The Cost of Skiing
I am not sporty. I put in my required hours of standing in the outfield on a softball team and half-heartedly dribbling a soccer ball down a field in my childhood, but sports are generally not my thing. A post-college move to San Francisco thrust me into a world where people were earnestly active—there were touch football games, rock climbing, disc golf. A holiday weekend meant that everyone cleared out of town by Friday at 3 p.m., driving towards the mountains in Subarus, ready to hit the slopes.
The first time I was ever on a pair of skis was in high school, and my friends still laugh to the point of breathlessness when recalling how I managed to ski backwards, very slowly down the bunny slope, into a line of children. I flirted briefly with snowboarding in high school, but the majority of my time was spent on the ground, trying to figure out the physics of getting up while my feet were strapped to a fiberglass board.
Skiing, as a hobby, seems irrefutably stupid, inherently dangerous, and, as a hobby of the casually wealthy, decidedly not for me. Skis, to rent or to own, are expensive. Lift tickets are expensive. The clothing and equipment required to keep you warm and safe cost lots of money. Snow should be enjoyed from the comfort of a ski lodge, or a cabin in the woods, while wrapped in a sweater and many blankets, drinking hot cocoa and staring at a crackly fire.
My boyfriend at the time was an avid skier, the kind of guy who grew up spending weekends in Tahoe from October through April. His basement had a separate equipment room that contained a tangle of skis, snowboards, boots and snow pants—hundreds of dollars worth of equipment that just sat there, collecting dust until the first snow of the season. I watched with mounting horror as he bought more stuff off Craigslist and on deep discount at Sports Basement.
“These were only $300, that’s a great deal,” he’d say as he loaded his new babies into the car, a pair of hideously bright skis emblazoned with the phrase “Work Sux” in neon letters.
“You have about five pairs of skis and two snowboards in the basement,” I’d tell him, shaking my head at his liquidity, at the ease he had dropping money on a sport that could very easily kill you.
Skiing seemed like an incredible waste of money. Every winter, you’d drop hundreds of dollars on lift tickets, rentals and new technical outerwear that you’d wear for about three months out of every season. As someone who grew up without a lot of money in a rich town, skiing was the kind of activity that I had never even considered, because of its cost. But, under the influence love, and my innate desire to fit in with peers, I joined my boyfriend on a trip to Tahoe, where I would finally put the past behind me and conquer this weird thing once and for all.
I learned to ski on a sunny, cloudless day at Dodge Ridge, taught by an affable tow-headed 23-year-old named Andy, who was probably stoned, but very nice. The snow was what the pros (and Andy) called “pow-pow,” which is a gross word for snow that is fluffy like giant heaps of confectioner’s sugar. In these conditions, skiing came easily to me. After a half hour of learning the basics, I was flying down the bunny slope with ease, skipping the pizza (pointing your skis inward to make a wedge formation) and french fry (putting your skis in a parallel position) and moving right on to parallel turns, I was stopping without flinging my body to the ground in a desperate attempt to avoid crashing into the lodge, small children, and other skiers.
I gained confidence each step of the way, skiing my way onto harder and harder hills. I never mastered any of the terrifying black diamonds, those mountains that looked like unbroken sheets of white, a straight and hard drop down to a certain death. I did manage some intermediate runs, but did so slowly, and cautiously, and I only cried once, when I found myself gazing down what I assumed to be California’s version of Mount Everest, knowing that I had to get to the bottom, but wasn’t quite sure how I’d achieve that goal. Now this was something I could check off my bucket list of activities that could kill me, but are actually not that bad.
The last time I skied was in Vermont. East coast skiing is an entirely different game. Instead of the soft, forgiving snow I was used to, I found myself skittering down runs through slushy, crunchy stuff, piled on top of what appeared to be a solid bedrock made of ice.
The morning got off to a bumpy start. While getting on the chairlift for our first run, my boyfriend somehow toppled into me, knocking me to the ground just as the lift was swinging around to board us. The back of my head made spectacular contact with the edge of the seat, and I laid in a daze as the entire lift ground to a halt, and paramedics came rushing over. After a variety of mortifying exercises, I was strapped onto a backboard and loaded into a passenger van that drove around the mountain and down to the nurse’s hut. I was fine, but they can’t be too careful, so I unhinged my ski boots and sat on a gurney drinking tea, until they felt fit to let me go.
That’s the last time I skied, and it might be the last time I ski again.
Here’s a rundown of how much it cost for me to love and leave the sport.
• Lift Ticket at Northstar in Tahoe, one day: $114
• Equipment Rental at Sports Basement: $25
• Snow pants, worn once, then ripped in the crotch and never worn again: $60
• Waterproof shell that actually has come in handy as a raincoat: $100
• Various pairs of gloves/mittens: $50
• A fleece pullover, purchased at Buffalo Exchange, worn only during outdoor activities: $50
• A hat with earflaps, questionable color palette and a pom-pom: $30
• Realizing that ski boots are torture devices, and ski lodges are great places for introspection and day drinking: PRICELESS