Thanks to a freelance project I’ve spent the last few weeks digging through descriptions of ski resorts located everywhere from the East Coast to Australia, and everywhere in between. My biggest takeaway from digesting all of this information about all of these mountains is that there’s a wild amount of diversity in the areas humankind has decided should be ski resorts, and, to be quite honest, skiing at a lot of these places seems sort of terrible, and maybe a bad idea. And that realization, that so many ski areas exist improbably, battling either too little natural snow, or too little vertical relief, or a combination of those factors, got me thinking: what would it take for me to stop being a skier?
In my early highschool years, when I became infatuated with skiing, I didn’t have a driver's license, so the three hour drive to the ski resort might as well have been 30. I didn’t have a ride, my parents didn’t have time to take me, so it was fully not an option. That point was probably the furthest from skiing, both literally, and metaphorically, I’ve ever been. I wanted to ski so badly, and there was just nothing I could do to make that happen. But that desire shaped my lifestyle choices from there on out, and I’ve been lucky enough to have skiing become more and more accessible to me through the following years. But that begs the question, how long of a drive to ski is too long? Would I still be a skier if I was driving five hours each way every time I wanted to hop on a lift? Or would I quit and find something else to fill my winters with? How many hours do you drive to ski? How many hours would you drive if you had to?
David Steele on a trip that I believe wins the all-time record for me personally in terms of the worst ratio of hours driven, money spent, and miles hiked to skiing. There was very, very little skiing on this trip, but it was still great.
Of course distance isn’t the only thing that determines accessibility. Once I owned my own car, I used to budget out my season. If I could get five days on the hill it was worth it to buy a season pass. Anything less and I was better off buying day tickets. So I’d look at my calendar and scheme for winter between tearing off roofs and putting them back on to afford a pass all summer. Now day ticket rates are soaring to unbelievable heights at many resorts. How much would you pay per day of lift-accessed skiing? How much would pass prices have to rise for you to decide this wasn’t the sport for you, that this was better left for rich chumps?
What about gear? Would you still head to the mountains if skiing didn’t exist and you had to snowboard? Or if you were stuck on straight skis? How much does what you’re riding affect how much you want to be out there?
Or maybe more realistically, what about terrain? Would you ride at a resort without a terrain park, or any interesting natural terrain? Would you still ski if all that was available were groomers?
How many days do you need to ski a winter to still call yourself a skier in the present tense? Not in some gatekeeper “he’s a gaper because he only skis three days a year” way, but in a self-aware, “how much of my identity can I shape around something I barely do?” sort of way.
Or maybe, the most dire option of all, how much natural snow do you need? Apparently, for many folks, the answer is none, dry slopes and indoor snow domes are popular. But would you ski indoors, or on a dry slope exclusively, with no real hope of ever getting on snow that came from the sky? Or would you quit this sport and find something else that brings you joy?
How long of a lift line is too long? How crowded would a resort need to get for you to lose interest?
For all you backcountry skiers out there, how much avalanche danger is too much? How many local fatalities per year would it take to scare you off of the skin track? At what level would the risks outweigh any desire to earn your turns?
Or for the huckers, are there injuries so big that you’d quit the sport? How long would you have to be on crutches to never want to get back on skis?
I used to think that the answers to those questions came down to how much someone loved skiing. If you’re fully in love with the sport, there’s no amount of trial and tribulation that can keep you away, right?
Now I’m not so convinced that it’s love that keeps me here. For me personally, it might not be “how much do I love skiing?” as much as it’s “how much do I need skiing?” How much do I need this silly sport to keep me motivated and grounded all winter? How much do I need some sort of motivation to get out into the mountains when it’s snowing? How much does it contribute to my sanity, my mental health? And what could happen to kill that need?
I don’t know, maybe you’d ski no matter what, you’d set up a rail in the desert, slide it with some recycled plastic bottles taped to your feet and still love skiing? That’s sort of the magic right? Skiing is what we make of it, and if history is any indicator, we’ve made some pretty wild things so far.