How to be a Skier

The topics covered here frequently assume a certain level of familiarity with skiing and ski culture, and I understand that this can be alienating for some readers in southern California, Texas, and New Jersey. This is not my intention. To appeal to a larger cross section of our Obviously-The-Best-Ever-But-About-To-Be-Made-Much-More-Greaterer Nation, I’d like to offer a few pointers on how to be a skier in the hopes that moving forward we can enjoy the best season of the year together.

Step 1. Talk Loud

The principle responsibility of any skier is to inform the people around him of his intentions. To do this most effectively, I suggest speaking clearly and audibly at all times, and especially when discussing the epic-sicky pow and how much gnar you will definitely shred this coming weekend. This is most effective in public trains, baggage claim areas, and bars with PBR specials, but is also applicable for fancy restaurants, wedding receptions, and first dates. Be sure to focus on what you’re definitely about to do, not what you have actually done.

Step 2. Dress Like an Aquarium Fish

Sometimes simply speaking loudly isn’t enough, or you’re too busy on the shot ski to state your shredding intentions. When this happens your clothing should speak on your behalf. When you dress yourself in the morning, avoid blacks, browns and understated patterns. Mauve is out. Earth tones are only allowable if they are actually digital camouflage. Goggles should be mirrored and imposing. When in doubt, leave the helmet at home.

Step 3. Go Fast; Huck Your Meat

It used to be there was a time way back in the day when skiing was difficult. The hard men and women of mountain towns across the world would tie themselves to a couple of old floor joists with leather straps, take a nip of schnapps, and point ’em downhill – damn the torpedoes. Simply surviving the run from top to bottom was a feat of strength, finesse, and emotional fortitude. A very few people on earth had the technique to make it look good.

tonimatt
Toni Matt knew how to be a skier.

These times are no more. With all the newfangled shaped skis and powerful boots, the equipment pretty much just does its thing. The skier is just along for the ride – no technique required. And so to demonstrate your superiority, it’s important to go as fast as possible and jump off the highest cliff you can find. Remember, no one cares if you land it. Disregard other, slower mountain users. If they were real skiers they would be going faster.

Step 4. Make Fun of Snowboarders

While you’re out sliding over snow with a board strapped to each foot, you may notice some jobless Communists out there sliding over snow with both feet strapped to a single board. Be sure to ridicule these people, they are of a lesser class. Everyone knows the only way to really enjoy sliding over snow is with two different boards. It is well documented in the that when people slide over snow with only one board it means their parents were siblings and they are of substandard intelligence and really they should feel lucky they’re allowed outside at all. You can’t argue with science.

Step 5. Drink Enough Booze

You can’t always be the best skier on the mountain, but that shouldn’t stop you from being the best drinker in the bar. To be clear- as soon as you’ve put on ski boots, you’ve gone skiing. There is no need to actually go outside. So take that shot of Fireball. Order up another bucket of PBR. Just be sure to talk loud while you’re drinking.

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Stop Planning for the Future

Planning for the future is a funny thing. We’ve all got ideas for what we’d like to do. Maybe you’ve got a job you want (or want to quit). Or a degree you’d like to finish. Or a book you’d like to write. Me? I’d like to spend a month in Ireland, living in a van and surfing. The food there is terrific. The people are great. The surfing is world class. I heard they have beer.

It’s something I’d like to do someday, which means that it will never happen.

See, thinking too much about the future is a waste of time, for the sole reason that it’s the future. By definition, it never arrives — by the time the future gets here, it’s the present.

This all seems very circuitous and semantic, except that it’s at the center of why we never seem to get anything done, or achieve those faraway goals. It’s like Steinbeck said about socialism in America, that it never caught on because “we didn’t have any self-admitted proletarians. Everyone was a temporarily embarrassed capitalist.” We tend to think of the future as already clinched, or that it will somehow be different than today. But in order to plan for the future, first we need to plan for the present.

irishsurf
Photo Credit

See, the trip to Ireland sounds great. I’ve got a very clear, very romantic vision of what that month would look like. On the other hand, I have no plane ticket. I have no chunk of time blocked off, no money set aside, and no real idea of an itinerary. Also I don’t know how to surf. The trip is an idea, which so long as it exists safely in an intangible future, may remain nebulously construed and perfect.

It will never, however, happen.

It will never happen as long as it exists in the future (because like we said before, the future, categorically, never arrives). In order for me to head to Ireland to live the surf bum dream, it needs to happen today. Right now. And if I don’t fly out today, then I need to move some element of the trip to today. And another element to tomorrow. The trip itself needs to take place in the present. Maybe that’s buying a plane ticket. Maybe it’s setting aside a few bucks. Maybe is figuring out how to surf. But until something happens today, well, it hasn’t happened yet.

