A Guide to Remaining Blissfully Average

I have a black-and-white photograph of myself as a child on my very first ski day. It was taken by my father in the early ‘80s at the base of Aspen Highlands. I’m standing in the snow, bundled up in the ski fashion of the day, holding my skis vertically in one hand. I was around 5-years-old. I’m smiling proudly without showing any teeth. Freckles dot my cheeks and nose.

Today I got the latest issue of Powder Magazine in the mail. On the cover is Lindsey Vonn at 7-years-old, and the photo is almost identical to mine. She’s standing in the snow, bundled up in the ski fashion of the day, holding her skis vertically in one hand. She’s also smiling proudly without showing any teeth. Her cheeks are flush from sun and cold.

The two photos are uncanny in their similarity. Two children at the beginning of their ski careers, with endless possibilities ahead. But Lindsey Vonn grew up to become the greatest female skier in history, whereas I snowplowed into a lifetime of alpine mediocrity. And damn am I proud of it.

So proud, in fact, that during junior year of college, my friends and I made a ski movie. Inspired by the ski porn of Matchstick Productions, I grabbed a camera and headed for the hills. Our destination? Not some exotic, faraway place like La Grave or Patagonia. Instead, the low-angle backcountry of the Grand Mesa above Grand Junction, Colorado would have to do. At this point in time Lindsey Vonn had made her World Cup debut in Park City, whereas I was pretty good at making powder turns from the backseat of my skis. I named the movie “Alpine Mediocrity.” I submitted it to an amateur ski movie contest put on by Powder Magazine, and it was mediocre enough to not win a damn thing. Mission accomplished?

I worked hard to maintain my mediocrity over the years. I mean, who has the time and energy for all that training to become one of the best skiers in the world, or even good enough to be in a ski movie for that matter? Being average most definitely has its perks.

See, I choose mediocrity on purpose. At least that’s what I tell myself when I get, like, two feet of air while hucking “cliffs” in the backcountry. With nothing to prove because nobody is watching me, I am free. No sponsorships to maintain, no contracts to lawyer over, no endless world travel, no pressure. Alpine mediocrity is not just a definition, it’s a state of mind, man.

So for anyone who aspires to be as mundane in the mountains as me, here are few tips that I’ve employed over the years. Each of these suggestions helped me reach the pinnacle of mediocrity and are guaranteed to work for you too.

Only ski on powder days.I mean, powder is the reason we backcountry skiers slog up skintracks, right? Skiing powder is a difficult skill to learn, sure. But when you attain Jedi-level mastery of floating atop cold fluff, there’s no need to make turns on anything else. Hardpack, ice, and even packed powder lose all luster, so why bother? The result is you become a jack-of-one trade, master of… one… or something. Then after skiing nothing but powder, on the rare day when you are forced to ski in awful mixed conditions, your glorious mediocrity will be on full display.

Move to Utah.See above. There’s no better place in the west to backcountry ski powder than in Utah, so you can conceivably log a 100-day season without ever digging an edge into hard snow. All my friends from back east are better skiers than me because they grew up making turns on ice. But I grew up in Colorado, and lived in Utah for 19 years chasing a powder addiction. So during dry spells, I go through powder withdrawals that cause me to look like a total Jerry on groomers and icy bumps. Meanwhile my buddies look like Lindsey Vonn in comparison.

Maintain mediocrity with a blah Instagram account.A surefire way to be mundane in the ski world is to post photos that nobody would think is cool. Pics like your topsheets from the ski lift, snow angels you made by yourself, and shirtless mirror selfies to show off new goggles will drive away followers and potential sponsors. Using humdrum hashtags like #skiday and #adventure are a plus. And never, ever post photos of your dog playing in the snow. The point is to lose followers, and dog photos may threaten your path to obscurity.

Know the limits of your current abilities, and then comfortably stay there.In the past, every run I skied I would try to do better than the last. The idea, was that by improving my skiing with every top-to-bottom go, I could exponentially increase my abilities to a Freeskiing World Tour level. How foolish of me. Now in my blessed state of mediocrity, I can just have fun on every run. They say if you’re not falling, you’re not improving. But I say if you’re not falling, you’re trying too hard.

Have kids.To make my ski skills disappear faster than my hairline, I got my wife pregnant. Now every weekend instead of dropping steep couloirs, I’m making wedgie turns down the bunny slope with a short person between my knees. Of course I’ve already taken a picture of my boy standing in the snow, bundled up in the ski fashion of today, holding his skis vertically in one hand. Maybe in the future he will look at that photo and also ponder, with no regrets, the path his skis took him down.

Alpine mediocrity. Yep. That’s the place where I want to be. Can’t really conceive of anything better. So when I got that Powder Magazinein the mail today and looked at the cover, I thought to myself, “Joke’s on you, Lindsey Vonn, joke’s on you.”


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Jared Hargrave

What innovation would you (realistically) like to see that might be beneficial to backcountry skiing?

Grumpy Hargrave doesn't want innovations, so as not to attract more skiers into an already crowded backcountry. However, optimistic Hargrave wants a new innovation in avalanche airbag packs. Specifically, technology that would make them far less expensive, so that everyone can afford to be safer in the mountains.

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