I get this question a lot. Mostly from people who find out I’m from Utah and I’m a skier, and they assume that I’m a resort skier and have a preference between Snowbird, Solitude, Snowbasin. etc. I try not to sound imperious and righteously announce : “I don’t ski the resorts!” and instead say something along the lines of well, I typically backcountry ski, which they of course assume is wool-knickered, Peruvian-hatted cross country skiing, which is fine; I don’t really care if they know what backcountry skiing is about or not. But there are times when folks who actually do backcountry ski ask me “so, what’s your favorite place to ski?” and I’ve realized over time that I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with that question.
Of course, my first reaction of reluctance is generated by the concept of a limited resource: most of us have our favorite haunts, and I’m not the first to notice or report that backcountry riding has experienced a huge rise in popularity and it’s getting increasingly difficult to find areas that aren’t brimming with other enthusiasts, much less finding untracked turns three days after a storm. Basically, I don’t want to tell people where I’m skiing; therefore, I’ll respond with a bald-faced lie (that comes probably far too easily) about how much I like some already popular area that I actually rarely visit. Might as well add more lambs to the pen.
At a deeper level, though, I have realized that I really don’t like the word “favorite.” I understand that it’s a very natural thing to ask someone, and for sure it’s simply a question that’s engages someone as a nice conversation starter (which more people need to cultivate). However, as my range and breadth of skiing places and experiences have grown over the years, I feel so many places have their own special attributes that makes me appreciate/value them in equal, but different ways: the skiing ‘here’ may not be as “good” in terms of pitch, length, tree spacing, or aspect as the skiing ‘there’, but ‘here’….I almost never see anyone, which is an important attribute. There are other places that are simply convenient, regardless of the quality of the skiing, and convenience also is an important aspect considering our bizzy lives. Or a deep, dark, hidden spot that always retains its cold smoke, but it’s only a 300’ shot and takes an hour and a half approach? I’ve done them all, and….I like them all. So what’s my favorite?
It may be way too ethnocentric to say this, but it seems that the concept of “favorites” is more highly valued in the United States. Certainly the concept of “American Exceptionalism” is a long-held tradition that has trickled down through history and been promoted by the likes of the Founding Fathers, to Lincoln, to Kennedy, to Trump, and as such it’s also been adopted by many individual Americans. So if America is exceptional – i.e. The Favorite – then we, as Americans, feel compelled to identify many things in life as our favorites. Add to that the iconic Letterman “top 10” lists, the Rolling Stone list of top 50 guitarists of all time, People’s 10 most beautiful people, etc and we just naturally feel that we too have to have our top 10 in nearly everything. Does this have to include our ski runs? Do we really need to subjugate one of the really fun things that we do from first to tenth? Or even spend the energy to figure out what’s our favorite? One of our favorite favorites we like to discuss is food; I love lasagna, but I don’t eat it every day, nor even once a week, and I also love burritos, pesto pasta, avocado toast, fresh tomatoes….and don’t even get me started on desserts. I like ‘em all.
Ironically, even as people ask that question (a lot) and look for other folks’ favorites, the term “favorite” has lately been getting a bit warped in our lexicon. The phrase “it’s not my favorite” seems to be getting used a lot, which is a bit challenging to interpret: if it’s indeed not your favorite does that mean that out of ten or two hundred or a thousand things….it’s your second favorite? Or tenth? Or 161st? Or does it really mean – and usually it does – that it absolutely sucks? It’s a weirdly passive-aggressive phrase, and it seems like it’s heard fairly often on the skintrack, whether it has to do with the length of the approach, the liveliness of the skis, the breathability of the jacket, or the quality of the skiing.
Even within our faves, on any given day there can be issues: the snow is too old/icy/wet, the weather has gone to shit, I’ve been there a dozen times already this season, I’m tired today, it’s too far, it’s too crowded, etc. But there is some good inherent challenge in generating the creativity associated with making something that may not be your favorite into something pretty great! Strategizing on how best to handle the various adversities that are trying to throw you off your precious ski days can actually make the day – regardless of the zone or the runs –as fun and fulfilling as that thousand-plus-foot run with perfectly-spaced trees in blower….ok, maybe I’m getting carried away, but essentially your favorite need not be defined by a place, but instead by an experience that evolves from making the most of whatever you’re doing, wherever you are. With a solid and fun ski partner it can be quite fulfilling by making an outing that may not otherwise be your favorite become fun and memorable enough to be….at least oneof your favorites.
So when someone asks me “what’s your favorite?” my mind immediately starts flipping through a mental slide show of the many days and runs I have done, and realizing that there are so many different dimensions to the quality of the many backcountry places I haunt that I barely know where to begin. Therefore, I generally find it’s easiest to just kinda shrug and say that due to my ADD my favorite place is the place where I just was: today, yesterday, or last weekend.
I don’t need to rank or rate my favorite places or runs, I just need to go ski them all.