I know that this sounds a bit like navel gazing. Of course big trips and life changes require planning, and that planning can take weeks, months, years. Some might argue that planning an expedition is the best part. I would argue that planning the trip is as much a part of it as boarding a plane or taking the first paddle stroke. In addition to being rewarding (and necessary), it moves the future into the present. This makes whatever “it” is real and no longer hypothetical.

This is bigger than flying to Europe to be homeless.

It’s easy to dream about quitting a job you hate, or getting out of a bad relationship, or writing that novel you’ve got banging around in your head. But by thinking about the future as something that has yet to arrive we’re able to put off making changes indefinitely. The fact is that the future is here, right now. What are you doing to make it better?

D.B. Cooper and Forrest Fenn, American Heroes

“He was the single most hopeful man I ever met, and I’m ever likely to meet again.” – Nick Carroway, The Great Gatsby

On the eve of Thanksgiving in 1971 a man bought a ticket aboard a Boeing 727-100 for a quick flight from Portland to Seattle. Once the flight was underway, and from a seat near the middle of the plane, he handed a flight attendant a note describing a bomb in his carry-on. He showed her a tangle of wires to demonstrate the seriousness of his claim. If he did not receive a ransom of two hundred thousand dollars and a selection of parachutes, he would detonate his bag in mid-flight.

Hero status.

We’ll never know if the man who went by Dan Cooper really had a bomb. Hours after the hijacking began he was bound for Mexico with a bag filled with cash and a parachute. Somewhere over Oregon he opened the Boeing’s rear hatch to jump into the freezing November rain and illuminate the imagination of generations. He was never seen or heard from again.

A few weeks ago the FBI officially closed the case: unsolved. At some point they had to get tired of fielding deathbed confessionals from people who claimed to be D.B. Cooper or the Lindbergh Baby but can’t be sure which one. But there’s still something captivating about our nation’s only unsolved airplane hijacking. There’s an infectious kind of hopefulness in carrying off a plan like that.

I can hear your incredulity now. A hijacking, you say, is the most violent throe of desperation. But hope and desperation are on equal footing in the foundation of the American Dream. We are a nation built by refugees who fled untold horrors for a crack at a new life. In fact it’s only a deeply rooted tradition of hope that can explain the rise of D.B. Cooper as a legend. Who can really believe that an untrained man could jump alone above a rugged wilderness and into a freezing storm at hundreds of miles an hour in the middle of the night wearing only a polyester suit and survive?

It’s this hope that drew settlers to a New World, then to the farthest flung corners of it in search of gold. Hope has a way of gnawing at us, and like gold itself it’s as much a gift as a curse. It allows us to believe that the future will be different from the present, not through a commitment to self-improvement, but through the work of chance. And even to this day nothing captivates us like the prospect of hidden gold.

Buried treasure is the stuff of high adventure. Of the movies and books that guided our understanding of what it means to go on an expedition. From the mutiny on the Hispaniola to the riches of the Sierra Madre to a ramshackle group of kids on the Oregon Coast, a search for hidden treasure has provided a simple and tangible objective to catalyze adventure.

goonies
A picture of hope.

But in our Brave New World the hope of improbable prosperity has been watered down to gas station keno machines and scratch-off lotto tickets. There is no buried treasure. Or is there?

Forrest Fenn’s goal was to leave a legacy behind. The millionaire art collector was battling cancer and planned to die alone in the woods, leaving a bronze chest of gold clutched in the hands of a skeleton for a future adventurer to find. Well, he beat the cancer but still thought the treasure chest was a neat idea, so he hid one somewhere in the Rocky Mountain west. No X marks the spot, but a poem gives the clues.

Forrest Fenn treasure map

Forrest Fenn’s claim to have hidden a great wealth of treasure somewhere in the mountain west is outlandish. It’s improbable. The cynic in me calls it a ploy to sell copies of his book. But then there’s the hope. Not so much the hope that I find the hidden gold, but the hope that someone of means so believed in hope itself that he really did hide a collection of gems and doubloons.

Because the gold isn’t really the treasure. It’s the idea that the gold might be out there, sitting in a hole or a hollow tree, just waiting to capture the imagination of a new generation of adventurers.

And if we never find it? Well, as long as we look, that might even be the point.

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The Machines Have Already Won

The game is over. The machines have already won. Skynet has been on line and self aware for quite some time now, although the warheads haven’t quite flown just yet. It seems that it’s taking a more subtle approach in murdering humanity.

