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Vail Daily column: Skiing’s soul

Jeff McAbee
Valley Voices

Peter Kray, author of “The God of Skiing,” in an interview with Powder Magazine, raised an interesting question for those of us who enjoy skiing and the outdoor life. Why do we do it? What’s the big deal?

Kray accuses the media of portraying skiing as “cartoonish.” Movies rely on hard-partying stereotypes and nude women. With ski town male-to-female ratios approaching seven-to-one, the latter seems nothing more than the fantasy of a twit. Skier porn, while fun to watch, shows both skiing abilities and locations that are out of reach for most skiers, certainly to the newcomer. Kray says we have failed at articulating “how meaningful and rewarding” skiing can be.

A lot of us have to work very hard to ski, when we don skins and head out in the early morning light. We drive up and down Interstate 70, spending hours in traffic performing Kegel exercises and staring at brake lights. We spend big bucks on rentals, airplane tickets and $20 hamburgers. Or we eat the enormous cost of owning and maintaining a place in ski country.

If you work in a ski town, and you aren’t trust funded, then you probably have at least two jobs and are forever berated by tourists with the “what do you do in the summer?” question. A question that is neither an affront nor mere concern for your perennial well-being. Rather, it’s a question aimed at some deep mystery, a way to dipping a toe in the water. They want to know. Can it really be done? What is the cost of this brand of joy and happiness? For they see that you are hardly free from the grind and the expenses. But in you they see a different kind of freedom, a freedom which allows you to put what others qualify as important on the “barely necessary” page because you have this skiing and this place, the mountains. What a lifestyle, indeed.

A ski instructor friend of mine, CW, told me that she was resigned to be poor for the rest of her life to do this. She has designed her whole lifestyle around skiing and living in the mountains, sacrificing daily to the god of snow and glisse. Attractive and intelligent, she could no doubt make a decent living in a large city. Stories like her are as common as Texans in March. And after speaking with hundreds of my fellow skiers and riders I’ve found that the reasons why we ski fall into three different categories: freedom, skills and friends.

Freedom can have different meanings for different people. For some living up here represents the ability to roam in country kissed by our creator. In skiing you can choose your line, your hill, your days. Any descent can feel free. And like my friend CW, freedom can mean freedom from a cubicle or any other “real job” “real life” nonsense.

The second category of “why I ski” excuses fall under a mastery of skills heading. In the search for the perfect turn, the perfect line or the perfect day skiing presents us with an ever upwardly moving target. From the beginner to the expert, it seems everyone feels they could be a little bit better. It keeps us coming back. And let’s face it, skiing is as much art as skill with athletes continuously expanding the boundaries.

Finally, look around you. Aren’t the people you ski with among your favorite people in your life? Whether it’s your family (a family that skis together stays together) or apres with friends, these are your people. While freedom, skills and friends fall short of all inclusive, they do a better job of pointing to a “soul” of skiing than a bunch of bikini models in a hot tub ever did.

Jeff McAbee splits time between Broomfield and Eagle. His work appears in mountain newspapers such as the Summit Daily, the Vail Daily, the Denver Post and at http://www.steepthinking.com.


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