The Squaw Soul Skier – They’re at the Destination!
Every ski town has them, I have been one, and in fact many of my readers probably have. The ski bum or I prefer to use the term ‘Soul Skier’. It’s the guys or girls who live to ski, who do everything in their power to be able to ski most days of the season, and do so (in some cases) year after year. They maybe pro, maybe not. They may have given up a real career or relocated just to pursue their passion. Either way, they are pretty much the biggest rippers and chargers on the mountain, adding to the mountain scenery in spectacular ways with their finesse, athleticism, and energy.
Whilst skiing around my recently adopted local mountain Squaw Valley, California this season with a group of local Soul Skiers, I was thinking that there’s no other sport that quite attracts the level of commitment that skiing (I speak equally about boarding) does.
And specifically was thinking about the culture of Squaw Valley, it’s world famous for the birth of some of the world’s greatest and most famous Soul Skiers- Shane McKonkey, Kent Kreitler (one of Total Heliski’s Athlete Legends), Jamie Burge and others. There are runs like Squaw Valley’s infamous ‘Fingers’ right under the KT22 chair that have made a pro skiers career. But pros aside, the wonderful thing about skiing is that anyone can be a Soul Skier. So what makes a Soul Skier truly a soul skier? Is it measured by the number of days spent on the hill in a season? By pure ski or board ability? By amount or percentage of their income devoted to skiing? By how much time they spend at the Chamois (après ski bar for locals)? Or perhaps by their level of commitment such as trading off important ‘work’ meetings or job interviews for that perfect powder day (as yours truly did recently)?
Starting with my own Soul Skiing experiences, when I was 23 after finishing university, I spent two delightful winters in the French Alps. I was Soul Skiing with my then boyfriend six days a week, working only long Saturdays and Sunday mornings doing ski rentals. We had almost no money, but we had quality of life, people truly dream of. We were able to ski 5-6 days per week, all over not only our home resort of the Portes Du Soleil, but nearby ones like the epic Chamonix for free, even doing the Vallee Blanche on a perfect blue bird day.
I got to learn French language, cook French cuisine, drink copious amounts of French wine and make true friends with locals who I worked and skied with. I will never forget this experience which further embedded skiing into my DNA and I just haven’t shaken it, I think I never will in this or the next life!
Whilst skiing around my beloved Squaw Valley this season, I ended up hanging out with a true Soul Skier for a period of time- someone who one-upped my French experience by some distance. They choose to not work at all in winter, year after year reigning in sometimes 150 days per year at Squaw Valley (obviously in better seasons). Great person to be charging around the mountain and chatting about skiing with.
One day, whilst we were doing laps on the Headwall chair, we discussed our experiences and the term Soul Skiing, and his definition resonated with me. He made the point that was the crucial thing I had learnt in the French Alps. The point being- where everyone else trades in their dream life on the hill, (i.e. the destination), for the trappings of modern success in the city or elsewhere (i.e. for the journey) for career, home, car, kids schooling etc., the Soul Skier measures their life success not by the trappings achieved, but by the subtle and extraordinary experiences in the mountains. Those pure perfect ski turns, being at one with nature in every human sense- sight, sound, smell, touch, and even taste of the snow and mountain environment, doing crazy, funny stunts on snow, and of course, becoming an integral part of the community- the great chair lift camaraderie shared amongst their Soul Skier friends. Both on and off the hill at après. The Soul Skier is someone who essentially switches out the journey for the destination. Where are you right now? On that journey or at the destination?