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Intro/#21

On the very first day I skied, I knew skiing would become my life. I was 18, hungover as a dog, alone because my friends were still in bed, scritching and scratching on manmade West Virginia snow, haulin’ ass with a pair of 150cm Olin Mark IIs and Spademan plate bindings. By the end of the day I was sore and my jeans were wet, but I charged down the cat tracks in a fearless flying wedge. I went home ready to spend money I didn’t have on skis, any skis, that could hook me back into that feeling that was like no other.

I was partying pretty hard, drinking my weight in beer every couple weeks or so, acting like a jerk, and floundering through a directionless first two years of college. It was an ugly time. But through it all, skiing became my anchor. When I took time off from school to figure out what I was doing with my life, it was skiing I threw myself into, working in two shops and clocking as many days as I could on what little hills the Mid-Atlantic had to offer. When I went back to school to study journalism, I made the two-hour drive to the local hill nearly every weekend, and when I graduated and set my sights on a newspaper job, the only requirement was that it had to be in ski country. Whatever my path, skiing would lead me there.

I started thinking about skiing the other day after I read a quote from Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard. Talking about the skills and attitude it takes to visit wild places and return alive, he said, “People aren’t interested in something that takes a lifetime to learn.” It really stuck in my head. He’s right, I thought. As a society, we value the quick buck, flexibility over roots, and ease of use about everything. We are the people who invented the electric toothbrush, the drive-thru funeral home, the Kwik-E-Mart, who invented GLM, fat skis, and parabolics. We worship at the altar of easy.

Case in point: Do you think snowboarding would be as big as it is if it was harder to learn than skiing? I don’t think so.

There’s nothing wrong with inventing easier sports, with making other sports easier to do, with flattening life’s learning curve. For example, do you mean to tell me that by using fat skis in powder and junk I can ski better, faster, in more control, and with less effort? Bring ’em on!

The problem is that by worshipping convenience we as a society have lost our respect and reverence and maybe motivation for things that do take a lifetime to learn. We’ve created an environment where people almost expect to become instant experts and if they don’t they move onto something else. I stuck with skiing when I had no money, when I should have been studying, when my life felt lost in a sea of turmoil. For whatever reason, I hung in there through the flails and bails and bruises and frustrations and ego-spankings when I had a hundred reasons to quit. Maybe skiing was actually the easy route compared to what was going on around me. I don’t know.

What I do know is that I came to a point where I relished how skiing demands more from you, how the nuances of body and snow and gravity aren’t learned in one season or even 10. I learned to love the fact that feeling at home in all conditions, all terrain, all weather, and all speeds requires years of commitment—and that even then there’s still so much more to learn. After 17 seasons, I still feel like a gaper half the time, but when I look at some of the incredible skiers around me I get excited and think, “If I just keep working on it, some day, maybe, I’ll ski like that.”

Or maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll ski for anther 17 seasons and be pretty much the same skier I am now. I can’t predict the future. All I know for sure is that wherever I’m going it’s skiing that’s taking me there. The journey is a long one, a life-long one, and, damn, that feels good. You know what I mean?

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 25.6, February 1997. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

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