I don’t like skiing alone. I’d just as soon fire up a big, steaming cup of coffee and crack open a book than pound the bumps by myself on a flat light day.
Before you call me a milquetoast, hear me out. I love to ski and I will ski alone, but, unless the conditions are really good, odds are I’ll get bored. Then I’ll look at my watch and think about other things I could be doing, like going for a run in the snow or looking at new gear in a mountaineering store. Before long I’ll head for the bottom of the hill, my thoughts laced with guilt for quitting while the lifts are still running, as if you can’t love skiing and set it aside for a while.
Add another skier to the picture and things change dramatically. Give me someone to ski with, and I’m there, first chair to last.
See, I think of skiing alone as one-dimensional. It’s fun, but it’s like hearing your favorite song on AM radio. Skiing with someone else is like hearing that same song in surround-sound stereo cranked to 120 db through monster studio monitors. The skiing becomes three-dimensional, and, depending on how deep your relationship is, maybe even four-, and six-dimensional.
There are a zillion reasons why this is true. There’s someone to talk with, and someone you can be quiet with. There’s someone to push you when you need a push, and someone you can hammer on when they’re dragging. There’s someone to lead and someone to follow, someone to break trail and someone to pick up your skis when you beater.
One of the joys of skiing is how quickly these relationships can develop and how surprisingly deep and long lasting they can be. In particular, I’m thinking of that truly rare friendship—when two people become ski partners.
Like the best things in life, a ski partnership is unplanned. It just happens. You ski along with someone for a number of years, in good snow and bad, in gnarly terrain and groomed, and things feel comfortable. Easy. Half the time you know what they’re going to do before they do it.
Classic example: tree skiing. Skiing in the trees is the single best way to take the measure of a skier. You don’t go into the woods to burn someone or compete with them, of course, but the trees are a right fine place to see if your styles and attitudes are compatible. Maybe you find yourselves taking similar lines without stepping all over each other or intuitively stopping in the same places. After a while you always seem to know where they’ll be, and one day you realize there’s an invisible rope of trust connecting you, that you’d go anywhere with your partner, that you’d put your life in their hands with good faith. You probably don’t even call them your partner—it’s kind of a hokey, formal word—but that’s what they are.
The idea of partnerships may seem a little awkward in skiing. As an activity, it’s not as conducive as, say, climbing, where you’re sharing a rope with another person and your life is literally in their hands. Perhaps the further out you go with skiing and the more dangerous it becomes—the closer it gets to climbing, in other words—the more you need a partner and the more likely you are to develop one.
I don’t have a ski partner—I’ve never skied in any place long enough to develop one—but there are a handful of people who I trust and who trust me (I think) and there have been times when our turns were in synch and our brains aligned and we knew what we were doing without looking and the whole damn thing—skiing, life, friendship—was magical. And that’s a million times better than skiing alone.
First published in Powder Magazine, issue 22.5, January 1994. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.