Why do people like skiing?
I just got back from a ski trip. It was cold. We had to stick chemical warmers in our gloves and boots to keep our extremities from going numb. Ski boots chafe and bruise. Lift lines are long, and chairlifts are agonizingly slow when the wind is slowly eating the skin off your face.
I drove for five hours and paid exorbitant sums for lift tickets and overpriced resort food in order to have this experience. Whenever one of my friends suggests a ski trip, part of my gut groans, oh god, no, why this again?
Lugging the heavy gear around, impatiently waiting for my friends to catch up (or scrambling to fasten all my various clasps and straps while they waited impatiently for me), the only thing driving me forward was a burning impatience to get on the slopes, a mental voice chanting “let’s go let’s go let’s go.”
When you’re actually out there, it’s scary… there are people trying to collide with you, your skis vibrate and your too tight boots suddenly feel incredibly wobbly, the slope is always icy (on the east coast) and the run is always over too soon, just when you were really skiing it well it’s done, wait, I want to try one more mogul, but then it’s back on line again.
Even so, in those too brief moments there’s a sensation worth trekking out to the slopes for. It’s not adrenaline, which you can get much more cheaply, say by crossing the street in New York in front of a taxi. It’s freedom: the sensation of creating art against resistance. It’s the temporary full-on existential battle of your will against the environment, an experience that no longer exists in our sanitized child-proof homes and workplaces. It’s the reassertion of humanity, the statement that against the cold, the slope, the obstacles, the limits of your own body, you can learn to manipulate these forces and create a vision of your own design, yourself cutting graceful lines back and forth down the mountain.
Human minds are designed to take the chaos of our environment and create art. That’s what we do. At any and every moment where we aren’t being challenged by our environment in some way, we’re degrading from what we are. Most every day challenges are mental and social, because the physical world has become so utterly tamed. It’s kind of sad that we have to create artificial theme parks like ski resorts to briefly remember what being human with our full bodies, not just our minds, feels like. We’re victims of our own success, perversely paying for what our ancestors got for free.
Of course, we rarely actually die while skiing, so maybe we have the better deal?