by Leslie Anthony
In this season of giving, spare a thought for the poor Eastern skier. Hounded from birth (metaphorically speaking) that they belong to a dignified fold. Part of a noble tradition in winter activity that rises beyond the tobogganing and hockey that occupies the proletariat. A proud demographic that boasts more of its sect per capita than any other region of Canada (this fact makes no sense but never mind—it’s a question for sociologists and psychologists). In their great, smoking, Victorian cities, any number of lifestyle-based advertisements shill the experience from on high while a glut of rabid retailers call to them from every quarter. Close-by—or at least no more than a few white-knuckled hours away—their domed hills breach on the horizon, Moby Dicks packed with like-minded acolytes paying homage to their privileged vocation. Hot chocolate and the New York Times Sunday edition in hand, an Eastern skier finds comfort at this, the centre of their rarified universe.
Look closely, however, and you see a fragile existence built upon dark insecurities. The type that come from living in a house devoid of mirrors but full of pictures of everyone else. Who am I? What do I look like? Does anybody care?
Try as they might, Eastern skiers are hard-pressed to answer. And really, how can they be expected to when ski movies and magazines are fixated on a strange place called “The West,” where, it seems, all the shit goes down: big snowfalls, epic runs, true descents, real competitions. In this trend-setting crucible, photographers and moviemakers make their homes and stake their claims; likewise, it seems it’s where every fellow skier wants to be. What to do? How to feel?
Some—for lamentable reasons of education, work, family or love—stay put to ponder the paradox, perpetual ladies in waiting who become comfortable in their own lesser skins as part of an ersatz universe, a Lego-land microcosm averring of some greater cross-continental truth. Others, drawn by the powerful representations they’re daily bombarded by, make the move west to revel in the skier’s promised land. Here they tag the signposts of steep and deep as often and as thoroughly as possible. They measure snow depth in body parts not boot buckles. They learn the difference between ‘glacier’ and ‘glacial,’ dropping into couloirs and dropping off cliffs instead of dropping into the cafeteria to warm up or dropping gear off a frigid chair with frozen, non-functional fingers. Skiing trees, being out in storms, and hiking all become things they want to do. Where once they were mere rural hillbillies, they now are true mountain royalty. It will all seem so very, very different.
And yet how different are they? Will they call themselves “Westerners” now? No. Never, in fact. And they’ll prove why by cleaving to their roots on every possible occasion.
It starts when they discover they’re still part of a majority, surrounded, oddly, by skiers who likewise hail from east of the 100th Meridian. They’ll discover that their superior skills, unconsciously honed, stand them in good stead here in every situation, even psychologically (they can happily view a long, icy piste devoid of humanity as an untracked run). They find themselves out in every kind of weather enjoying the hell out of it while locally raised wankers wilt in the lodge waiting for better conditions. And they come to realize, eventually, that what motivated them to be here in the first place was all garnered in an icy, crowded, half-sized hardwood cradle a continent away.
Only then will they know the satisfaction of truth—that there is no crisis and never was, and that they don’t need no stinkin’ mirror because “Who am I?” is written in each and every well-carved turn. Only then will they will bask in the real catharsis of pilgrimage.
We’re Eastern skiers, goddammit, and that’s good enough for us.