Courtesy of xkcd.com

Take, for instance, Strava, the social media platform for running and cycling that turns every ride into a race. “Connect with friends,” they say, “and make the most of every run and ride” by racing the world with your GPS unit as the timekeeper.

What could go wrong with tens of thousands of people treating each and every road and trail like a race course at any hour of the day?

But while Strava has raised the hackles of critics inside and outside of the cycling community for encouraging impolite and unsafe riding on uncontrolled public roadways and trails, it’s probably a stretch to say that the software is the brainchild of an autonomous supercomputer bent on human destruction.

A stretch, that is, until you pair it with the newest craze to occlude the streets: Pokemon Go.

In the week or so that Nintendo’s mobile gaming platform has been live, it’s pulled millions of pale, doughy enthusiasts from their basements and thrust them staggering into traffic. The result has been predictably horrifying.


At the intersection of self-styled professionals racing against the cloud and cartoon enthusiasts wandering blindly through the world in search of an artificially rare collection of 1’s and 0’s there can only be chaos.

Skynet’s plan is taking shape. I heard it’s only a matter of time before Mario Kart Go delivers humanity’s coup de grace.

Mario-Kart-Go
Courtesy of NewsThump.com

Now, critics of my theory (there are sure to be one or two) could point out that citizens perishing in explosions of carbon fiber splinters or underneath a bus at the cusp of capturing the elusive Vaporeon have only fallen victim to their own loss of context. That Skynet’s greatest weapon is not a weapon at all, but simply a means to make the annoying and destructive aspects of human nature a lot more fun.

Take Twitter. It’s a remarkable tool for pure democracy and unfettered free speech. It allows the anonymous voice of the masses to be felt from uprisings in Tunisia to protests in Ferguson, MO. It’s one of the last bastions of truly organic communication.

It also got this guy nominated:

trump

And so maybe the critics are right. It’s not that we’ve relinquished too much autonomy to the computer on the dashboard, but not quite enough.

Courtesy of xkcd.com

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Don’t Forget to Have Fun

I’ve got a little bit of a complicated relationship with my bike. For five or six years, all I wanted to do was to ride, and to ride as fast as I could. I passed on dinners with friends to spend time on the stationary bike, got most of my calories from weird powders and gels, and pretty much every time I rode it was at an uncomfortable pace.

At the time, or for most of the time, I loved it. There was never any danger of doing it for a living, but I got good enough to travel to big races and to start with the guys who do do it for a living. The hard work really was fun.

raceseason
Race Season – pc: Kevin Horan

After a year or so of bad results and burnout, though, I got tired and disillusioned. My expectations soared while my results stagnated. After a bad season I quit racing, and then I quit riding. I told myself that it wasn’t so much that I stopped loving to ride bikes – I just needed to see other people for a while.

See, when I moved to Montana I was way into climbing on rocks. And ice. And trail running. And backpacking. And hunting. And you get the idea. After a season or two of racing, though, it was all I thought about. After racing lost some of its luster, I went looking for some of the things that I lost.

Backcountry skiing moved to the forefront and got me back in the alpine, and I even took up running-when-not-chased. Riding bikes moved to the background, and while racing is still very much a part of my life, I didn’t even own a mountain bike for a few years (which is my circles was akin to sacrilege).

skiseason
Ski Season – pc: Ben Brunsvold

And then I bought one again. It’s not light, or particularly speedy. It’s not much for racing. It’s a big squishy thing that’s made for long days and backcountry trails, or, more simply, for fun.

I’ve been riding it a lot, and being back on the bike is like meeting an old friend in a new place, or hooking up with an ex. It’s simultaneously familiar and new. It’s exhilarating. It’s fun, and it’s reminded me why I spent so much time riding in circles in the first place.

Riding without tracking my power profile is great. I don’t ride with a watch, or keep track of how far I ride. If I don’t feel like going I don’t go. Sometimes I try hard and sometimes I just screw around, but every time I get out it’s fun. And now that I’m back on the bike, I’m starting to remember what motivated me to train so much a decade ago.

Through freezing, rainy training rides and mind numbing hours on the rollers; through long drives to races I didn’t finish; through an identity that was caught up in unrealistic expectations, racing for me was rooted in fun. And now that the expectations are gone and the fun is back, I wonder if it would be so bad to pin on a number again.

So go hit a jump (or don’t, whatever), or have some beers and get sunburned on the river, or call in sick and spend all day smoking ribs on a Tuesday. Take a little time to have fun.

joust
Fun Season (aka late night campus bike jousting)