Oldie But Goodie
As we forge into the middle of winter, the amount of skiing media I consume is at an all-time high, whether it be publications like Backcountry Magazine and The Ski Journal, movies such as Valhalla and Into the Mind, web-based series like the two new series released by Meathead films, or books based on ski culture. A large part of my day is focused on skiing and how skiing fits into my life. The question that gets asked the most–or that this media attempts to capture–seems to be what/who is the soul of skiing?
Surveying the mountain on a near-daily basis, it’s easy to think that the young kids tearing up the park, and turning even the mountain’s mundane features into jumps, booters, and the inspiration for tricks are the soul of skiing. Or perhaps the soul of skiing lies within the young kids who are just finding their way into the sport, progressing every day, and becoming more enraptured by the sport every moment? While these people may be the future of skiing, I believe the soul of the sport lies elsewhere. Maybe my vision is skewed; I live close to a local mountain but it is a far cry from living in a true ski town. Mount Wachusett is the type of place that fosters ski bum ambitions but does not attract ski bums.
There’s a chance my view is distorted by the times I choose to ski: when the mountain is the quietest. Those times tend to attract an older a crowd…people who are not concerned with getting to work, waking up early (hell they have been up for hours anyway), or the daily grind (they were done with that years ago). To me, the soul of skiing lies in this older generation. Wachusett contains a large amount of older people skiing every day. While they might not be ripping up the park they still look graceful on their skis, demonstrating the type of fluidity only achieved from years of honing a craft. Furthermore, their ages are hidden under helmets, goggles, and balaclavas; the only way to get a true picture of the person skinning up behind you or sharing the lift with you is to catch a glimpse of their picture on their season pass. These are the people I see every time I go to the mountain.
To me, these “lifers” represent the true soul of the sport. They’re not in it because it is fashionable, nor do they seek the accolades of their friends and peers. These people aren’t out there because Red Bull tells them it is the cool thing to do, or to prove to their friends how gnarly they are. Rather, they are on the mountain everyday because they love it, and they are truly passionate about the sport of skiing. To them, skiing is more than a sport–it’s a way of life they have honed with each successive year. More so they are truly in tune with the rhythms of the mountain. Want to know where the good snow is? Follow the guy in the yellow North Face jacket and old Kneissl skis. I guarantee he is on the trail with the best snow. If the older guys go in for coffee around eleven and don’t come back out to ski, it means conditions are not getting any better. Cut your losses and head home.
These people are so ingrained in the day to day of the mountain that I often worry if I don’t cross paths with them for a couple days. These people are the lifeblood of the mountain and an inspiration to me. On the days I’m feeling lazy, not wanting to leave the comforts of bed, I know that John has probably already been to the mountain and skinned to the top. He is at least twenty years my senior, lives thirty minutes further from the mountain, and will probably skin Wachusett ninety percent of the days the mountain is open. Knowing that John is out there and getting it done motivates me to get out. Every time I cross paths with John, he reminds me that New England winters are volatile and we need to make the most of it while they are here. When I happen to end up on the lift with Al “the tele guy,” it is a lock that he has skied way more than me…and probably way more than most people (at last count he was up almost twenty days on me).
The guys out there everyday are certainly not at the cutting edge of the sport (in fact, my friend with the old Kneissl skis just got his first pair of new boots in twenty years) but make no mistake: they are craftsmen on skis. The grace in which they move over snow belies their ages. These guys represent something about the sport that is difficult to capture in words. These guys have a true passion for the outdoors, winter, and the sport of skiing. They’re out there every day doing something they love because, much like winter, life can be fleeting too. In the end I aspire to be like those guys, keeping my passion for skiing stoked for a long time.