What does it mean to be a skier?

Skiers meet from all around the world, and seem to be able to bond with each other despite differing backgrounds and cultures. How come?

Words and pictures by Oscar Frick

Recently having come back home from a trip to the alps where I met up with old friends from literally around the world got me thinking. What is it that binds skiers from around the whole world together?

At its fundamental, skiing is simple. We slide down snow covered slopes. The childish nature of it is hard to argue with – if you give a kid a snow covered slope they’ll inevitably slide down it. Then they’ll go up and do it again. And again. If you don’t recognize that behavior I’m doubtful how much of a skier you really are.

Granted, the slopes we slide down are usually bigger and sometimes more high-consequence than the average sledding hill, but in the end it’s the same. The same way the fundamentals of skiing itself is simple, I think the fundamentals of being a skier is simple. It’s about not being afraid of doing something that is ridiculous simply for the enjoyment of if. Put simply, to play. I guess some people would call it being in contact with your inner child.

Digging deeper, being a skier becomes a more complicated and wide identity that can encompass a lot of different things. The skiers I’ve met through the years have all had very different backgrounds, goals, and ideas about life. Everything from people following in their parents footsteps to people whose skiing is a means of escaping family pressuring them to live a life they don’t want. From the party-focused ski bum to the weathered outdoors person wanting to spend a full year without sleeping indoors. There’s the piste-maniac searching for the purest carve in ideal, constructed, conditions and there’s the ski mountaineer that shuns every man-made impact on the mountains they seek to conquer.

But is there anything more than childish play that keeps us as a skiing community together? Something that’s more deeply rooted than what can be gathered from a brief glance at the community? How come that I can meet someone that’s been raised in a different culture in a place halfway around the world and instantly bond with them? Is it just that we put sticks made from plastic and wood on our feet and play around in the snow, or is there something more?

There are definitely some obvious things. Love for mountains for one – it’s something that ties us all together, a common denominator for every skier. Sure, lots of people like nice views, awesome scenery, and fresh mountain air. Skiers take it to the next level though. When approaching a mountain range there’s a sparkle that starts shining in the eye of the skier – a shine that doesn’t seem to disappear, be they visiting for a weekend or moving to stay for decades.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that all skiers seem to be interested in continuously developing their abilities, to have a continued deepened relationship with their passions. It’s certainly a drive that a lot of people have, but skiers are definitely in the extremes of the spectrum. I guess it’s required in order to withstand the hassle it is to do this sport, or at least to have an interest that’s deeper than going away for a yearly family ski-trip that’s spent half and half between red pistes and après. Getting good skiing by only going out on bluebird days is probably not something that’s possible if you catch my drift. In addition to the weather it’s always cold, you’ll definitely have bruises every now and again, and I’m not sure anyone can honestly say they’re looking forward to squeezing into a pair of ski boots. It takes some determination to keep growing, that’s for sure.

I have yet to meet a skier that doesn’t crave becoming better and developing their abilities. Not all skiers are focused on the same thing, absolutely not, but the underlying drive to improve your skiing seems to be the same. One skier might want to improve their skimo uphill times, another might want to stomp their next rotation in the park, while yet another wants to do a carve with an even higher G-force achieved. They’re all in it for the journey though. As soon as one goal is reached, the next one steps up and takes its place.

Something else, that’s quite mundane, but perhaps not as apparent is the weather. As temperatures creep below freezing most grown-ups frown. Skiers, on the other hand, are again in league with the children with a frown that is rather upside down. As the days grow colder and shorter, most skiers are figuratively (or in some cases literally) excitedly looking out their windows in anticipation for the first snow flakes. The same slightly odd idea about weather goes for storms and heavy snowfall. I don’t think any skier would complain about a bluebird powday, but in order to get pow you need storms – and with the storms come the smiles.

Unfortunately the weather patterns are changing, with winter being postponed a little bit further each year and spring temperatures starting to rise a little earlier. Something that at least should tie together skiers all around the world is concern for the changing climate. The equation is very simple – a hotter climate means less snow and less snow means less skiing. Every skier should care about this development, and should be informed about what to do to minimise their impact, and subject companies and political institutions to pressure to follow suit. Luckily, the ones I’ve met over the years have all been aboard the train, so the outlook is bright.

