We used to ski this run all the time. It’s the first thing I ever skied at this hill. Opening day 2016, unload off the lift, peel right, couple hundred yards on the cat track, jump off, wide open pow, traversing gently west. Big, mellow curving fall line, just steep enough to make fun turns in chopped up pow. Decide when to drop left, leaning into the fall line. Fade left too early and you end up on a mellow groomer, wait too long, and you end up in a sometimes too shallow cliff zone, south facing, scraggly takeoffs, and rocky landings. Time it just right and you can blast through perfectly spaced trees, send a little hit deep, and then charge out the meadow, nose butter the roller, shifty the covered bike berm, onto the groomer, side hit, side hit, tuck through the slow zone, jump off the cat track, and catch the line of bike jumps that spills out back to the lift.
Like I said, we used to ski this run all the time. It used to be my go-to review ski lap. A nice mix of snow conditions and steepnesses, plenty of chances to get skis in the air, some groomer turns, plenty of feedback to get a handle on what a ski does and doesn’t want to do. When my partner and I first started dating, we’d head up in the afternoon on pow days. She’d skip out of work early, and we’d ski the last couple hours of the day, mostly skiing this same lap because its lift closed the latest.
It’s been a couple years since we’ve skied it regularly, low snow last year meant the southern aspects were rarely good, and we’ve been touring with the dog more, and riding the chairlift less. But we made like old times, shrugged off work in the morning, thumbed a ride up the hill, and found ourselves dropping into that lap. I know our exact cadence through that run so well. I ski a little faster in the top section, regroup on the cat track, and then she drops lower for a few more pow turns while I tuck for the bike jumps. I love that run, but it’s become a little routine, it’s lost a little of its shine.
So we took a lap. Drop in, giggle through the chopped up trees, take a leak in a tree well, explode out onto the groomer. But on the groomer I realize I’m chasing someone, someone who’s taking the same lines I always do. Side hit, shifty, 180, carry speed into the bike jumps. I follow him, maybe a hundred yards back, not sure he notices his shadow.
He’s back on the lift before my partner pops out. At the top we take the same run, I try to charge harder through the trees, really lean into my tips on the buttered roller. On the cat track I see him pop out just ahead of me. Laughing, I tuck where he side hits, getting ahead of him before we play follow the leader through the last five or six hits. I can hear him behind me, and it gives me that motivation to pop a little harder, try to tweak that tail grab a little further. I pull over at the bottom and he skids up next to me. Fist bump. “That was sick chasing you!” “Awesome, I had a blast shadowing you last lap!” “We’re skiing the same lap, wanna ride the chair!?”
My partner pops out from her powder bonus lap. Introductions all round. “Are those Moments?” “How do you like the Whitewalkers?” chatting on the lift. I haven’t skied with strangers in a while, I’ve got my friend group, we tour together a lot, and inbounds I mostly ski solo or with my partner. Everything is predictable, I have to push myself to break out of my rut, do anything different.
But this next lap everything is pushed up a notch. This guy is down to ski fast, we run train through the upper section, feeling out each other's skills. We swap leads lower down, I tow him through a different section on the traverse, prehopping, pumping, pushing just a touch harder, showing off, and inviting him to do the same. We run train through the last jumps, whooping together. Straight onto the next chair. Repeat. Hold your grab a second longer, spray a little more snow with each turn, really get sideways on those shifties. No camera, no real reason, no real competition, just the joy of showing somebody new how you like to ski, finding out they like to ski the same way, and sharing that joy.
Maybe that’s what the pros are talking about when they drop their sound bites about “feeding off each other” and “this crew is just all about progression.” I don’t know, I’m not that great of a skier. But sometimes it all clicks. Sometimes you’re all just on the same program, trying to do the same things, stepping up to new challenges together.
At its core, resort skiing tends to be a pretty individual sport. You make turns for yourself. You figure out what you want out of a day on the chairlift, and then you do your best to make that happen. I love that. I love putting in my headphones and just skiing for myself. But sometimes having a teammate or two just makes it all better. Sometimes sharing the experience elevates it. Sometimes other skiers make the day better than you could have planned for.