The Odds Are Good: Doing the Math

Is skiing worth it? Do you really want to know the answer to that question?

Long lift lines. Skier days. Snowfall. How many things count on a day of skiing?

Lift lines. Skier days. Snowfall. How many things count on a day of skiing?

When it gets bad on the bootpack I start counting steps. Twenty, then I can rest for a second. Or 10. Or three. When I start sucking air I can count that, too. Two breaths in, one out. Repeat. Take two steps. Start from zero again. Divide by how far away the top looks and multiply by two. I get mathy to justify the effort, maybe because there’s no direct input and output in a day on the hill.

Skiing isn’t really something you can quantify—for instance, you don’t usually go run a marathon of skiing. If you do, check your spandex and skinny skis here—but it seems like we try pretty hard, anyway.

The winter I scanned lift tickets the most frequent question I was asked (besides, “Honey, can you just reach in there and grab my pass?”) was, “How many days have I skied?” Usually I’d look down at the scan gun and the number would be four, or seven, or something they easily could have kept track of, but they wanted to hear it, to get the validation. Then they’d jam their poles in the general direction of my Sorels and push off toward the chair, ticking off another lap of another day of another trip. And it wasn’t just random tourons, that tick-list mentality shows a lot of places. It seems like most people have moved past the Vail-sponsored action of counting every single vertical foot you glide downhill and then spamming it out to your Facebook acquaintances, but for a while it took hold. People dorked out really hard on earning more runs than their friends. Winning skiing became a thing, or even more of a thing than it already was.

Maybe that’s because there’s a lot to justify. We put an irrational amount of time, money, and effort in to the quest for powder turns. Many relationships and retirement funds have been burned in the pursuit. Recently, POWDER contributor Les Anthony did a little math about how many hours he’ll spend sitting on a chairlift over the course of his skiing life. Turns out it was a lot. Like, six years a lot. He estimated that you spend 70 percent of an average ski day not actually skiing. If you’re in the backcountry it goes up to something like 95 percent.

I am not a numbers person, but I have a running tally in my head, and if I think about it too much, I start to feel weird. I know I’m not the only one, we all constantly run the numbers. We creep snowfall totals and scream bloody if we think they’re misreported. We tabulate and try to balance the equation—100 days of skiing a year, 25 years as a season passholder, 10 days on the hill before that upfront cost is worth it. And what does “worth it” even mean? We don’t bat eyes at ski passes that cost a grand and we will spend 11 hours in the car on a stormy Friday night for two hours of a powder morning, but we will sure as H-E-L-L not pay for a place to sleep in anything but beer and snacks.

Part of that is because shit is expensive. Skiing, at this point, is probably just a sport for oil barons from Alberta and Beijing. Even the prospect of being a skid, with a free pass and a cheap place to live, is financially probably not that smart. I’m not a scientist, but I’m pretty sure you have to do some funky mental jiggering to make it balance.

But we do, still. The eight zillion tiny steps it takes to the top of Four Pines make sense in the tradeoff for maybe eight deep wide turns. There is alchemy and mental multiplication, and a lot of suspension of disbelief, but something makes it worth it.

Add a comment

  • Josh

    I get the point that this chick is trying to make, but the article is written terribly…

  • Dan Alvey

    Skiing is kinda funny when you think about it that way. I like think of all the effort as part of what makes skiing so special. Additionally all the time you “waste” on chairlifts is really just getting exceptional aerial views of some of the most majestic places on earth (unless your at snow summit). Same goes for earning your turns in the backcountry. At the end of the day I think so many people put in so much effort no specifically to ski but to experience the mountains. Skiing is just the best part =).

  • Jen Reis

    To each their own, for certain. But let’s talk about the price you pay for those eight powder turns when you or your buddy dies in an avalanche. When is THAT worth it? I think that’s a way better question to ask than what you’re losing sitting on a chairlift for hours, if it lets you do what you love.

  • Tony

    I quibble over the 95% figure for time not skiing when you’re in the backcountry. Sliding on snow with skis (i.e. skinning up the hill) is skiing, in my opinion. Sitting on a chairlift is not skiing.

    • Jay Tierney

      Agreed. I actually enjoy skinning. Not as much as the descent of course, but still.

  • ian

    If you’re counting you’re doing it wrong.

  • Chris

    Skiing is worth it you might pay the ultimate price and lots of cash for skiing but when you ski you feel alive being outside with the wind in your hair going down the mountain enjoying the pure beauty of the mountain.

  • Chris

    That picture is old when we had snow taken on red dog.

  • Martin Fisher

    Being in the snow is amazing for some and for others well it is a chore. Chairlifts lines snowshoeing the back country is all part of it. You get to love it all and the downhill the powder oh the sweet sweet powder makes it all worth while. I know I would rather be on a chairlift, hell for that matter in a chairlift line than be at work any day of the week. Oh and bring on the powder this winter.

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