Endangered: “No Service”

Nostalgia for the days before cell phones, and interactions with strangers

The coveted quadruple Tweet. PHOTO: Erik Seo

The coveted quadruple Tweet. PHOTO: Erik Seo

This story appeared in the December (42.4) issue of POWDER.

A skier rides up the chairlift on a sunny day. Snow crystals float through the air in the sparkling sunshine. He notices that his ski tips dangle rather exquisitely below. The addiction takes hold, and he reaches for his phone like a gunslinger. He relishes the thought of the numerous "likes" and envy the photo will generate among his friends. But alas, the skier is greeted by two little words at the top of the screen: No Service.

No incoming calls. No outgoing messaging. No 'Grams or Tweets. Nothing left to do but put the phone back in his pocket, take in the scenery, and...hey, there's another person on the chairlift. When did he get here? Is it OK to talk to him?

It's increasingly rare, but a few pockets of no-service habitats still exist on the digital map. At Bridger Bowl, Montana, friends meet at predetermined times or randomly on the lift. At Bear Valley, California, finding someone means asking around at the bar--just like skiing's primitive no-cell-phone-having ancestors did way back in 1995.


Experts are baffled as to how these Neanderthals managed to survive without chairlift e-mail, pin drops, and hashtags. How did anyone know where they were? Or what they were doing? Full bars used to be frowned upon, as it meant standing in line to get a beer. Important life considerations--such as jealous rants against an ex, giving a thumbs up to what a friend had for breakfast, or shouting out how STOKED they were, in all caps, of course--had to wait till they got home. With nothing else to occupy their attention, they simply zipped up the one-piece, readjusted the headband, and practiced another mule kick.

Back then, the first snowfall of the year served as a reminder to start stockpiling wood on the deck and meat in the fridge. Now, the tiniest dusting in September results in a romantic explosion of marketing slogans that equate a half-inch to #bestdayever! Getting around was even more elementary. Without a blue dot pinpointing their exact location, skiers relied on maps printed on paper. Even more ghastly, they asked for directions when they got lost. Which happened all the time. With no connectivity, people traveled around at random, often bumping into one another in a chaotic frenzy of independence gone awry. At least, that's today's assumption.

Eventually, cellular service flourished across the country, and No Service receded into the shadows. Traditionalists (i.e. old dudes) argued that cell phones in the backcountry violated a wilderness ethic, but that was before they discovered the thrill of Apps. Soon enough, skiers adopted the smartphone en masse. Which required new touch-screen sensitive gloves, bluetooth headphones, and goggles that transmitted information from their phones to a tiny screen inside their goggles. Because when it comes to being in the mountains, the goal should be to stay as plugged in and as connected as possible.

Until that skier happens upon the black hole of No Service. Tracking vertical? Don't think so. Pumping the socials? Ouch. Stopping in the middle of a run to take a photo, crop it, choose a filter, then wait for it to upload? Prepare to get ditched. Yeah, he might miss some e-mails. And posting the photo of his skis dangling will have to wait a few hours.

But there's still one thing he can do: Put the phone away and just ski.

Elsewhere on the Endangered Species List: Lifties, Soul, and Tele Skiers.