A Fine Wine About Skiing
I like wine. Pinot, Merlot, Burgundy, Chardonnay….whatever; they are all good. And different, but actually pretty similar. I once participated in a blind wine-tasting and all the participants had to do was distinguish between different types of reds: there was a merlot, a zinfandel, a cabernet, and something else, and some of the folks participating considered themselves to be amateur enthusiasts, and sorta scoffed at how easy it would be to distinguish these very different styles. And yet….they couldn’t. Basically, they represented people I have little tolerance for: wine snobs, who feel like their palette is so much more sophisticated than those of rubes like me that they can’t be bothered with $7 bottles. As they scrambled to explain why they bumbled, I had to restrain myself for social posterity by not ridiculing them (too much). And oddly enough, they reminded me of…..snow snobs!
Here in the Wasatch we are famously blessed with The Greatest Snow on Earth, and as such it creates a population that has become very discerning about the quality of the snow at all times. It’s well known that the Inuit have something like 128 different words for “snow”, and while we skiers probably aren’t quite that prodigious, we have a strong definition of we like: 4-6% on top of a not-too-soft, not-too-hard base, and the more the better. But as that snow ages – unlike a good wine – it doesn’t improve, and in fact it changes and deteriorates fairly quickly, so that the snow snobs become more critical and discriminating of the snow, despite the fact that it’s still – like a decent table red – snow, and it’s still skiing, and it’s still “fine.” But four or five days after a storm one can get a late start out of a popular trailhead on a weekend, and there will hardly be anyone out skiing, and for those intrepid few who are willing to partake in the $7 bottle-snow-equivalent a common refrain is: “where is everybody?” And I think the answer is…. we are snow snobs.
For sure, there is nothing like the sublime sensation associated with skiing in perfect conditions. Dancing down a pristine slope with white smoke billowing up around your thighs, chest, and face is our raison d’etre. We always seem to find rationale for blowing off work, home projects, errands, family – virtually everything that involves responsibility – in order to get fresh, perfect snow. And the fact that “those days” are somewhat fleeting adds to the perceived value: in his book The Greatest Snow on Earth, Jim Steenburgh says that on average there are 18 really good powder days a year in the Wasatch, and that’s many more days than our compatriots in California, the Pacific Northwest, and Colorado typically receive. Therefore, when it’s good,…. we go skiing. And recent studies have shown that when we have a perception of higher value – as in, if we have the perception that a bottle of wine is expensive and therefore higher value, even if it is not – our brain actually lights up more and stimulates our senses, so we physically do like it better.
But what about when it is not good? When the wine really is $4.95 a bottle and it hasn’t snowed for a week and the sun has been out? Like wine snobs, it seems easy for snow snobs seem to find reasons to not partake in something that’s not just sub-par, it’s sub-perfect. The ability provided to us by the interwebs to become our own weathermen seems to have created a generation of second guessers anticipating what weather events will do to the snow surface, and it seems to be easy to either overestimate the potentially-deteriorating effects or simply find reasons to do something else besides ski. But many times I have gone out skiing a week – or two, or three – after a storm, or in conditions that other people perceive are going to absolutely suck, and find myself saying “It’s a lot better than I thought it was going to be!” similar to wine snobs who have been busted liking lowbrow wine.
Perhaps skiing is more like drinking beer? While it’s been proven that even connoisseurs have a hard time distinguishing wines, there is no doubt that anyone – even teetotalers – can quickly taste the differences between lagers and stouts, pales and porters, or ambers and IPAs. Are these akin to two feet of blower, 8 inches of surfy new high density, or perfectly-softened corn? Perhaps; but it doesn’t matter, because they are all good. And just like getting offered a cold Coors Light on a hot summer day, even slashing through tracked-up, sun-affected chowder laughing with friends when the avy danger is low can be quite refreshing and good for the soul.
If we need no other reminders, I think about our aforementioned brethren; those maritime and full continental snowpackers who simply need to be a bit more committed to $7/bottle snow than we spoiled Wasatchers. I have often thought that New Englanders, and Midwesterners, and Northwesterners actually love skiing more than we do, because they are willing to make the longer drives, deal with adverse weather, and ski more ice or mank or windjack than we would even consider, and become great skiers in the process. They are skiing the wine coolers….and hey, wine coolers are actually pretty good!
So maybe that’s it: adjust your expectations of both wine and skiing. We may indeed be connoisseurs and we relish the quest and partaking of those sublime days and the perfect, exquisitely-oaky Malbec. But they are elusive, and it’s skiing; and any skiing is far better than the best Chianti anyway. So we should partake as much as we can regardless of the quality, and then celebrate another day of skiing in the mountains…… of course, with a glass of table red.