For me personally skiing has certainly meant a lot. It’s the reason I live where I live, some 1400 km away from where I grew up in a different country. It’s how I have met most of my friends, and how I still stay in contact with the ones that no longer live close by. It’s also one of the few things I can do to completely live in the moment, without a single thought about everyday worries or things that stresses me out. I get to live purely in the moment for a little bit.

Skiing, and by extension my love for mountains, have even gone so far as to start affecting my off-season life (for what part of “off-season” I have, Tromsø is a place where ski touring from November through June is not uncommon). I started climbing during summer in order to become more proficient with rope techniques and management. After having moved north, trail running and mountain scrambling became good ways of scoping projects for the winter season, figuring out the terrain, and possible difficulties and approaches to overcome them during winter.

In fact, all skiers I’ve met try to get out and enjoy the mountains in summer as well. For some, due to their living situation, it might be difficult, but they’ve all wished they could. It would seem we enjoy the mountains so much we try and spend as much time among them year round. The preferred way differs a bit – some climb, some mountain bike, some river raft and some hike. But we all want to be out there, and most of us are.

I guess what binds us skiers together isn’t necessarily complicated. Obviously we ski a lot, but in order to enjoy that it would seem you need certain traits and values. You can’t really enjoy going up and down snow covered slopes again and again without being open to playing around and not taking life too seriously. At the same time you need to have the drive to, and find enjoyment in, developing yourself and see the charm in the progress journey. We have a weird fascination with weather, with many skiers looking at forecasts more times per day than the average person would go in a week. We care about the climate. 

To know which of these traits lead to being ensnared by skiing, and which came from having been ensnared, is difficult to know. Most likely it’s personal. Whether you got into skiing because of your love of spending time among mountains, or since you wanted to develop into the best park-rat you could ever be – in the end we all end up in roughly the same spot. Both physically and mentally. And in the end, it’s just for the fun of it.

11 thoughts on “What does it mean to be a skier?”

    1. It’s an interesting phenomenon, isn’t it? Especially having experienced it first-hand! I bet it’s the case in more communities as well, but there for sure are many, many other communities that seems to struggle much more to find common ground! Thank you 🙂

  1. Such a good article, we where discussing this exact same thing last weekend when I caught up with some ski season friends. Even when you don’t catch up for a few years whenever I catch up with mates made through working in the alps it’s like you’d only seen them yesterday.

  2. For sure. I live in Australia (having grown up in Canada and skiing full time for twenty seasons in Canada) The skiing is an 800 km round trip, that I make every week to ski four days (which I achieve by working three, skiing is the priority!). The people I ski with are all skiers, from many places and backgrounds, they all, just like me, want to ski as much as possible and always seek to improve. I know plenty of people in my home town who ski as a holiday sometimes, but they are not “skiers” simply people who enjoy skiing from time to time as a pastime. It’s impossible to know what makes one person passionate to engage in an activity like skiing, but my closest friends are all skiers, even those who I may not have seen or skied with for over thirty years, we all maintain that same bond. Would love to ski in Norway some day., the mountains look very impressive, especially with the sea often close.

    1. Meant to write “twenty seasons skiing full time in Canada and Switzerland!” Skied much longer in Zermatt and Verbier than Whistler I definitely identify as a skier before anything else.

  3. I hadn’t really considered what makes me a skier but, upon reflection, I think this article nails it for me. A mutual love of skiing transcends age, culture, race and gender in my experience and that can only be a good, if not great, thing.
    Thanks for writing such a thought provoking article

  4. Georg Marckmann

    Stimulating thoughts, thank you! What makes skiing – and especially ski mountaineering – so unique is the combination of experiencing the beauty of winter mountains and at the same time exercising a really fun sport carving down steep powder or slush slopes. Sharing these experiences and passions creates the common ground for mutual understanding and friendship among skiers from diverse communities all over the world.

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