at a five-start hotel, but we didn’t need to. We slept for free and got paid with good turns and good company. What else does a telemark skier really need in life?
Find more about Couchsurfing.com on their website: www.couchsurfing.com