[ By Tyler Hansen ]
I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret that, to be honest, may not be all that much of a secret.
Here in Crested Butte our season snowfall totals can leave a little to be desired. While Alta and Jackson and Stevens Pass are getting buried under Old Testament amounts of snow, we occasionally find ourselves at the short end of the stick. It sometimes feels like we’re the second-born, always getting the hand-me-down moisture and storms with holes in the knees. I’ve gone through all the stages of grief around this most inconvenient of truths.
Denial. “This cycle is just a bit north/east/south/west/nonexistent, but SoCal is getting pounded right now so two days from now will be our time.”
Anger. “I dropped out of Harvard med school for this? For this!?”
Bargaining. “Listen, just so long as the I-70 resorts get less than us I’m happy…wait, Vail got how much?!
Depression. “Forget it. I’m over snow anyways. All I need in life is Fireball, buffalo wings, and Gilmore Girls.”
Acceptance. “You know, those Nordic skiers are pretty cool. I can wear tight pants.”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. In 40 years of skiing this mountain, I’ve made some incredible memories and skied some truly otherworldly conditions. But honestly, I’m not sure I want to add to the already overstuffed literary catalogue of “here’s a story about waist-deep untracked powder on a bluebird day with no lift lines.” So, I’m going to talk about something else entirely, my father-in-law.
When I was a teenager living in Singapore, I would dream of the next time I could go skiing. In the middle of May when it was 93 degrees with 100 percent humidity (in Singapore it’s always 93 degrees with 100 percent humidity) I would daydream about Double Top Glades or Spellbound or Houston. Anything was appealing so long as there was snow and I had my K2 5500 205s strapped to my feet. I would come home to Crested Butte in the summers and put on my boots and click into my skis in the middle of the living room, pretending the carpet was freshly groomed corduroy. Then, months later I would return from my temporary tropical home to a Crested Butte that had been blanketed in snow. My anticipation and excitement were nearly impossible to contain. It was a level of obsession that teenagers seem uniquely capable of mustering.
That near debilitating anticipation is something my father-in-law has from the moment the first flakes start hitting the ground in the fall until the final chair on closing day. He delights in skiing like Popeye does spinach, like Biden does old-timey anecdotes. And without fail, his level of joy found in the act of sliding on snow is inescapably optimistic.
My wife and I will come in from a day of skiing dust on crust with granite croutons and, upon checking in with my father-in-law, he will invariably recount some hidden stash he found that was knee deep blower pow.
Here’s the deal, though. He didn’t find knee deep blower pow. It just wasn’t a reality anywhere on the mountain that day. My wife and I are well aware of that fact, having been to all the same spots he had been. But he is convinced he was living in a Warren Miller movie all day long, arcing huge turns while women swooned and mustachioed men raged with jealousy. The conditions had been some of the best of his life, if the tales he told were to be believed. There is never any deterring him however. After a week spent building custom wine tasting caves in some Billionaire’s “cabin” he doesn’t find himself yearning for rest for his weary body, instead he consistently embraces the “just back from Singapore” mentality I had as a 14-year-old, conditions be damned.
For my father-in-law, the joy of skiing is never contingent upon the conditions on the ground. It is rooted in something deeper–some deep-seated joy that he is capable of tapping into at a primal level. For him it isn’t so much a physical reality of the awesomeness as it is an emotional reality2. And if I’m honest with myself, there is a profound beauty to that. When mid January hits and it’s a rare gray day and it hasn’t snowed in over a week, my motivation wanes pretty quickly. But my father-in-law is like a golden retriever puppy with an insatiable appetite for fun and adventure.
I want to find that level of joy everywhere in my life. I want to carry a “damn the torpedoes” optimism into my family, my friendships, my work, and yes, my skiing. Because my father-in-law had tapped into a secret that we all need and many don’t have. At the end of the day, he always has a huge smile while regaling us with tales of the wonderful bounty he discovered. In the past my wife and I would simply shrug off what we viewed as a mediocre day in Paradise as we returned to changing diapers or some other mundane task. But the fact of the matter is that we had closed out another day in Paradise…skiing…with able bodies and lungs full of fresh air. We were at the absolute pinnacle of human existence and all we could muster was a hardy “it was ok.”
Whatever this season brings3, I hope we can all be a little bit more like my father-in-law. Come hell or high water this act of skiing has a lot more joy to offer than just about anything else in life. Rather than the five stages of grief, what the world needs now is what the author Gretchen Rubin outlined as the 4 stages of happiness: anticipation, savoring, expression, reflection. Let us anticipate the joy, savor the experience, express our happiness to others, and savor the memory in the midst of our après-ski activities, be it drinks with friends or changing diapers.
1. This is usually followed by a regression to Anger rather than a graduation to Depression.
2. Kinda like Kenny Rogers’ music.
3. Snow. Please be Jonah and the whale snow.