Objectively, I don’t need to shovel the driveway before I go skiing. All the cars are plenty capable to deal with the four inches that fell overnight. But it snowed last night and I’m shoveling the driveway before I have breakfast and catch the bus up the hill.
I shovel the driveway first because when I started trying to work in the ski industry I had one conversation that really stuck with me. I woke up on the floor of a hotel room in Denver that I’d shared with five or six other young newschoolers journalists. I was restless, awake early, with hours until I needed to catch my flight back to real life. So when Doug Bishop blearily announced that he was headed outside the hotel for a smoke, I tagged along.
It had started snowing as we all walked home from partying the night before. We were loud, exuberant and optimistic about life, skiing, making content for a living. I vaguely remember Maddie mooning someone, maybe Glenn Plake had started a snowball fight inside a hotel? Regardless, the morning after the fresh snow was turning into slush and the cold light was reminding my body that it ought to be hungover.
A crew shoveled the sidewalk in front of the hotel as Doug smoked. The conversation wandered, and I’m pretty sure I used the word “meta” incorrectly. What I remember though, is Doug mourning the friends and colleagues he’d lost to burnout, legends of skiing and ski media who barely even skied any more. I had to pee, and the hotel’s continental breakfast was calling, so I don’t recall the end of that conversation. But I do remember it tempering my exuberance from that first dive into ski culture. I was young and stoked. I was wearing a shirt that said “Maximum Enthusiasm” and I fully believed I would be able to bring that attitude to skiing forever. But here was this grizzled veteran telling me that I wouldn’t be able to, that there was a disappointing end to the dream for too many skiers.
A few months later I got a job that revolved around skiing, moved to a town that revolved around skiing, made friends whose lives revolved around skiing. Every day I woke up, went skiing, wrote about skiing, and then went to the bars and talked about skiing with other skiers.
We had a big gravel driveway that we never shoveled. We would move a little snow if we got stuck, but otherwise, it was every man for himself, carry momentum up the slight slope to the highway and hope there wasn’t cross traffic. Get to the mountains, make those turns, slide back into your parking spot and repeat the next moring. My life was one dimensional, but I was absolutely in love with that one dimension. Skiing was my everything, and it was enough, for a few years.
Until I felt the facade slipping.
I watched friends who had been dedicated to winter lose their seasons to injuries. I saw what happened to skiers who relied completely on the activity as their sole coping mechanism in an increasingly overwhelming world. I made other friends, friends who had more going on in their lives than skiing. I had days when I woke up and felt paralyzed, unmotivated to go skiing, let alone write about or think about it. I felt the burnout creeping in. When I watched Doug smoke that cigarette down I couldn’t even imagine what burnout could feel like, now I could feel it sliding in to everything I did.
I got lucky. I haven’t had a season-ending injury, yet. I haven’t gotten lost in the maze of softcore substance dependence that plagues so many skiers. I haven’t fallen fully victim to the waves of malaise that leave ski towns with abnormally high suicide and overdose rates. Instead I found things outside of skiing that make skiing more sustainable for me. And that’s why I shovel the driveway when I don’t really need to. That’s why it’s on my mind when I go to bed, checking the porch before I fall asleep, comparing the accumulation as soon as I wake up.
If I was a therapist I’d have a better explanation for it. I’d talk about community, and shared purpose, and centering myself. But for me, it’s best encapsulated in shoveling the driveway before I go skiing. Because skiing isn’t the most important thing. It’s not the sole goal. I don’t need to put chasing turns first anymore.
I shovel the driveway because my housemates need to get to work. I shovel the driveway because my partner might need to go somewhere during the day. I shovel the driveway because if you don’t shovel it early, people drive on it, and it’s a lot more work to shovel later. There didn’t use to be a “later” for me. I was focused on the next turn, the next line, the next shot. I was happy to push the mundane to the back burner in pursuit of the all-consuming ski experience.
Some people can get away with only being skiers all of their lives. They can focus on it and live in it as an identity. Some of them end up starting in ski movies. Some of them end up being the creepy old guy in a ski town bar, hitting on women half his age and hitching home after too many DUI’s stole his driving privileges. And some have their ski-centered lives cut short by the very experience they pursue.
Most of us can’t be just skiers forever sustainably. Plenty of folks do their handful of fulltime seasons and then burn out, find different pleasures, end up on a holiday ski trip once every few years for a handful of days, and that’s it. But the people I’ve seen who can make it for decades still enjoying every day they strap on skis are the ones who shovel their driveways. They’re the people who craft full lives for themselves that include the act of skiing, but aren’t entirely centered around it. That’s who I want to grow up to be. So I’ll toss the flakes into the yard, push the piles back once again, drag the shovel over asphalt, and clear a path for the mailman. It’s a powder day. The turns will be soft once I shovel the driveway.