Ski Tribalism

What we’ve learned from the Ski Town Throwdown

There was a beater station wagon on the street I grew up on in Boston tattooed with the bragging rights of East Coast skiing: "Mad River Glen: Ski It If You Can," in peeling red and white.

This photo was not taken in Maine. PHOTO: HEATHER HANSMAN

I don't know how much that mystery neighbor was attached to Mad River, how often they made the trek up I-91 to Vermont to sit on the single chair, or even if they had skied there more than once. But by slapping a sticker onto the Volvo's bumper, they claimed themselves as part of something: They were a local, one of the tribe.

Skiers are like the back half of a bad relationship. We get attached quickly and we don't stop calling. We mate for life. In my office in Southern California--the antipodes of New England--I have a Sugarloaf sticker stuck on my desk, even though I haven't skied in Maine since 2005 (sorry). I still consider myself a part of that family. I tell stories about days in the Snowfields, and drinking beer at Horseshoe. I won't give that up. I claim Beaver Creek, A-Basin, and Cannon, too, because I've spent chunks of time there, and they've shaped me as a skier.

It's not just me. We've been running a contest on Facebook for the past few weeks that pits ski towns against each other, trying to find the best one. We're trying to suss out the place with the most embedded locals, where everyone would want to live and ski if they could. We hit a nerve.

Turns out you can find people to voice their online opinions about their mountain everywhere from Mammoth to Marquette. They will scream to the Internet about why Whitefish's farmers market, or Crested Butte's trees, are the best, and how non-locals could never understand.

Surfers get territorial about their breaks, and climbers trade crag beta like fruit snacks in the cafeteria, but I don't think they internalize their spots in the same way we do. They don't tattoo their vehicles, skis, helmets, and skin with Stowe logos or Stevens stickers. We form tribes, connected by the places where we spend our powder days.

And maybe Facebook is a superficial way to show that, but there's power in numbers. And a whole hell of a lot of people care about telling their greater social network how good their zone is. We're down to the Elite Eight, and regardless of who wins (for the record, my money is on Jackson/Teton Valley, WyDaho) it's been a good reminder of how important skiing is.