Walking along the rows of bushes, the weeds were easy to spot. Down with the hoe. Up with the roots. After an hour, nine more dollars from the summer job at a plant nursery east of town—money to buy skis in the fall. They came new, and three weeks into the season, the tenth grade taste for cool took over—despite being a white, middle class kid from Montana who didn’t smoke pot, I Sharpie’d a large rasta band on the largely white topsheets.
The marker stayed until I managed to snap them, fading a bit more from sun and water. Once the yellow had washed dull, the red and green looked Italian. Which might have made more sense, and it begged the question: what caused a young skier to jettison the basic facts of just sliding down snow to borrow religious tendencies from the Caribbean?
Looking back nearly ten years, I find the gesture puzzling. I was impressionable; a buddy I looked up to was listening to Bob Marley, and putting on rasta airs. However, for me to jump on a bandwagon I knew so little about—there’s some level of discomfort. Bare skis weren’t enough of an identity.
Surveying the lift lines or Vimeo, it’s easy to find every image represented in skiing. I’d credit the rebellious influences of snowboarding with shaking the stolidity of skier garb. Somebody connected rastafarianism with people smoking in the snowy woods. Egregious neon colors made a resurgence. Pants got tighter and blacker. Leaving us somewhere near today, with influences from surfing to corporate ski vacations, all with varying relevance to sliding down a hill on skis or a board.
I’d credit the rebellious influences of snowboarding with shaking the stolidity of skier garb
Clearly, this borrowing isn’t a new tradition. Thrift stores and my private collections of awesome bloom neon flowers of twenty years ago. If what I wear and how I think is stale, then I find my rear entry boots and straight skis. These connect me, via equipment and clothing, to a different train of emotions—usually straightlining, daffys, and exuberant yelling. It’s time travel manifested in sub-culture wide, temporary realignment of identity.
Such shifts might characterize communities in general, but they influence skiing and snowboarding toward youthfulness. Be it grabbing clothes and skis from my parents’ closets or music choices in an edit, I feel an adolescent disquiet with status quo. Thus the cliques in my ski life: rasta in the park, the mogul skiing circuit, my touring buddies now. Such youthful searching through different parts of the sport exercises a freedom to determine identity—the commonality of all skiers or boarders. Growing and looking for challenge has fueled my transitions from competing in rail jams to glacier travel—a variety of enjoyments lets me hit the park when it’s slushy, tour when it’s fresh, and challenge myself when wearing crampons. This broad appreciation is powered by a youthful boredom of too much similarity. I call skiing’s quest for identity adolescent with a full respect towards the benefits of that outlook.
Skiing in the nude is, to my mind, the purest mix of joy, freedom, and style in skiing.
The taste for cool is gone. Instead, I’d rather be comfortable. Negativity sits on the skin track too: a jerk who hates chairlifts is still a jerk, so I don’t need to believe my slice of fun is better to feel superior. I’m not that different from the kid with the rasta flags on his skis, and it’s a search for identity through phases—not a final decision.
The adolescent mindset also has shortcomings, especially given episodes like my rasta rebranding. Clothes or music listened to don’t make me a person, skier, or snowboarder, but my youthful approach to identity needs some rigor. It’s fine to listen to and enjoy reggae; I just don’t want to naively brand myself with ideas or groups irrelevant to who I am and what I want to do on skis. The taste for cool is gone. Instead, I’d rather be comfortable. Negativity sits on the skin track too: a jerk who hates chairlifts is still a jerk, so I don’t need to believe my slice of fun is better to feel superior. I’m not that different from the kid with the rasta flags on his skis, and it’s a search for identity through phases—not a final decision.
The style of my skiing identity has moved inward. Whereas clothes or other visual coolnesses used to matter, I find that the hard questions of skiing don’t lend themselves to such surface level analysis. How should I, as a skier, mitigate the climate change that will drastically change the skiing I love so much? What can I do to support the folks that are trying to keep the ski industry within the range of blue collar families? To what extent is travel necessary as a skier?
If my old identity saw skiing as a venue for powder hedonism and apathy, the turn inward has made me dwell on the part that I play. Skiing in the nude is, to my mind, the purest mix of joy, freedom, and style in skiing. Until this catches on and climate change makes skiing warmer, I think clothes might be nice. And so as I exercise the freedom as a skier to make my individual identity, knowing that freedom to be the basic, essential identity to sliding around on snow, my influences should have more than a glancing relevance. I should renew myself while staying true to the youthful ebullience of strapping on skis or a board, and keep patience with others at a different phase of the process. And the truth? Haile Selassie had nothing to do with my topsheets. He belongs elsewhere. Besides, I still haven’t tried smoking.