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Ski Resorts Are Not Outdoor

Editor’s Note: The following essay was originally featured on THE ROCK FIGHT podcast and is available to listen to in the player below.

Today I’m picking a fight with…Ski Resorts. Because while resort skiing is an activity that is done outdoors, it is not an outdoor activity.

The past 40 years have evolved to the point where most people consider activities done out of the house as outdoor. Or more simply: if it’s outside, it’s outdoor. Lines have blurred and the hardcore has softened. And for the most part that’s a good thing.

But to long-time veterans of outdoor sports spotting something that we consider outdoor is a lot like spotting porn: we know it when we see it. New activities like Swim Running may try to prove their outdoor worth, but our bullshit detectors are finely tuned. We know what is and isn’t outdoor. And while it may seem sacrilegious to disparage the sport that no doubt led many of you listening to this to become outdoorsy yourselves, resort skiing is just the worst.

Strapping sticks to one's feet to traverse the snow is as ancient as it is special. It’s been around for centuries in various forms serving as a mode of transportation before becoming the neutered version of the activity that you find today on hills around the world.

If you’ve ever gone backcountry skiing you’ve spiritually gotten in touch with your ski bound ancestors and you know the absolute wonder that skiing or split boarding can provide. Climbing uphill to explore snow filled forests, earning turns on empty terrain and searching for stashes of powder is one of the great joys one can discover in the backcountry. But most people who ski or snowboard will never know this. For them the only experience they’ll ever have will be a curated affair at a resort.

That's the root of my beef because resort skiing is now seen as any other outdoor activity. YouTube is littered with homemade videos of people hooting and hollering on ski lifts and incredibly well made short films deifying ski resorts as a bastion of a life in the mountains.

And before I go any further let me tell you that I love skiing at a resort and believe that it has a place in our outdoorsy lifestyle. I got to spend four years living in a ski town and those were, hands down, the best four winters of my life. You catch the right place on the right day and it’s impossible not to have fun.

But there are several reasons why ski resorts are without question not part of the spectrum of outdoor adventure sports.

Firstly lift lines. More times than not skiing at a resort involves the single most horrible thing anyone ever has to do and something that should never be required when pursuing fun outdoorsy activities: waiting in line. The only time waiting in line should be part of a day outdoors is waiting for a beer when the bar is a little crowded after you just got done proving your worth on the trail.

Second, and I’m inspired by one of the great characters in the history of cinema, Randal Graves when he astutely said to his co-worker Dante Hicks, “This job would be great if it wasn’t for the fucking customers.”

After you’ve wasted your time with all of those people in the lift line, you now have to deal with them on the actual ski runs and unless you know a mountain inside and out, ie you’re a local with a season pass, you better have your head on a swivel because that helmet you’re wearing is there to protect you from other skiers more than anything mother nature can throw at you.

Lastly and most egregiously, you have to pay through your nose to go. Beyond acquiring the tools of the trade, I resent any activity that costs money and in this regard resort skiing is no different or better than slapping on some khakis and dedicating yourself to the game of golf.

If I drop $900 on a surfboard or $3500 on a mountain bike or hell even $120 on a pair of trail runners, I’ve paid my entrance fee and the waves and miles are all free. Resort skiing is the most successful attempt at monetizing the outdoors we’ve ever seen and most of our community is down to support it. There is a significant population of outdoorsy minded individuals who still view mountain biking in wilderness areas as a deal breaker, but we’re all ok with cutting down chunks of forest and setting up ski lifts that run off of climate change accelerating fossil fuels.

Guys, resort skiing just isn’t outdoor.

Backcountry skiing is outdoor.

Kayaking is outdoor.

Mountain biking is outdoor.

Surfing is outdoor.

Hiking, backpacking, trail running is all outdoor.

Those activities encourage you to acquire gear and skill and go deep into the backcountry using different modes of transportation to see the best of what nature has to offer. Resort skiing is an amusement park ride masquerading as an outdoor sport. And you know, rides at a theme park are a ton of fun. But they’re a distraction, you don’t learn anything from going on them.

Resort skiing? Is a fun, expensive day outside. On the best days you get to run laps of deep powder, hopefully with good friends, eat high calorie food on the mountain and drink high calorie beer when the lifts close. That’s a damn good time.

But it is not…Outdoor. And I’ll throw rocks at anyone who disagrees with me.


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