Cover photo: Late night fuel stop.
The road trip has held a particular fascination in the American imagination ever since the advent of the consumer automobile. Hunter S. Thompson sped towards Las Vegas with a crowd of hallucinatory bats in tow. Christopher McCandless hauled himself into the Alaskan wilderness in the hopes of discovering some version of freedom. Bonnie and Clyde had no choice but to hit the road, for if they lingered too long the authorities might finally haul them to justice. And, the explosive success of journalist Andrew Callaghan’s road-trip-based documentary film project All Gas No Brakes serves as a reminder that our collective fascination with the road hasn’t waned a bit.
Lifelong skiers in the North American context all have their own personal stories of the road to tell, too. These tales somehow capture something essential and undeniably memorable about the skiing experience, why?
Some memories need little explaining, like a near-crash on black ice somewhere between Kamloops and Golden, that remains seared into my memory. The rear wheels of my friend’s Tacoma leapt free, we began to fishtail, and, in a matter of seconds, we were stopped, halfway off the road, facing the wrong direction. Moments later a car pulled alongside us to check if we were okay. Two adults up front asked some customary questions, and the kids in the rear buzzed with excitement. One of them said “that was crazy!”, likely not fully understanding that we could have easily flipped our car and gotten turned into paste.
But the more mundane moments remain just as sharp. Shared Belmonts outside a Tim Horton’s. Long lines at the border heading south. Road sodas and peeing on the side of the road in the pitch dark. The drive back from a competition in Fernie with my dad in highschool, as I forced him to listen to a Smith’s CD we had on repeat.
These memories are joined by those that come from the whole point of hitting the road in the first place. The skiing. But they don’t feel any less significant, as much a part of the experience as finally clicking in after hours on the road.
So I asked some of my friends and family what they thought of the ski road trip, and to see if they had any good stories to tell.
Image: Another pit-stop.
My brother, Will, the first person I talked to, opened his story like this: “So we’re in highschool, and my friend’s dad, in their big-ass ram truck that they had, took me, and my friends to Sandpoint, Idaho, I think, to go ski Schweitzer”.
Will had hurt his back prior to the trip, but he decided to tag along anyway. On the way, they stopped at a Cabela’s, not a common sight where my brother and I grew up in Seattle, and bought a couple of blowguns. That night, after unloading at the La Quinta, they wandered around town and put the blowguns to good use by blasting whatever inanimate objects they could find.
They also had an encounter with local girls their age who they met on the hill and spent the rest of the trip hanging out with. Their brief friendship culminated with one of Will's friends successfully putting his arm around one of the girls, which Will described the following way, “we were at that age where we were like ‘that was sick’, with a laugh.
Due to his back, Will was notably out of commission for the duration of the trip. Despite the lack of skiing, though, he clearly recalled his time in Schweitzer fondly, citing the time on the road as a first teenaged respite from parental tutelage.
“I think part of what was fun is we were like pretty young, and we were kinda just let loose in this town. It’s not like we were like ‘frickin rage dude’, but like as young kids… I don’t know it was just fun dude. We actually went and talked to girls that were strangers, and at the time that was cool, you know.”
Will’s thoughts confirmed my suspicion that many of the ski trip’s most potent memories are made off the hill, as did another one of my friends, Elsa, who described an array of shenanigans that occurred while she traveled to freeride comps with her team back in high school.
“Those memories are full of mischief...and I love them”, she said, an apt descriptor for a story she told me involving the infamous ‘poop dollar’ prank.
As you can probably guess they convinced one of the youngest members of the crew to shit in a dollar and fold it inconspicuously before placing it somewhere in the resort parking lot in the hope that someone would pick it up without realizing. The prank worked, too, which likely led to the total destruction of the unsuspecting victim’s day.
“I feel like it could have been a scene from a movie, all these little kids crouched behind the seats in this Econoline van peering out the window”, Elsa described the crew eagerly watching from inside the van.
Both Will and Elsa’s memories neatly slot into the ‘general mischief’ category. They occurred at a formative age amidst trips that acted as goalposts for the era of young adulthood, a time that’s marked by both zaniness, new freedom, and general mayhem. These moments are especially potent when experienced in our youth because they are novel, and in some ways, they might imbue every ski road trip we go on with an incalculable energy by way of recollection, even into adulthood. With the blueprint of cutting loose established in our younger years, it’s easy to joyously revert to our most carefree selves the moment the car’s fully loaded with ski gear.
Image: Doesn't really need an explanation.
Will had both a simple and precise description for this feeling, saying “you’re kinda like in Neverland for the duration of the trip. You’re just having fun and screwing around with your friends.”
But not all ski trips are fun and games. JP, another friend of mine, noted that his enjoyment from ski trips primarily stemmed from setting goals.
“Depending on the trip, what made ski trips fun, was like having a goal, like setting a goal. Whether it be doing well in a comp, or going someplace to like, hit some feature or do some line, that’s a huge part” and that “when there’s a hedge to be cut seems to be a little more fun for me”.
The goal-oriented trip offers just as much to the freeskiing world as more carefree endeavors. Much of my favorite skiing content emerged from trips whose scope extended beyond cutting loose for a couple of weeks. Elsa, too, noted that one of her more memorable ski trips revolved around a film project based in the central Oregon backcountry. However, even these more focused trips weren’t devoid of screwing around. JP notably awoke beneath a pile of furniture that had been stacked on him (totally had no part in that) after passing out one night during an FWQ weekend at Kicking Horse. “Literally a living room’s worth of furniture”, he said, to be as clear as possible.
Image: Flat Head Lake, MT.
In the end, though, these memories are important because they’re shared. Whether it’s the ecstasy of a podium comp run, a near-death experience on a slick road, or a night out gone wrong, we oftentimes can’t forget these moments because our friends won’t let us.
And, despite it being fun to type this up, I’m not so sure the ski road trip needs much analysis or explanation. The recipe is abundantly clear: friends, fun, skiing, awful mishaps, as is the result. So I’m not particularly shocked that as I steered my car back home from Whitefish resort this past weekend that I secretly hoped I was headed to another destination down the road, praying for just one more stop before the excitement ended.