I put on my ski boots yesterday. I put on my full ski kit actually, clomped around the living room for a bit, shot some reference photos for a poster. And then, mission accomplished, I went and sat at my desk in my ski boots for a while. I haven’t worn my inbounds boots since the beginning of last March, and I started trying to do the math, is this the longest stretch I’ve been out of my ski boots ever?
I think so. When I started skiing I was so hungry to progress, desperate for every turn. I’d hunt snow patches late into the spring, hauled PVC rails to the ice rink early in the fall just to get some more time on skis. Then I had a few lucky years of Turns All Year, scrounging for snow patches deep in the mountains in August and September, even making the pilgrimage to ski summer pow in the Southern Hemisphere a few times. Looking back over my relatively short time as a skier, there haven’t been many extended periods of ski-boot-free living. My longest stints have been three or four months. I think that applies to a lot of skiers. Most of us do a fair amount of living-room skiing, flexing new planks, making sure boots still fit, dreaming of the upcoming season.
But this year our resorts closed the second weekend of March. I toured a few weeks longer, but the potential implosion of our society and a couple of gut-wrenching avalanche fatalities took all my drive to ski away. I’d planned on a long spring of big backcountry missions and slushy spring days with friends. I’d bargained for a raucous Gaper Day, an even louder Closing Day, and a whole bunch of snowblading. Instead, I couldn’t buy peanut butter or toilet paper at the grocery store for a couple of months. And for the first time in my life as a skier, I wondered if the spark was fading a little for me, if maybe making turns on snowy mountains wasn’t such a cornerstone of my being as I’d thought it was.
I built bike jumps, I got sunburnt, I painted skiers, and I spent the longest stretch of my life since I started skiing 8 years ago, not wearing ski boots. As our leaves started to turn yellow I was uncertain, was I ready to go back, was I still the skier I thought of myself as?
Maybe that’s not true for everyone. I know plenty of folks who used the onset of the pandemic as an excuse to dive further into their identities as skiers. People who leveraged telework to spend more time in the hills, explore new lines, build booters, grow as skiers. But for all of us, even the folks who were more backcountry-focused before the resorts shut down, this disease changed how we view skiing. It shifted the dynamic for all of us, for some that was a subtle change, for others it upended how we prioritize skiing in our lives.
Here in the States, that spring of uncertainty led into a long summer of incompetence. I rode bike park chairlifts with my mask on, elbow tapped my friends to show I was stoked on their riding and tried not to think about those last few lift rides that I’d planned so certainly on. Now the news is full of resorts announcing their opening plans, figuring out their lotteries and reservations, and skiing doesn’t feel that real yet, that guaranteed.
But I woke up a few mornings ago to snow in the mountains and frost in the yard. I checked my home hill’s webcams, looked at the snow-covered chairs, and felt a lot more hopeful than I have in months. Yesterday I put on my ski boots and they still fit. If I close my eyes I can imagine the hum of the lift cables overhead, the slow sway as I gently kick my skis back and forth, making small talk on the chair. This next run is going to be awesome.
I am still a skier. We are still skiers. Nothing has ever been guaranteed in skiing, and nothing ever will be. Maybe this season will feel the same, maybe it will be wildly different. It doesn’t really matter though. I don’t need your 100-day guarantees or your assertions that my season pass won’t be superseded by the visitors on mega-conglomerate passes. We’ll go skiing. If the resorts shut down again, we’ll haul some PVC up a hill and practice our switchups. If they don’t, we’ll make turns, we’ll laugh with our friends, and maybe get some snow in our faces. We’re skiers, at the end of the day, we’ll always end up putting our ski boots back on and heading out for a couple more runs.