Is skiing really a solitary sport? Answer: No!

Is skiing really a solitary sport? Answer: No!
John Grollmus photo
Powder days are best when shared.

Every skier or snowboarder on any mountain in the land has heard it said way too many times: "No friends on a powder day." On the surface, the statement seems basic enough and its meaning fairly straightforward. Quite simply it means you can get more fresh turns of a higher quality if you don't bother waiting around for any fellow riders who might slow you down. It's true enough that taking the solitary route can often lead to more face shots, more time spent in the white room and probably even less time spent waiting in the dreaded powder day lift line.

However, there's a deeper question hiding just under a fresh dusting of crystalline snowflakes. Is skiing really a solitary sport?

Let's start with chairlifts. Currently, there exist only two single-person chairlifts in the United States: Chair 1 at Mad River Glen in Vermont and the Single Chair at Mount Eyak in Alaska. Personally, I have never ridden on a single chairlift, but it sure sounds like a lonely ride to me. I've always been a fan of having at least one person on the chair with me to swap stories of past powder days, compare ski graphics with and share a laugh while heckling anyone engaging in a complete yard sale below the lift. Obviously, chairlifts have gotten bigger and bigger through the years, growing from holding two riders to four, then six and now even eight in an effort to increase uphill capacity. However, no matter how much focus ski resorts may place on uphill capacity, the chairlift ride has always been and will always remain a social experience. After all, the more the merrier.

Well, what about the on-slope portion of the perfect powder day then? Is it really better by oneself?

Every dedicated mountain rider knows about the concept of powder eights, and it's a self-evident truth that a powder eight cannot be created by one skier alone. In fact, the powder eights competition is the driving force behind one of the greatest and cheesiest ski movies of all time, Aspen Extreme. Beyond the fact that it takes two people to create a perfect powder eight, there are other reasons not to be alone on a powder day, and perhaps none is more important than safety. The fact that we're talking about powder days means a healthy amount of fresh fluffy snow is involved, and that creates two life-threatening hazards: avalanches and terrain traps such as tree wells. Both of those dangers can be at least partially reduced by skiing with a partner. After all, one of the most effective pieces of ski safety equipment, a transceiver, only works if at least two users are involved.

click to enlarge Is skiing really a solitary sport? Answer: No!
John Grollmus photo

Finally, let's look at the celebratory aspect of a powder day.

I can still vividly remember a particular run from one of the best powder days of my life. As I floated up and down between turns, my head would only surface from within the white room of powder long enough to take a breath and grab a quick look downhill to be sure no trees were in my immediate path. With every glorious moment, my heart pounded harder and faster almost as though it would burst through my chest at any moment. My excitement was so intense as to be almost overpowering, and when I finally reached the bottom of what had surely been one of the best runs of my life, I subconsciously yelled out with joy and looked around desperately for someone to share a high-five with—but alas I was alone.

While the joyous memory of that run will always be inside me, I can't help feeling it would have been better to have someone to celebrate that moment with. We've all hollered out at the top of our lungs with joy midslope on a particularly delicious powder run at some point, and while it may be some simple animalistic tendency within us causing us to do it, one also has to wonder if there isn't some communal purpose in it. Perhaps that joyous and primal scream will be heard by those on the chairlift, thus amping up their stoke for the run they will too soon be experiencing.

At the end of the day, do we not all want to celebrate the day's victories with someone?

I mean if a powder day is a truly solitary experience, who are you going to share a beer with at the end of the day? Who are you going to laugh and maybe even cry with about the one run where for three, or was it four turns, you never saw anything but cold white smoke in your face? Who are you going to formulate the plan with for a road trip to follow the next big storm to the magical land of powder miracles? Didn't we learn in kindergarten that sharing is simply the right thing to do?

It might just be my opinion, but it shouldn't be — we should all just agree to powder days with friends from this day forward. All right, now let's all say it aloud together. Join me in this moment, this movement. Say it loud and proud, so that every other powder slayer near you will know you're part of their tribe: "Friends on a powder day!" ♦

Deck The Falls Festival @ Cutter Theatre

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