Editor’s Note: This is the latest installment of The Odds Are Good, a semi-regular column by Heather Hansman about real life stories in the ski world and things like beards, living in shacks, and getting adopted by a ski town.
There are four pairs of skis in the corner of my kitchen, the hall closet is stuffed with shells and pants, and there’s a tote bag at the bottom of it that’s spilling out goggles and beanies. I do not need any gear. I am not wanting for anything, but this time of year, when the air starts to get crispy, and fat gear guides show up in the mail, I want a lot of things.
I am not a particularly materialistic person. I wear T-shirts from the eighth grade and my car has been missing a hubcap for something like five years now, but ski stuff is different. No matter how much I have, come fall, I always want more.
There are two reasons for that. One is because skis equal skiing. It’s cyclical. Forget January first, fall is when the year starts for skiers. New gear is a sign of new beginnings.
The second is because gear is a marker, it’s self-definition. It is who you are on the mountain, outwardly and internally, too. That is and isn’t superficial. You are (hopefully) more than the sum of your jacket and pants. But it’s also semiotics—gear is a sign.
In skiing, permuted through the lens of useful and cool, the stuff you ski on and ski in is what you chose to tell people about yourself when they only see you in the lift line. It’s why you will not give up the Alta hat your dad got in 1989, but you need a new coat this year. Again.
It’s also tribalism and regionalism. Your gear says something about where you’re from and what you ski. That’s a part of why you see more Icelantics in Colorado, or K2s at Baker. It’s why so many former racers wear Shred goggles. When you see someone in a Saga jacket you can assume something about them. And the new kid at Snowbird on skinny Volkls? Maybe he has East Coast roots like yours. Maybe those people are your people. Sometimes you can tell by looking. You start to recognize people by their gear, not their faces. It takes a second to place them at the bar without their goggles on.
So maybe it is materialistic to fill up your Internet shopping cart with Alaska-fat pow skis you’ll never buy, or to obsessively compare waist width and tip shape (that’s what she said), or to feel an affinity for someone just because they’re wearing Strafe bibs, but that’s OK. It’s cool to love the things you love. You’re allowed to get excited. This time of year, fresh gear season, just feeds the fire. It’s a new leaf, like fresh notebooks and new sneakers at the start of the school year. You get to decide who you’re going to be.
So go ahead and splurge on that new setup. You don’t need to convince me.