Photo: Jay Beyer

I was asked to answer two questions.

Why is skiing important?

And the more existential query:

Why do we ski?

Since brevity is the soul of wit, according to my favorite Danish prince, I'll be brief.

Skiing is not important.

As to why we ski…

The question should be: "Why doesn't everyone?"

If my answers sound flippant or befuddled, consider recreational sex. Does recreational sex make you a better citizen or stabilize the economy or guarantee world peace or cure the latest bug-borne plague from Brazil?

It does none of those things.

But you would be a fool not to try it. In fact, you should try it as soon as you are able, see if you like it, and then—once you do—restructure your life by placing it near the top of your personal priority list.

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So, yes, skiing, like its demon-double sex, is not important in any moral, intellectual, or societal sense, but it can be very important to you personally—assuming you are a shameless pleasure monkey and getting hot and sticky with passionate lovers, friends, and strangers doesn't deter you in the slightest.

No, wait. That's sex.

Skiing is better.

Or, at least, less complicated and dangerous.

Which brings us to the aforementioned philosophical quandary:

Why do we ski?

Mountain air, the smell of hot wax, the sound of cables on lift towers, laughing with friends, laughing at friends, testing your limits or just cruising and not testing anything at all, caring more about weather than you ever thought possible, sacrificing comfort, security, and relationships just to furrow fields of snowfall for no practical reason whatsoever.

How many times have you staggered back to your ski-town lodging long after midnight and prayed to whatever gods you hoped still cared for you to make the stars align so you could have first tracks in the morning?

And how many times have the gods listened, the stars aligned, and wonder of wonders, you found yourself standing on the edge of ecstasy with acres of untracked fluffiness just waiting for your unworthy self to choose a proper line?

The next time that happens and you look back up at your tracks —remind yourself this: You exist at one small point in human history when skiing is possible, when turns like this and days like this—a whole life like this—can be made and enjoyed.

Or forget about the cosmos and take another run.

A glade this time, where nothing in the universe matters, your problems dissolve, dreams become real, and you glide over long aspen shadows—immortal, impervious—a cynosure careless, all hope and desire.

Why do we ski?


Who wouldn't want to ski?

Neil Stebbins was the editor of Powder from 1975 to 1986. In honor of the magazine's 45th anniversary, we're asking past editors to answer two questions: Why is skiing important? Why do we ski? This story originally published in the September 2016 issue of POWDER (45.1). Subscribe to the magazine here.