Not to get all meta on y’all, but this was easily the most concise, yet open-ended assignment letter an editor has ever sent me.
In a recent email, Powder Editor John Clary Davies asked me: Why is skiing important? And why do we ski?
Holy cow, that’s beautiful. Spare as Hemingway, philosophical as Kant. So: Skiing is important because it’s in the Olympics, which means America gives a shit about it every four years. America: Fuck yeah.
OK, that’s why skiing is important to non-skiers. For skiers, it’s important because it gives us a reason to go on living. Seriously. Humans possess an innate need for joy, and skiing is the method with which we achieve said joy—never mind the homicidal wind slabs, exorbitant costs, finger-lopping bouts of frostbite, and loobies who snowplow to a halt on top of my tails in the lift maze. Back off, man.
Skiing is important because it gets us outside where everyone except the zinc-oxide-slathered freakazoids absorb beneficial Vitamin D. Another major benefit: exercise. Yes, it’s a gravity sport with a close relationship to fondue, leading skiers like the one I see in the mirror to gain belly fat every winter. So what? My thighs sure as heck get a workout. If yours don’t, ski more moguls.
Skiing turbocharges all our senses. We see magnificent mountains, smell fragrant pine boughs, and taste icy face shots. Best of all, the tactile euphoria of gliding frictionless through snow. Which, in turn, leads to heart-pounding adrenaline. If non-skiers are any indication, humans may not possess an innate need for adrenaline. I’m quite fond of it, though, and won’t give it up.
Skiing is also the world’s best cure for a hangover, not only for the fresh air, but for flushing away the attendant guilt. The sport has a genius for salving emotional wounds. Soon after my friend Brian O’Neill had his heart broken by a girl, he was touring with the late Powder photographer T.R. Youngstrom. “I’m suffering here,” O’Neill moaned. “Give me 10 reasons why I shouldn’t care.”
Replied Youngstrom: “The first 10 turns, bro!”
As for why we ski? Basically, for the same reason a dog licks his undercarriage: We can. I suppose that’s also why people rollerblade, so perhaps a better question is: Why choose skiing over all other recreations?
Speed, for one thing. Did you know that no human has ever—EVER!—traveled faster without a motor than speed skier Ivan Origone, who hit 158 mph on skis last March? That’s faster than the terminal velocity of a free-falling skydiver. Fortunately, you don’t need to shrink-wrap yourself in latex to savor the primal thrill of goingsofuckingfast. You just need to pin it down Warm Springs at Sun Valley.
Skiing, along with surfing and kayaking, proves sports are more fun when based on water. It’s cool to play on a surface that actually moves. (Unless, that is, we’re discussing Candlestick Park quaking in the 1989 World Series.) Athletically navigating fluid environments pretty much defines “dynamic,” right? I think that flow—that narcotic, addictive flow—is why the fanatic devotees of water sports will quit their jobs and relationships to pursue them.
What kayakers and surfers fail to realize, however, is that water behaves best when frozen. When I was an editor at POWDER, I bought a wetsuit and made several attempts to surf. Alas, they all ended with me getting pummeled by nasty swells that chugged all the way from Japan just to kick my ass. With waves, I never got the timing down. Why should I have to? I’m a skier. I drop in when I want to, not when the water wants.
For those of us who live at altitude, the question “why ski?” is inevitably followed with “instead of snowboard?” Well, I used to snowboard and enjoyed it until face-planting off a mellow lift ramp in 2006. The short answer is—duh, independent leg motion. We’re humanoids, dammit, not mermaids! The way I see it, we spent 200,000 years evolving as bipeds because walking is the most efficient way for our species to move over ground, and skiing the ideal way to travel over snow.
Anyway, to summarize, skiing is important because skiing is the bestest. Skiing is the bestest, and that’s why we ski.
Rob Story was the senior editor at Powder from 1990 to 1998. In honor of the magazine’s 45th anniversary, we’re asking past editors to answer two questions: Why is skiing important? Why do we ski? This story originally published in the December 2016 issue of POWDER (45.4). Subscribe to the magazine here.