February 23, 2007

Riding in Chairlifts With Skiers

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Few social situations are as awkward as the chairlift ride.

Even with friends, the bizarre act of getting on and off of a chairlift is enough to destroy any relationship. It’s kind of like having sex for the first time. If you don’t mess it up, it’s not very fun. If you do mess it up, someone will get hurt.

Riding with a stranger worsens the debacle. As a “single” in the lift line — a public humiliation in its own right — you pray the lift attendants will not pair you up with the obese serial killer in the other “singles” line.

Once paired together, you are compelled to spend at least five minutes of your life staring blankly at the snow and pretending you do not speak any identifiable language. It’s like being in an elevator — except that getting off would involve a 60-foot plunge to quadriplegia.

The social nightmare becomes a catastrophe when your partner is of the opposite snow-sporting sex — a skier and a snowboarder. The two simply cannot mix.

Logistically, disembarking the lift goes from difficult to impossible. The stoned boarder always transgresses into the skier’s space while the imperious skier impales the boarder with his poles.

Furthermore, the two tend to despise one another. The skier sees the snowboarder as inherently inferior. A gauche miscreant, the snowboarder reeks of weed and unemployment. For the supercilious skier, riding a chairlift with a snowboarder is worse than sitting at a country club charity dinner next to a Telegraph Avenue transient.

It’s equally awful for the snowboarder. Most boarders would choose to hunt with Dick Cheney instead of hang with a skier. Skiers are pompous buffoons. To the snowboarder, it’s elementary — if the skier were cool, he or she would be a boarder.

Such is the adversarial state of the ski slopes today.

Skiers once owned the mountain. Their sport is ancient. There is a rock carving of a skier on the Norwegian island of Rodoy. It is more than 4000 years old.

There were ski competitions in Scandinavia two hundred years ago. The first rope-tow in the U.S. went up in Woodstock, Vt., in 1934.

For most of human history, if you were descending an icy slope at rapid speed, you were doing it on skis.

The first snowboarder goes back, oddly, to the release of “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” Snowboarding is about as old as the internet or the cell phone.

Columnist Dave Barry said, “I now realize that the small hills you see on ski slopes are formed around the bodies of forty-seven year-olds who tried to learn snowboarding.”

For years, the snowboarding minority was actively oppressed. Resorts everywhere banned snowboarders and recognized snowboarding competitions were non-existent. It was the sport of a youth rebellion skiers were eager to smother.

Now, things have changed. At the turn of the 21st century, snowboarding was the fastest-growing sport in the country. Snowboarders are Olympic gold medalists and the Winter X Games are a mainstream cultural event. Volcom has replaced Patagonia and Lost is the new North Face.

The antagonism between skiers and snowboarders is also beginning to subside. Aggressive skiers dominate half-pipes while alpine snowboarders weave through racing gates at breakneck speeds. Hybrid equipment like snow blades combine the control of skis with the compactness of a snowboard. On most ski slopes, boarders and skiers appear in almost equal numbers.

It seems like only yesterday in Nagano in 1998 when Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati was momentarily stripped of his gold medal for testing positive for weed. In their best impression of Captain Renault, the IOC said it was “shocked, shocked” to learn snowboarders smoke marijuana.

Still, back on the chairlift, there is nothing worse than sitting with your snow-sporting opposite. What does a snowboarder have to say to a skier, and vice-versa? Absolutely nothing.

One must remember, however, that a snowboard to the head hurts just as badly as an assault by a pole-wielding psychopath. Enjoy the slopes.