Dear Readers who regularly devour my weekly Revelations know that I have already written at length on the subject of Why Skiers Are Better than Everyone Else. Last Friday I was reminded of my timeless prose as I spent 45 minutes traversing a very short stretch of road that connects I-80 to Route 89, my proscribed path to Alpine Meadows. As I voluntarily descended into this automotive miasma, I could make out the dim form of the interstate traffic snaking down from the west, two dense strands of tightly linked vehicles stretching beyond the horizon.
I was lucky. My one-way trip took a hair over two hours, merely double the norm. I left after a delightful 3-hour session dodging hordes of the powder-crazed; while retracing my route back to Reno, I hit a bottleneck about half a mile from the light that marked the Squaw Valley access road. I was mildly vexed until I saw what was going on in the other direction.
There was a post-apocalypse feel to slowly rolling past mile after mile of silent cars, pick-ups, vans and semis waiting to go up a road that’s been overflowing since I first went by it just before 9:00. It had to be a rolling laboratory of human behavior at its darkest. Obviously, the craving, the blood-lust to ski – and to ski POWDER, no less, in this snow-starved season – had compelled every skier who could start his or her SUV into heading out in the biggest, baddest storm of the winter, ignoring all official pleas to limit non-essential travel.
I am not a sociologist, and I have no evidence to support my assumptions, but I’m guessing every one of those vehicles was occupied by people who would swear on a stack of Bibles that skiing or snowboarding was essential to their lives. Bear in mind, this massive migration of humanity is taking place during a pandemic that is by no means under control. Which prompts the question: is said pandemic, with all its imposed limitations and perils, actually encouraging MORE skiers and riders to participate? Or put another way, would this many people have made this particularly obnoxious trip if there were no national health crisis?
My credential-free opinion is, I think not. Everyone expected the demand for backcountry skiing to explode this season, and indeed it has; it’s the groundswell in demand for skiing in all its incarnations – helpfully listed in A Brief Explanation of Why Skiers Are Better than Everyone Else – that has caught industry insiders by surprise.
We should have seen it coming. Statisticians refer to skiers as “participants,” but we’re actually addicts. Once we savor the freedom that only skiing affords, the urge to ski, even if driven dormant for decades, can never be disentangled from our souls. Providing temporary refuge from the pandemic’s enforced confinement turned out to be the unforeseen spark that would re-ignite people’s suppressed passion to ski.
To the non-skiing public, skiers must seem like a cult of risk-takers, intent upon piling one discomfort upon another in order to weed out the insufficiently stalwart. Remember the trials of beginner-dom? Untuned rental skis, boots two sizes too big, hand-me downs of dubious quality, abandonment by one’s supposed mentors, rain, soaked hats, knit mittens capable of retaining a pound of melted snow each, bindings that pop off, broken poles, lost skis, lost friends…
If you survive this trial by misery – and many do not, as you might imagine – you begin a glorious journey marked by more triumphs than tragedies. If many of us are nicked by injuries sustained along the way, it’s only because we’re willing to take risks in the service of discovering a better version of ourselves.
If the journey should prove narcotic, so what? How better to relish life than by immersing oneself, however briefly, in gravity’s stream?