The unbearable triteness of skiing

by Dennis Hinkamp

Q: Why did Utah choose the slogan "The Greatest Snow on Earth" when it so closely resembled the Ringling Brothers' slogan "The Greatest Show on Earth?"

A: Both enterprises attract a lot of bozos.

It’s OK to own an automobile without a ski rack. You don’t need to keep your Web browser bookmarked to all the snow reports. You do not have to walk around with old lift tickets flapping from the zipper of your jacket.

It is OK, in fact, to hate skiing.

I’m as bitter as day-old convenience store coffee when it comes to skiing. My ex dropped me like a campaign promise in December when she realized that I was never really going to learn to ski. I have very little to talk about during the winter.

This is my 25th year in Utah and I have never downhill skied and won’t — ever. Don’t worry about me, though. I’m perfectly at home in this ski-obsessed state — about as comfortable as a vegetarian in a slaughterhouse.

I just don’t get it. "The greatest snow on earth?" I don’t see Oregon putting the "greatest rain on earth" on its license plates, or Kansas boasting that it’s the Tornado State. Snow is just bad weather that Utah built a tourist industry around. Not to say I’m not glad for the tourist dollars, but couldn’t they just as easily have been redirected toward something more working-class and aesthetically appealing — stockcar racing, perhaps, or even bass fishing? Saying that ski resorts are a beautiful use of mountains makes about as much sense as contending that those giant monograms on hillsides above Western towns promote literacy.

Skiing is an addictive behavior, and like all such behaviors it should be regulated and frequently ridiculed. It’s not as though I don’t have a few strange habits and nearly uncontrollable yearnings of my own. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t hear a pepperoni pizza and a pint of cold beer singing a siren’s song in harmony. I don’t skip out on work to answer it, though. My sick days are more or less randomly distributed throughout all 12 months of the year. Try checking that statistic with the ski addicts where you work.

I must admit, I admire the creative excuses coworkers concoct to coincide with fresh powder days. I’ve learned a lot from them; it’s helped me become a proficient liar when I have to explain why I spent the weekend renting movies instead of plundering the slopes.

"Gee," I say, "I’d like to ski, but I have bad knees from saving all those children from burning buildings." Or, "I’ve stopped skiing because the voices in my head keep saying, ‘cut the ski lift cables.’ " Or, "I love skiing, but I don’t have many clothes that go with magenta, and I look really bad with that raccoon goggle tan-line thing."

I’m far from being a couch potato, but in the West, if you don’t ski, you’re not an athlete. I can shoot 40 percent from the three-point line and I have more sports paraphernalia of questionable value than REI’s dumpster. I just prefer sports where you cannot be killed or injured by trees.

Is skiing really dangerous? I can’t say, but I think it’s interesting that I am constantly berated for not wearing a helmet on any bicycle trip outside of my driveway. Yet skiers routinely wear naught but a sock hat when traveling twice as fast as I can pedal. Don’t they know there are trees out there that might be out to get them?

I have learned that I don’t have to ski to talk about it. I can even be polite. If trapped at a winter dinner party, I can throw in enough key phrases — things like "carve" and "mogul" and "black diamond runs" — to bluff my way through to dessert. If all else fails, I can always say something about how "those snow-boarding kids are ruining everything."

But the serious ski rhetoric doesn’t start till after dinner, when people have had a few more drinks. That’s when ski junkies show their true colors. For instance, what if the first thing I said about my girlfriend or spouse was, "She has a great 20-foot jump shot"? You’d consider me a little shallow. I have, however, met more than a few women who have introduced a significant other as "This is my husband. He’s a really great skier."

I nod approvingly, but wonder, "Does he love you? Has he ever been convicted of a felony?" Then I remember my lines and say, "I bet he’s awesome on the black diamonds."

Dennis Hinkamp lives in Logan, Utah, and works in extension communications for Utah State University.

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