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World war ski

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Over the past two weeks - while vicariously enjoying Whistler's recent big storm cycle through Facebook - I spent some time traveling and skiing Norway with a Salomon Freeski TV crew.

The Nordic coast was also a powder paradise, so it wasn't too gut-wrenching watching the scene at home, but you couldn't help but notice how much more of a skiing nation it is than Canada.

To start, some form of snow-sliding is in newspaper headlines daily and on television 24/7, and on weekends, the country's Lutheran work ethic is tossed aside as everyone heads for the fjells. Dad, mom, kids and dogs (ski-joring is huge in the countryside), no matter the conditions it's understood that Saturday is ski day.

Even the tiniest towns have ski areas nearby, where everyone engages in some form of sliding, much of it self-propelled (few alpine areas boast chairlifts and surface lifts are mostly used to reach places where you can start touring); everyone also appears proficient enough that they might be called up to the World Cup if Lars Elinsson or Elin Larsson are suddenly taken ill.

I also spent a bunch of snowy time in Switzerland, whose populace and institutions are dedicated to snowsports. It's slightly different, a little less tolerant on some fronts, but still woven deeply enough into the national fabric as to merit some thought.

So here's one: what if everyone in the world skied? I mean, the way it is for people in these countries and many in Whistler -- as a basic way of life. Would more skiers on the planet be a good thing? The WB folks, Tourism Whistler and the industry in general are nodding their many heads. But I'm not so sure.

First you have to ask whether skiing is really all that special, a noble enough pursuit that the mere act might impart a certain level of "civic" responsibility to participants. In other words, could this particular (presumably joyous) shared mind-set and range of experiences help meliorate the more pernicious of human foibles? Or would mankind's inherent territoriality, prejudice, greed and aggression find ways to express themselves regardless?

The former idea is easy to romanticize in the We-Are-The-World camaraderie engendered by the warm, wet womb of a powder day. Or a week of them. But if you lean toward the latter notion, you can just as easily point to the No-Friends ethos that blossoms in the very same milieu, or the fact that wherever our group has gone we've found ourselves in an unspoken war with various other photo and film crews for terrain and shooting spots.

Which basically means that the essential yin-yang of the human condition likely can't be discounted even in the most egalitarian endeavours. And, in fact, one has only to peer into any corner of history for examples: mutinies on the grandest voyages of discovery; rifts in climbing parties on Mount Everest; and the inevitability that every human organization - political, religious, artistic, financial or familial - will suffer a Night of the Long Knives at some point in its existence.

Despite a virtual carnival of special interests making the same Faustian bargain with gravity and snow devils, there's little cohesion in snow-sliding. In fact, it's as fractious a coalition as exists in any sport, with as many labels as a Value Village clothing rack and more crossovers than a gay-pride parade: snowboarding, alpine racing, carving, progressive freestyle, moguls, aerials, freeskiing, big-mountain, telemarking, ski flying, gelandesprung, cross-country (skate, traditional, biathlon), powder, backcountry, alpine touring, ski mountaineering.

It seems all ice cream and balloons on the surface, of course, but these groups fight over relevancy and space on the winter landscape. Within each, tussles erupt over equipment and rules of competition. Thus, if everyone on Earth rode snow, you could virtually guarantee it would escalate into some form of global neo-nationalism. Would excessive grooming and boundary-mad dictatorships then suffer collective punishment at the hands of the UN? Could tensions over powder stashes -- or resource-draining by non-snow countries for indoor ski centres -- lead to economic sanctions and ultimately war?

Absurd? Of course. But consider this: I once pitched a fictitious story about two real-life ski areas fighting because their avalanche guns could lob shells into each other's terrain (that would be neighbouring Snowbird and Alta, in Utah). It didn't go anywhere editorially, but the following season life imitated art when two ski areas on Lone Mountain, Montana, scrapped over that very thing, one accusing the other of having its guns dangerously placed.

It's probably a good thing that not everyone skis. Because ultimately, despite the blow to the eager-eyed industry types that this sentiment represents, and for reasons entirely different than the usual lament of the mountain getting turbo-shralped after a dump, it's likely that the fewer of us mo'fos on the world's hills, the better.

 

 

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