No other word in Colorado Ski country garners more attention than powder. It immediately conjures images of snowy glory and the attainment of winter nirvana. At the same time, it reveals a comical undercurrent to skiing and riding that seldom makes the front page when discussing the Rocky Mountains or the bastion of culture they harbor. While powder is certainly synonymous with mountain winters, it has become somewhat of a divisive term. It’s either lauded with admiration or shunned because it turns seemingly regular people into dopey snow junkies. As a wise snow shaman once told me, “No one is your friend on a powder day.” A powder day brings out the crazies, and if nothing else, allows for some of the most exceptional people watching I’ve ever experienced. So, without further ado, I present: 10 types of people you may meet on a powder day.
Covering the bases: Before beginning, allow me to say that the following list is almost certainly incomplete and based only on my personal observations at established ski resorts. I have seen all of these types of people in action, but please note that the descriptions offered are intentionally comedic. In addition, you may encounter any of these people on any given winter’s day, but to me, they always appear more evident on powder days. Lastly, I am in no way exempt and absolutely exhibit many (if not all) of the same qualities I am poking fun at. Enjoy.
1. The Chairlift Chatterbox: Let’s set the scene. You arrive at your favorite ski hill and get in the chairlift line, excited to plunge into the fresh snow. You are stoked, you are ready, the day is yours. Then, someone else gets on the chair with you… and they’re a talker.
It starts with a simple comment (probably about the weather) to seemingly no one in particular… but it’s just the two of you on the chair…you know it was meant for you. Maybe if you stay still, they won’t notice you, perhaps their vision is based on movement! Unfortunately, the ruse doesn’t work, and they start ramping up the pressure.
Their next comment is about your equipment: they noticed it was new, and they complimented it—a bead of sweat forms on your brow. Don’t engage, you tell yourself, be strong, remember your training. You can feel their eyes on you; they’re persistent. Then, they start quoting movies you love, books you’ve read, games you’ve played, oh lord, how much more of this can you take?! Finally, they say one thing that’s just too dumb to ignore. You know it’s a trap, but you can’t resist. You give them the smallest look possible; your eyes make contact…it’s all over.
Speaking at a mile a minute, they’ve gone through their entire family history since the 1600s, told you about that weird growth on their foot, offered sage advice about how versatile khakis are, and have conned you into watching their pet gerbil next weekend… all before the third chairlift tower. By the time you finally get off the lift, they’ve leeched out so much of your energy that you have to guzzle a Red bull just to stay upright.
2. Too Focused on Tech: As you digest the Red Bull, you let your eyes wander, admiring the view from the top of the chairlift. That’s when you notice the tech addicts. They usually present themselves in a few different ways; this morning, you see two versions.
The first of the two is the social media mogul:they never miss an opportunity to post. There’s a group of them with phones at the ready, jockeying amongst themselves for the best view and best poses. As the competition between them heats up, someone unearths a selfie stick and, with it, a new level of narcissism. Straight to Instagram, the pictures go. Every one of the amateur photographers is just so #blessed to be here.
A group of intense looking individuals comes off the chair lift, they represent the second version of the tech addicts, and you catch their conversation.
“Alright, we’ve done three runs already, we’re on pace to hit all of the ones we want by 3:00, then we peel out of here asap to avoid traffic. Jason, how much have we skied?”
The one named Jason pulls out his phone and opens an app that allows him to see how many vertical feet he has skied so far. The rest of the group gathers around Jason as if he’s a prophet.
“Sitting at more than 4,000 vert already.”
“Nice,” another member says, nodding their head ad infinitum.
“Agreed,” another one echoes, “Let’s keep it up, and it’ll be a day for the record books.”
You half expect them to conclude their little meeting by bowing their heads together and chanting, “All hail the app.”
These techies know their time on the mountain is limited, so they focus on hitting the runs that will net them the most vertical feet. Lather, rinse, repeat until every personal record they’ve ever had is broken. The app is their metronome; with it, there is balance in the force; without it, they cannot calculate ‘vert,’ and all equilibrium is lost. You’ve skied with this type before; every moment you are on the mountain, you are on the clock. It’s a relief to be on your own schedule today.
3. The ‘Kinesthetics’ aka Committed and Uncoordinated: Feeling a little more human after your energy boost, you hit your first run, and it is sweet. Thank Ullr. You come to a leisurely stop halfway down to admire your tracks and tighten your bindings. To your right, a talented rider hits a kicker on the side of the run. He gets a respectable amount of air, a quick tail grab, and executes a flawless landing. But you weren’t the only one to see it.
