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.