Skiers are compelled to explore the unknown—it’s rooted in our souls. Collectively, we have a craving to witness panoramas from the tops of faraway peaks, find ski villages, quaint, hidden gems tucked away from the rest of the world, experiences that drive our community in a never-ending search for heart-pounding inspiration. But when you gaze beyond the horizon, daydreaming about what’s on the other side, it’s often hard to recognize the beautiful opportunities that lie directly under your feet.
With the many uncertainties and yet-to-be-decided regulations that will define the resort skiing experience this upcoming winter, it is paramount that, as skiers, we embrace our backyards. To look local, enjoy what’s close to home and find new ways to appreciate and support the communities in which we live should take precedent this season and replace our disposition to travel.
When the novel coronavirus hit North America, ski season ended abruptly. And skiers had a tendency to panic: Many season pass holders—including those who planned to enjoy the multi-national benefits of the Ikon Pass and Vail Resort’s Epic Pass—had to swiftly cancel trips, seeking refunds on plane tickets and unused days at resorts. There was backlash at resorts’ inability to offer reparations for those plentiful “lost” days, yet resort officials were bound to non-refundable contracts blindly signed by pass holders at the beginning of the season.
Even backcountry-focused skiers were dealt a troublesome hand. Despite the illusion of off-piste skiing being safer—that small ski parties and avoiding human contact at resorts meant everything was gravy—other risks became apparent. Many considered it selfish to continue skiing out of bounds, taking into consideration the severe consequences that could stem from the need for a backcountry rescue. This thought kept many skiers home, but others continued to operate as if the pandemic didn’t apply.
Skiers’ varied, knee-jerk reactions continue to echo through conversations about the nature of the upcoming ski season while there is still so much uncertainty. The simplest solution to containing the virus—for everyone—means staying at home and limiting our exposure to others, but skiers are hard-wired to look beyond, to seek adventure. So, how do we find a way to enjoy the downhill experience without risking the health and safety of ourselves and our communities?
The solution is changing our perspective, realizing that every yin has its yang: The repercussions that might prevent travel this season will also force us to look at what’s close at hand. Homegrown, independent ski areas, their appeal previously clouded by a yearning to explore far from home, should garner a fresh attention; backcountry lines accessible just a short drive from your backdoor, objectives smaller, safer, should take precedent over multi-day missions and international escapades.
One illuminating aspect of the mandatory quarantines is a removal of external distractions, a forced look inward. Without concerts and après-ski parties, travel plans, spring skiing outings and summer camps, everyone has been ordained a long, hard look in the mirror, so to speak. Our lives, often riddled with social gatherings and chairlift rides with strangers, have been limited to maintaining relationships with the individuals closest to us—roommates, family, close friends, ski partners. The time of quarantine has afforded us a unique opportunity to dive deeper into ourselves, the aspects of that make our personalities distinct, the hobbies and activities that invigorate our souls. It’s also a chance to abide by an outlook rooted in our local communities, the ski areas, shops, restaurants that make our respective neighborhoods so remarkable.
While it may seem like we’re “missing out” by not participating in life’s usual occurrences, it should be viewed as the opposite; these are formative times that promote the notion of supporting community, living intentionally, operating on a smaller scale with more immediate gratification. Looking ahead to winter, local ski shops and retailers require our attention, small ski areas need our season pass sales. Consider shifting your mindset to think about what’s close, what’s attainable from your hometown.
By adopting this mindset—by looking local—we will, most importantly, be able to keep one another safer, yet it may also foster a new appreciation for the beautiful landscapes that we may have previously passed on the way to somewhere else. If there’s a line you’ve imagined skiing in your hometown, a local zone with nuances you’d like to better understand, a run that you enjoy above all else at your local resort, there is no better time than this winter to explore these possibilities.
After a long and uncertain absence from skiing, we will all have to reacquaint ourselves with the downhill thrill, but this time it’ll be different. Consider keeping your circle small and your perspective tuned into the here and now; check the local snowpack and be grateful for skiing’s ability to bring us into the outdoors, wherever that may be. Skiers will undoubtedly have the chance to travel to distant mountains again but, right now, it’s time appreciate the access we have from our backyard.