This article was originally published in Couloir Vol. XIX-4, Dec. 2006.
If you’re a regular reader of these pages, you’re a hard core skier, some might even say extreme. When you consider that the average skier only logs four days a year, and we log an average 35 to 40 days a year, yeah, maybe we do take it to extremes.
About half of those days are at a resort, and half in the backcountry. On average.
Now when you consider that the main reason people don’t ski more is because they don’t have partners you have to wonder what is up with the hard core earn your turns types, like you and me. Does that mean we’re the friendliest skiers out there and we log that many days ‘cuz we exude a je ne sais quoi magnetism that attracts others to us all the time?
No, the thing that really makes us extreme isn’t that we occasionally huck cliffs and ski 50 plus-degree slopes. It’s the fact that skiing is so important to us that we do whatever it takes to ski as often as we can, no matter what. Careers have been sacrificed in this pursuit, even families. I’m not endorsing that behavior, but we are all guilty, at least by association. In its most benign form, it means we will ski with or without partners.
I’ll admit that when I first started touring solo I was not only cautious, but self conscious too. Those thoughts have long since faded. Now skiing simply means setting a time and going. No need to arrange partners, wait for them, or hold them up.While I love conversing with friends on a skin track, I’ve found conversation needn’t be lacking when I’m touring solo either. It just isn’t verbal. It’s usually more profound, whether simply admiring the beauty of the creation all around me, or embracing ideas from heaven above. It is hard to articulate thoughts too deep, too wide, and too high for mere words. But when I’m touring alone, I can steep myself in them and, by grace, perhaps even absorb and own some of them. As Polly McLean says, “I am in awe of how, simultaneously I am so small, and yet so big, in the immensity of our world.”
So the satisfaction I get from skiing alone far outweighs the damnation incurred from those who say it is foolish. We hear it all the time, and yes, it is true that within our own pages we extol the virtues of the buddy system ad infinitum. There is a sound reason for it. But that doesn’t mean skiing solo is inherently wrong, dangerous, or irresponsible. Undoubtedly, part of why we do it is to thumb our noses at society’s narrow definition of appropriateness. Skiing is inherently rebellious, not only to the laws of gravity, but to the oppression of daily rules and expectations as well. It is why Peter Kray accurately states part of the reason we go alone is to escape everyone else.
The reason I even bring up this point is to recognize that, as skiers it is in our blood and we will not be denied. Thus, it is inevitable, if not already common, for us to ski alone. The ironic thing is, once you’re skiing solo, and you’ve been doing it awhile, the rebellion dies. When you’re a lone ranger, you realize how easily you could slip. It makes you more conservative, allowing you to absorb the simpleness of earning your turns. Rather than ignore that phenomenon, it is high time we acknowledged this communal secret.