The Wicket: The strange and delightful skier itch

The Wicket: The strange and delightful skier itch

Welcome to The Wicket, FREESKIER’s new bi-monthly column and your home for ski culture, news and general buffoonery. Written by professional amateur ski bum and FREESKIER contributor, PaddyO, The Wicket is a celebration of all things skiing. Click in, drop in and get ready to get weird

Header image: Bruno Long



Skiers love a good scratch

Friends, we have to come to grips with the fact that we skiers are a bunch of weirdos. Like the Elks or Freemasons, perhaps we need to organize a co-ed fraternal group, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Skiing Goofballs. Giggling while getting faceshots is strange enough to someone not in our clan, but have you ever noticed the bizarre customs we have. The knucks on knucks greeting? The lift line ski poles in the shoulders slouch-n-lean-over? How many times have you picked up a ski, one hand on the tip, and repeatedly flexed it with the other? What the hell is that?! But perhaps the strangest of the strange is the ohhhs-n-ahhhs inducing, end of a ski day head scratch.

Picture this if you will. A storm came in last night and washed your local hill white with deep, fresh powder. You boot up early in order to make first chair. You don your favorite, flashiest pow day outerwear kit, because life and the ski hill are runways after all. You pull your facemask on over your head and slip your hat or helmet over that. You eat a pocket PB&J on the chairlift and spend your entire day skiing your way into the joy explosions waiting in untracked turns. No time to stop on a powder day. When the lifts cease turning at 4 p.m., you heel walk into your favorite après spot to enjoy nachos and reminisce on the ski day with your pals. But what do you do as soon as you sit down? Think, think hard.

If you’re like me, and I believe you and I are probably pretty dang similar in a lot of ways, you probably peel off your helmet, hat and facemask like it has been vacuum-sealed to your kneck-n-noodle for 12 hours. Then you place the heels of your hands on your eyes, claw your fingers and viciously rub, scrape and scratch your cabeza like it’s never been touched before in the history of all the things. And I’m assuming you, like me, let out a deep, guttural, satisfying groan, like when your dog gets its hind paw deep into its ear to relieve that itch that must be inside its brain. It’s the moan of profound satiation. It sounds like an idling leaf blower or a Chewbacca growl. We scratch our heads like this every time we finish skiing; every. single. time. Guaranteed. But why exactly? The answer is science, baby.

According to WebMD (yes, the site that will tell you your sneeze is actually the Ebola virus), your skin is the only organ that can feel both pain and an itch. When you scratch an itch, the nerve cells in your skin tell your brain that the slight sting from scratching is relieving the itch. It’s a form of distraction. But that nearly always leads to the itch moving to another section of said scratched area or a different body part entirely. This would explain why, when we de-hat our noodles, we skiers claw at our entire melon for about 10-minutes like a feline jacked up on catnip after getting into the espresso beans in the kitchen cabinet. 

Patrick King gets his scratch on in Retallack, BC. Photo: Bruno Long

A 2011 report for the U.S. National Library of Medicine says, “Scalp skin has a unique neural structure that contains densely innervated hair follicles and dermal vasculature… The sensory innervation of the scalp conducted through branches from the trigeminal nerve, cervical plexus and dorsal rami of the cervical nerves. The hair follicle is highly innervated with four types of specific nerve endings. These are free nerve endings (nociceptors), lanceolate nerve endings (acceleration detectors), Merkel nerve endings (pressure detectors) and pilo-Ruffini corpuscles (tension detectors).” The report goes on to say that the scalp has more blood vessels than any other body region. All this is to say that since your nervous system is the telephone network between your brain, body and outside world, your head’s four main nerve endings, which are bloated with blood like a Fourth of July mosquito, explode like roman candles when itched. Your brain and body feel relief and satisfaction.

In addition to this, when your head is massaged your brain releases those leg shaking, toe-curling hormones—serotonin and dopamine. Dopamine is the backbone of the brain’s reward system and helps control things like motivation, desire and craving. Serotonin influences mood and emotion. They’re commonly referred to as the “feel good” hormones. In fact, during bedroom gymnastics, these two chemicals play a vital role in sexual arousal and, ahem, the fireworks part. When you’re rubbing your head and relieving those pulsing nerve endings on your scalp, you’re essentially stimulating sexy time feelings. So, I guess maybe be careful how feverishly you get after that itch. You don’t want to make a scene, pals.

Why do skiers always scratch our cantaloupe after shredding and wiggling all day? Well, like skiing itself, because it feels just so damn lovely. It feels so good in fact you can draw comparisons to the only thing that may rival a day spent turning in deep, untracked blower pow; the nighttime horizontal shimmy. Yes, friends, we skiers are very odd, very odd indeed. But if being a skier is wrong, who in the hell wants to be right?! So ski and scratch to your heart’s content, you weirdos. I’ll be right there with ya.


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