It has been a horrific year no matter your political beliefs. Hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires have ravaged North America. Our public lands are in danger of being forever downgraded. Our political dialogue has devolved to the point where we have lost all ability to listen. We only react. Nazis, motherfucking Nazis, marched through the streets of America and someone ended up dead (this happened right outside the office where our sister publication Blue Ridge Outdoors is headquartered and the designer for Elevation Outdoors works). Misogyny and racism have become accepted as some sort of excuse for failing to understand the difference between being born into privilege and being on the outside of the American Dream. Discord sowers bankrolled by extractive industries continue to muddy the waters when it comes to basic science and the realities of climate change, all in the name of further polarizing our politics. We need real answers to these problems, and people serious about finding solutions and engaging in dialogue rather than personal gain.
So I wonder, how, in the midst of all of this rancor and bad news, can I justify skiing. It is one hell of a privelged sport. It’s a sad fact that in most mountain towns, the people who do the tough work have a hard time finding an affordable place for their families to live, never mind worrying about finding the newest Arc’teryx shell or a career that allows them to skip out on powder days. I know for a fact that many low-wage workers in mountain towns who recieve tickets as part of their benefits sell them off at a discounted ticket rate simply to raise some extra cash. Lifts churn through energy (though many resorts have made efforts to offset this fanciful use of natural resources). I know that I am damn lucky to have been able to dedicate a good portion of my life to something as meaningless when it comes to solving the world’s problems as sliding down a mountain. Does this make me complicit in our national inability to face real issues?
I have been lucky, too, that I have traveled the planet to ski. Last year, I made turns in Verbier, Switzerland, and Courmayeur, Italy, on a product testing junket with Columbia Sportswear. I found powder turns in Santa Fe, New Mexico and the heart of the Colorado backcountry. Most Americans, especially those who face poverty, sickness and oppression, don’t traipse the globe—so I feel a responsibility as a writer to learn from my luck.
Here’s the thing. Skiing does mean something. It gives us something we all need, a sense of joy and wonder out in the world. It may sound trite, but we can take what we know and experience out in the hills and try to bring that mindset to solving problems. One of the things I love best about skiing is how close you feel to the people who shred pow with you. I have met absolute social rejects who come alive once they are making turns (you know the type, yes?). Long lift rides engender long conversations. Skiing is a privilege. But we can learn from that privilege and get back out in the world and try to impart some type of joy and understanding on those who need us to support them. We can use those lift rides to talk over solutions, to listen, to find ways to share this beautiful thing with those are not so lucky.