When I joined Newschoolers, I didn’t really tell any of my friends or family. I wasn’t super comfortable with the idea of forums, of typing words into an abyss of faceless strangers. I was hyper-aware of the permanence of anything I said, of the paper trail I was leaving with every post. “Be careful, potential employers can see anything you post on the internet!”
I just had a broken snowmobile and thought maybe somebody on this forum I’d stumbled across could help me fix it. Nobody could. Instead, the dead sled languished in the backyard until honeysuckle vines completely covered it, but I stayed on NS.
I posted more, started taking photos, posting them, started connecting screen names to posting styles, to locations, started to create imaginary faces for the people I was interacting with. I’d reach out for advice through NS’s DM’s, I’d get Facebook friend requests from people whose names I’d never heard, then get a message “Hey, I’m radskier201 on NS!”
We had the Tinychat on and off for a while, bored skiers killing time as we waited for winter, chatting, trashing each other's taste in music, trying to boot the trolls as they popped up. And somehow, after a few years, I realized I’d accidentally made real friends on this skiing website.
People from the internet, skiing together.
Maybe it was when I started to meet people in person, scrambling to try to call them by their real name, not their NS handle. I skied with those people, worked with them, crashed on their couches, gave them rides to the airport, kept up with them as they changed jobs, moved, drifted in and out of relationships.
At some point, Newschoolers stopped being a place to learn about skiing and started to be a place where I kept up with what was going on with my friends, who also happened to be skiers.
And then there was Instagram. Or more specifically, and then everyone started really caring about Instagram. If there’s one app that’s altered the landscape of skiing in the last decade, it’s the big IG. It has changed what it means to be a “pro” skier, it’s responsible in large part for creating the “lifestyle athlete,” and it’s probably the reason there are so few really good edits these days. Is it killing the ski movie? Probably. Instead of logging into NS when I was thinking about skiing, I could just pull out my phone and scroll endlessly.
Just like when I joined NS, I was constantly grooming my image, carefully tailoring it to what I thought potential future bosses would like. Newschoolers may have been full of internet friends, but all Instagram had was potential opportunities for “collaboration” and “personal brand building.”
I’m not a behavioral psychologist. I can’t speak specifically to the weird chemical responses that this barrage of perfect photos and trite captions trigger in the human brain. But they were undeniably triggered in mine. A desire to “produce content for the ‘gram” drove more and more of my decisions. “Sure, I’ll hang out on this avalanche prime slope while you fiddle with your bindings, if it means I can get a cool shot to post.” “Just fake a turn on that plow pile.” “You don’t have to make it to the end of that rail, just look in control at some point and it will work.”
And again, no doctor here, but it wasn’t healthy. Teddy Roosevelt was just stating the obvious when he said that “Comparison is the thief of joy.” And Instagram is carefully designed to feed off your comparisons. It all sucked, but there wasn’t some big exciting rock bottom for me. I didn’t almost die because of Instagram, didn’t develop an eating disorder.
Pretty sure this was for Snapchat, not Instagram, but who cares? Thanks for taking me to Whistler that one time Doug.
Instead, I stumbled across people who were using Instagram in the same way I used to browse Newschoolers. It was a simple way to connect, to learn, to get inspired. I stopped following people who were being paid just to post about their skiing, and instead started following people who work hard all summer in order to be able to pay to go skiing. I stopped caring about people who went on five “media” trips a winter and started listening to the guys who are hitting the same five features in a janky park all winter.
And as I did, as I started to make new digital friends on the ‘gram, I realized it had tainted NS for me. My toxic attitude about Instagram had carried over to the place I first started making internet friends. I was viewing NS as the same stupid ladder of algorithms and shoutouts and manufactured BS that Instagram is. And it’s just not.
Instagram does its best to con you into believing that internet friends are just for mutual exploitation. They’re not for really connecting with, they’re not good for encouragement when you’re down (and a little heart emoji on a manufactured post doesn’t really count), they’re not for providing floors to crash on, they’re not for checking in on and hyping up. Instagram wants to create Internet “friendships” that are built on a toxic foundation of comparison. Sure, it’s possible to use the app in a better way, to make those real connections, but you’re fighting the algorithm to do so.
Newschoolers does the opposite. Instagram makes you compete with everyone else for fresh turns on a pow day. Newschoolers helps you make the kind of friends you want to wait for to take another lap together.
What’s the point? Is Instagram killing “real” ski culture? I don’t think so, but we do have to wade through more crap to find it. I’m still learning to trust internet friendships. But the ones I’ve made so far have all paid off. Since the last time I was really active here the NS forums have filled up with a bunch of new names and icons. So I guess it’s time to go make a few new friends.