Words: Ryan Dunfee, The Base Grind
You could call it the flow. Migrations from established Eastern townships to bare-knuckled Western frontiers are a celebrated part of the American story, whether for gold, farmland, or a general idea of a better future. For skiers, the move west, across interstates numbered 80 or 70, is as real a phenomenon as the Gold Rush ever was. POWDER Features Editor Porter Fox wrote about it last week, and legions of Eastern skiers can relate—speeding away from cold, small Northeast ski hills towards escapism.
In contrast, the return east smacks of defeatism. The dream is over. You're not moving on to ski bum in Stowe; you're giving up your seven-day shred schedule for crowded weekends, benefits, and a job with a suit and tie in Philly. You'll come back to Jackson or Telluride on vacation, and you might even remember the stashes, but you'll look across the tram dock and realize that there's no one pumped to give you a friendly high five, and you have no idea who to hit up to get a cheap eighth.
I'm about to do just that—pack the car with all my belongings, the surfboard, mountain bike, and 125mm-underfoot powder boards, and do a U-turn on the dream. I try to let as few people around Tahoe know, because the inevitable response is a cringed face and a hopeless "WHY?!?" The answer is common enough: a girl. She's back there, secure in a job in a brutal economy with her own business on the side, while I'm sitting here waiting tables and writing stories.
But I'm not going to be that guy with the rounded spine and regrets written in trail maps stapled to the cubicle walls. To begin with, I love the girl. I wouldn't be moving anywhere if that weren't the case. Secondly, I've been plagued with that sense of ambition, and since it isn't focused on mountains, athletics, or capturing both behind the lens, it can't be satisfied in ski towns. I want to "save" the goddamn environment—I've always felt that way—and since I'm a writer and not a biologist, where I can make a difference is more likely than not in a city behind a computer, and not in the Tetons chasing butterflies or mapping tree populations.
I found exactly one person from my nerdy alma mater, Williams College, who shared my story. Susan Reifer, a freelance writer who was contributing to POWDER at the dawn of a new style of skiing in the ’90s. She got sold on the adventure after meeting McConkey and a host of early pioneers during a trip to Argentina. She gave me the only piece of life advice that I've ever felt was important to follow: write down where you want to be in five, 10, and 20 years. Start with what kind of place you want to be in, what you want your weekends to be like, what kind of flexibility you think you'd need in your life, and what kind of activities, both in work and outside, you can't see yourself not doing.
It was the most helpful exercise I'd done in my 20s. I could see clearly what my priorities were. I wanted to be writing in some form or fashion. Have quick access to mountains, trails, or waves I'd dreamed about being around since a kid. But not just for a couple years in my 20s—for life. Move around a lot. Live abroad. Help the environment and make the world a better place. Speak Spanish frequently. Ski, bike, or surf at least four times a week, if not daily. Not own a lot of stuff and be fine with it. Eat well. Constantly expose myself to people and opportunities that challenge my perceptions and myself. Volunteer somewhere. And find someone who supports all of that.
I realized I could spend some time banging away at a desk and skiing Vermont on the weekends if I knew I was getting closer to everything I mentioned above. It's not skiing seven days a week, but skiing has a lot to do with it. Just like pushing myself to jump a bigger cliff, try a new trick, or skin a long-ass ascent, there is that same need to see past fear and sacrifice to the goal and the reward.
(This is The Base Grind, Ryan Dunfee's weekly look at the ski industry. Last week, he apparently read Porter Fox's story "Go West.")