The Highest Form of Fun

An essay on why skiing is important

Why do we ski? Because it's damn fun. PHOTO: Jay Dash

Why do we ski? Because it’s damn fun. PHOTO: Jay Dash

It's difficult to remember when skiing didn't hold significance for me, but I know that dark star of youthful frivolity still lurks, lodged somewhere in the ether. Doubtless those were days of physical fumbling, uncertain amusement, and awkward fraternity. Sometime later, as skiing became a more frequent habit, the worm turned: Solo time in the snow—an element most people sought to avoid—became escape and necessity.

I suppose I have this magazine to thank for that. Browsing my first copy at a newsstand one soggy winter day, I saw portrayed not only what skiing was, but what it could be, and, perhaps more urgently, how that might happen. Now I had a guidebook to the relationship.

So skiing seemed important. Fascinated by that—both as skier and writer—I practically dove down the rabbit hole. For a while, the "importance" of skiing was the central theme of what I proudly called a job. After all, the premise of any magazine is to sell its subject through celebration. But my concept of what that entailed began to change almost from the start; when you're preaching to an eager choir, I found, what's truly important easily becomes distorted. Rattling off litanies of what I thought mattered to skiers was essentially telling them these things should matter. Who was I to lecture?

While immersion may have had a flattening effect on my objectivity, self-questioning, at least, continued. Looking around, I decided skiing held no gravity in any larger context, but was nonetheless important to me. And that magazines and movies were but tools employed to figure out what skiing meant to each of us. This cast the act of ripping down a mountain as an open physical question of sorts, to which everyone would have their own answer. Some of these would be the same, others truly unique. And after years of rolling with an international coterie of ski friends, photographers, moviemakers, writers, athletes, and aspirants, I came to believe that the most widespread answer, in whole or in part, was a simple one: Skiing is fun. That was why we skied.

This seemed to imply the proper corollary: Something that's only fun can't also be important. And perhaps that was why notions of pure joy and playfulness were anathema to an overly serious ski industry. To state so was revolution. To publish a magazine based on it—as Powder's first editors set out to do—was a de facto act of commercial treason. I wondered why it had taken me so long to figure that out. Rebels like Shane McConkey would go on to make a living holding up that very mirror while simultaneously driving the bus. I got aboard, and it dominated my perceptions for a decade. Then the worm turned again.

If skiing was only fun, I found myself musing, then why did so many—including myself—continue to treat it as something of great import? My answer to that also felt devilishly facile: because we do it. We ski not because it's important in any existential or global sense, but because it's personally meaningful. We construct our lives, we do things we enjoy, we imbue them with meaning, and we find meaning important. Skiing is meaningful in being personal passage and movement; in planting inchoate seeds of outdoor affinity; in exploring freedom and self-expression; and in delivering the much-craved chemistry of thrill. Ultimately, skiing is an answer to so many of our unformulated questions.

In hindsight, my entire ski-writing career has comprised investigating the quandaries of why skiing is important, and why we ski. And after 25 years of over-thinking and rejecting and rethinking, I finally have a summary worth sharing: The reason for both is the same—that skiing is fun makes it more important to us, that it's important makes it more fun. But not just the fun of social currency or a carnet of friendship. If you believe what the Dalai Llama and other spiritual thinkers say about laughter and happiness, it's right there: Fun, they aver, is the highest form of self-affirmation. And that not only makes it important, but the greatest teacher of all.

Leslie Anthony was managing editor at Powder from 1995 to 1997, and has written for the title ever since. In honor of the magazine's 45th anniversary, we're asking past editors to answer two questions: Why is skiing important? Why do we ski? This story originally published in the October 2016 issue of POWDER (45.2). Subscribe to the magazine here.