Inspired by the performance, a new rider gets it in his head that he can do that. He tells his buddies to film him and then (on shaky knees because this is only his second time on a snowboard) he straightlines into the jump and rockets into the stratosphere, screaming bloody murder, before landing face-first into the snow.
There is thick silence for a moment, then movement.
Broken bones be dammed.
The kinesthetic gets right back up, looks up at his buddies, and anxiously asks, “Did you get it? Did you get it, bro? How sick was that air? Mad air, right?”
The Kinesthetics learn by doing, treating their bodies as punching bags in the process. Sometimes it’s painful to watch, but you have to admit, they are not afraid of anything. You smirk, shake your head, and continue skiing.
4. The Music Man: That first run was great, skis breaking through powder like the prow of a ship through water. Before you’ve had enough, you’re at the bottom and at another chairlift. Determined to get back amongst it, you line up… but suddenly, something unpleasant assaults your ears.
In front of you is a young adult wearing snowverralls and a fanny pack. But this fanny pack is different; it has speakers in it, and they are screaming out music at an unacceptable volume. Everyone else in the lift line shoots the person worried looks, but nothing changes… if anything, the music gets louder.
The older couple behind you starts crying; this isn’t what they signed up for. Someone calls the UN to report a human rights violation, and you feel your brain start to slide out of your ears. Madness creeps closer, who is this spawn of Satan? Why is he playing Moby so f*&(#@! loudly??? You contemplate using your ski poles to stab holes in the speakers, but thankfully the lift line starts moving faster, and the music moves away from you. You let three groups alternate between you and the music man, but not because you’re being nice.
5. Why me? At this point, you’re two chairlifts in and getting to more challenging terrain. The second run is deeper than the first: fewer people, more powder. As you cruise down, you notice some frantic arm motions out of the corner of your eye, so you stop to observe. The person attached to those arms is having a struggle.
They’ve fallen multiple times, are drenched in powder, and are livid. You keep your distance but watch as they right themselves once more. Having momentarily defeated gravity, they again try to ski. It looks like it’s working, but then they attempt a turn, lose their balance, fall over their downhill ski and evaporate into a thick cloud of powder.
Having lost both skis in the fall, they emerge from the powder and begin searching frantically, but it snowed a foot overnight, this situation will not resolve itself quickly. Feeling useless and frustrated, they collapse to their knees, throw their hands up to the sky and ask a simple question of the clouds, “why me?!”
You continue skiing but stop less than a minute later when you hear another exasperated, “why me?!” Searching for the origin, your eyes come across a ski instructor and a group of energetic kids. Half of them have fallen over, unable to right themselves in the thick snow, while the other half are gleefully launching themselves into the powder on purpose, with some of the smaller ones sinking in as far as their helmets. The outmatched ski instructor is trying her best to give instructions, pull the nearest kid out of the snow, and watch out for skier traffic all at the same time. The second she helps one up, another kid falls over, and the maddening pattern continues. “I wanna go home!” the children yell, their cries dominating the audible spectrum. You want to help, but there’s nothing you can do here, so you continue downhill, not wanting to add to the instructor’s woes.
By the time you get back to the chairlift, a new example of exasperation reveals itself. He is the frustrated dad in all of us: three miniature humans surround him. One child is crying, one is poking the other with their ski poles, and the third is tugging on dad’s pants, trying to get his attention while screaming “code yellow daddy, code yellowwww!” The father is tight-lipped and glum. With kids in tow, he cannot indulge his powder fantasies. He must be an adult, and he is not pleased. You give him a nod of sympathy and get back on the chair.
6. Powder Hound aka the Backcountry Bro: Only one more chairlift before the powder stash you’re gunning for. This time you share it with a backcountry bro. He has a backpack… For what purpose you don’t know, but its immediately evident that he’s better than you. He pulls a beer from the backpack, throws his thumb through the bottom of the can like an animal, and shotguns the whole thing in front of you. Does he throw the empty can from the chair? No, he crumples it up and sticks it back into his bag. Pack it in, pack it out.
He has gigantic, floppy powder skis. His gear is expensive but used; there are miles on it. His beard? Large and majestic, of course. You don’t say anything for a few minutes, because you feel like the wrong delivery might sully the moment, and then he won’t invite you into the secret powder club. But then, towards the end of the chair, he looks over to you and reaches into his backpack once more. It takes a minute to unearth what he wants, but you assume it’s because he has to dig past all the maps, animal pelts, and hunting knives he has in there. Out comes a shooter of whiskey; with a toothy smile, he offers you the small bottle. You accept but stammer for a response.
