Observations on skiing

I'm writing this from Squaw Valley in Tahoe, where there's a bit of a snowstorm going.

I can basically count the number of times that I've gone skiing on one hand.  The first was a week long ski trip in high school.  The second was a single day my junior year of college where I visited a friend in Vermont.  The third was last year here in Tahoe for a weekend (ski'd one day).  And the fourth was earlier this week via a company/employee funded offsite (another one day).

In general, I'm not too bad at skiing, having done sufficient amounts of rollerblading in the past to have some sense of balance on my feet.  I did a black on my last day of skiing in high school without falling (apparently a banner day for me since I remember that).  On these single day trips, since then, I've hovered between blue and black difficulties ever since.

As with any new physical activity, I find myself barely able to move after the first round of exertion. All the straining with my legs to keep my balance adds up after the first day.  For this reason, I opted not to go for a second day earlier this week.  However, yesterday I ski'd for about 2/3'rds of the day and I was tired at the end, but not completely wrecked like before.  Today I actually feel pretty good, so presumably I'm adapting quickly.  I don't have any plans to go again this season, however, so that physical improvement may be for naught.

A list of random thoughts over the past week or so.

  1. What's the difference between these 50 dollar goggles and these 100 dollar goggles?
  2. This thermal underwear is really comfy!
  3. God, I wish I had a face mask.
  4. God, I wish I had a face mask.  Wait, why didn't I buy one last week when I thought the same thing?
  5. I'm going to wish I had a face mask next year, aren't I?
  6. These ski house rentals are totally low tech (no internet). Thank god for 3G phone tethering.
  7. Here's the fairly steep and very powdery place where I lost my ski in the snow for half an hour last week.  I deem the potential pain of that experience to be more than the potential pain of just zooming straight down the slope. GOOOOO!
  8. Is that melted snow from my glasses or snot coming out of my nose?
  9. My single layer of ski gloves are clearly not keeping my hands warm.
  10. Riding up and down on this cable car is like Groundhog Day.  Everyone says the same things every time.  "OOO, look how far down it is!"  "If this cable breaks, we are so dead." General yelps as the cable car passes a support tower and swings for a bit.
  11. Skiing in tons of powder presents its own set of problems.  Namely, how to get out of it if you fall.  Snowboarders are particularly screwed.
  12. I clearly strapped my boots in too tightly in previous runs of skiing.  My shins aren't nearly as bruised these past two runs and they were much more comfortable.
  13. My arms aren't tired at all.  Does this have anything to do with Rock Band? (seriously, it probably does)

My approach to skiing, not taking it too seriously, is to just do it as much as possible without causing myself annoying pain.  I don't see much point in killing myself just because I'm here.  My ideal approach would be to go for half a day every couple of days or so when I feel like it.  Unfortunately, the sport itself doesn't really lend itself to that model, given that I have a job and don't live in the area.  So I do what I can.

One nice thing this weekend is that I can see some improvement aside from the physical aspects.  After talking with some friends, I decided to think of skiing as more of my body carrying my momentum and my feet keeping me afloat (like shock absorbers on a car).  This was a conclusion I had reached on my own, but apparently it's just basic knowledge, and I just needed verification.  Anyway, after trying it out, this is clearly a superior approach.  Relying too much on my feet to balance myself makes me far more vulnerable to the random bumps and terrain that I encounter as I make my way down the slopes.  Keeping my feet light lets me ride over those bumps with much less impact to my overall direction and momentum.

In general, skiing seems like a tremendous amount of overhead to me …
involving expensive equipment, lodging, travel time, not to mention the
cold and trudging through snow and limited windows of availability and good conditions.  It certainly isn't what I would call a poor man's sport.  Frankly, there are cheaper and more convenient ways to exert yourself.  I see nothing particularly appealing about skiing except for the unique merits of the experience, which has to compete against all of the downsides I mention above.  Still, if you like the experience of plowing down the slopes that much, there really isn't anything comparable.

With all the overhead involved with skiing, I find myself wondering how the sport evolved.  Lifts certainly haven't been around forever, so the sport seems like it must have been completely inaccessible until the latter half of the 20th century.  I know this must be easily discovered information via the Internet, but I haven't bothered looking yet.

As it is, I find this to be a sport that I either do a lot or a little, and a little bit seems to be the right amount.  A "Variety is the spice of life" approach, if you will.  I certainly wouldn't mind seeing myself graduate to consistent black runs in a few more visits or so, if my skill level can survive the long gap between visits.

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