My freshman year of college I bought a Subaru Outback explicitly to go skiing in. All through high school I’d owned a parade of trucks that varied only in the size of their tires and the level of disrepair of their interiors. None of them were reliable enough to drive the three hours to the ski hill, and none of them ever had functioning stereos, so I spent my first year of skiing bumming rides from friends and putting up with their music. But then I bought my Outback from a nice young couple, and drove it home elated because it had both a CD player, and a tape deck. I had a car that could get me to the mountains, and keep me entertained on the way.
I bought that car right at the tail end of the golden age of mix CD’s. Some of my friends had ipods that we could plug into an adaptor in the tape deck, but generally, we listened to CD’s we’d burnt ourselves on the way to the hill. I don’t remember the full track list from my “going skiing” CD, but I do know that for some reason it had the clean version of Jay-Z’s “Holy Grail” along with the explicit versions of Wale’s “Ambition” and The Game’s “Hate it or Love it.” What can I say? Skiing was in a weird place back then, our pants were brightly colored and baggy, and a pair of Skullcandy Icons was the ultimate accessory.
We’d always try to time it so that our favorite song was playing as we rolled into the parking lot, windows down, to struggle into our ski boots and go try to slide rails poorly. We treated it like highschool basketball pump up music, something to set the mood, create the sort of energy we wanted to ski to.
I crashed a lot back then, trying to ski from the backseat with aggression.
I remember the trip a friend brought his own CD and introduced us to Odesza, and Phantogram. We’d listen to them on powder days, mellow beats as we drove to the hill, then wallowed, crashed, and swam our way down every run. We’d save the rap for the dry days when we sucked at park skiing. It was a big deal when Odesza played my college campus. The auditorium was nearly empty, for some reason no one else was excited as I was, but there was one other guy there, into the music, wearing a Jiberish hoodie, so I knew he was a skier. He hit me up later on NS, asked me if I wanted to buy any psychedelics.
The music we listened to on the way to and from the ski hill helped define our ski experience. If we couldn’t ski well, we could at least listen to the same music good skiers were into.
Years later, headed to Roger’s Pass to ski, I totalled that Subaru Outback when I hit an elk on the freeway. I traded the hunk of twisted metal and shattered glass to the tow truck driver for a ride home, but made sure to eject my ski mix CD and take it with me.
My next car came with its own music, I handed over my envelope of cash, and turned out of the parking lot as Taylor Swift’s “1989” played. It had an aux plug, and I had an iphone by then, so I could listen to anything I wanted on the way to the ski hill, but by then my drive was shorter, fifteen minutes instead of three hours, so I listened to a lot of Taylor as I headed to the hill. That spring I embarked on what in retrospect might be the wildest driving and skiing adventure of my life. Driggs to Cooke City, to Seattle, to Mt. Olympus, to Portland, and back again. By the time I got to Olympic National Park, I was haggard. I’d driven too many hours, and skied some of the scariest terrain of my life. So as I cruised the windy coastal road I played that album over and over again, struggling to stay awake. The ski line necessitated a full day of dry approach, climbing over downed trees with our skis and boots on our backs. And I found myself trading hoarsely sung lines of “Wildest Dreams” with my similarly scruffy ski partner.
We got turned around off the line by my lack of fitness and crappy weather. So we groaned our way back down the trail, hollering at each other to “Remember me, standing in a nice dress, staring at the sunset, babe!” Apparently my taste in ski music had changed.
Our latest car, bought explicitly for skiing, is a Subaru Baja, an Outback with a bed. It only has a CD player, no tape deck or Aux port. The nice young man who sold it to us left his Lynyrd Skynyrd CD in it. I immediately swapped in 1989, because, tradition. Now when we head out skiing, I’m not trying to get pumped up, not trying to build my energy to pretend to be someone I’m not. Instead I’m working on relaxing, thinking through the avalanche problem, working to find enthusiasm instead of fixating on everything that could go wrong. And it turns out that a specific brand of female vocalist driven pop does that for me very well.
I posted on social media that my new car only had a CD player and I needed more CD’s. One long-time-local guide friend offered her collection, I’m pretty sure it’s a bunch of old Dead and Phish, but we’ll see. And then, randomly, a brand new CD of Avril Levigne’s “Let Go” showed up in our mailbox addressed to me. I don’t know who sent it, but they’re my hero. So for a deep week of powder touring through the holidays, we cranked “Complicated” as we headed out to wallow.
And then, this week, another CD showed up, Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill” brand new, in the plastic. So that’s what we’re listening to as we break trail and plunder pillows. It’s not anything I ever would have chosen, but it’s perfect somehow.
I don’t know who’s sending me these CD’s, but I’m excessively thankful for them. And they’re an amusing reminder how our taste in ski music can change. There’s a tiny part inside of me that still looks back fondly on the days of bumping the hardest rap we could find and pretending we were good at rails. And it’s wild how just a snatch of a song can evoke such specific memories of ski days gone by.