Just as the right words pop into your head, the bro holds up a finger and cocks his head to the sky. His nose twitches, he smells untracked powder nearby; the hunt is on. The chair lift ride ends, and the powder hound skis effortlessly off towards the horizon, the screaming chorus of a thousand bald eagles propelling him forward, while you contemplate whether or not you’ve just fallen in love.
7 & 8. ‘The Stoners’, and The ‘Local 2.0’:
At the top of the chairlift, you have a couple of options: ski down, or hike above the treeline towards the alpine bowls. Dutifully you climb, following the well-worn path and the serpentine of snow junkies headed for higher ground. About 30 yards into the hike, you hear it, a nasally voice above the stomping of boots on the packed snow. The voice gets progressively louder until you have a visual.
The voice belongs to a Local 2.0: he’s from here, and he wants to tell you about it. Luckily when you get close, he’s already found a captive audience: a group of guys with bloodshot eyes. One of the stoners had said that at this elevation, one puff had gotten him high. That comment was enough for the Local 2.0 to swoop in uninvited, and crash their conversation. “Hey guys, local speaking: listen, I’m from here, and I guarantee you I smoke more than all of you, yeah. I do this hike all the time high, like all the way up to the ridge, at least twice a day, so I know how hard it is. I’m a local. This is pretty much my backyard. I would know, I’m from here.” The stoners express concern that they’ve courted this ego with legs, but they’re too mellow to get rid of him, so they must endure the monologue that follows.
The other people around you get restless; they don’t want anything to do with this clown, and neither do you. Your fight or flight response kicks in, and your pace quickens. You bolt past the ego with fervent strides. It’s another 50 yards before you venture a look over your shoulder. He did not follow; you’re safe for now.
9. The Humble Ripper: Finally, you’ve found your spot. You can trace the line you want to ski down the side of a brilliant alpine cirque. Beyond the open snow, a few tracks lead into a labyrinth of trees until finally, miles below where you are, the run finds a catwalk and circles back to the resort. Only one person is nearby. You look over at her: she doesn’t have a majestic beard or a backpack, she’s kind of scrawny, and her helmet doesn’t fit properly. But her smile is contagious, so you smile back. You wonder if she’s ready for such an endeavor since this is an expert level area. Your wondering doesn’t last long.
“See you down there,” she says coyly before picking up momentum, jumping a small cornice into the cirque and slicing through powder as if it were nothing but air. She moves fluidly and rhythmically, and all other commotion on the ridge stops as envious souls stare. That scrawny skier made easy work of the terrain with humility, made you feel bad about doubting her, and is now the second person you’ve fallen in love with today.
Only a few seconds pass before the Kinesthetics start debating amongst themselves if they can copy. It only takes one of them to mobilize the rest…
There is no order, only chaos: it’s like lemmings falling off a cliff, all of them eating snow in new and dramatic ways.
10. The ‘Just Grateful to be Here’: About halfway down the run, which you hit with reasonable confidence, you come across someone sitting in the snow, staring out at the surround. Curious, you venture closer and see that they don’t appear injured or broken.
“Everything ok?” you ask, wanting to make sure that this far out, they have the ability to carry themselves back to the resort.
They turn to look at you and offer a genuine smile.
“Yeah, man, I’m just grateful to be here.”
You agree and accompany the wayward soul for a moment as you both stare into the wild yonder. The spiritual moment doesn’t last long, but it’s enough to smooth out the worries and wrinkles on your face. You too, are grateful to be here, and it’s a profound moment, being able to share that realization with another.
By the time you both re-engage the slope, you feel revitalized and rejuvenated because, at the end of the day, the opportunity to be here far outweighs all other concerns.
The rest of the day is glorious: you set your own pace, you set your own goals, and the runs come swiftly and smoothly. The people-watching continues, but it finally takes a back seat to your own enjoyment.
Finally, hours later, as you set your sights on the last run, you catch a glimpse of the backcountry bro. But he has not tired at all and hits a double black diamond because he can. Feeling the aches and pains on your own body, you opt for an easier run and breathe a sigh of relief once you get back to your car.
As you begin putting your ski gear back into the car, satisfied with how your day went, you get the feeling that someone is watching you… Your heart sinks because deep down… you know who it is.
“Hey, friend,” the chairlift chatterbox begins, “still good to watch my gerbil next weekend?”