(Illustration: Michael Byers)

It’s Time to Reconsider What Skiers Think Is Cool

No one should have to prove they are good enough at skiing to get an invitation to the conversation

Danica Carey

from Ski

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I started feeling like I wasn’t cool enough to be a skier about a decade ago. I got to the point where I didn’t want to talk to skiers I didn’t know because they often gave me no credibility in the conversation. I’ve been a skier my whole life, but, to them, I didn’t fit the mold. I don’t know if it’s because I’m brown or because I’m a woman or because I was too young or because of my size. My dad, a Black man whose love of skiing (and love for my mom) brought him to Tahoe in the ’70s, always says that there are a hundred reasons why someone might not like you, so never try to guess which one it is. I don’t actually want to know.

With skiers I don’t know, the only time I feel like I gain credibility is when I’m skiing downhill—not uphill because I’m slow as shit. I earn validation on the downhill because I like to ski really fast. And there is the problem. No one should have to prove they are good enough at skiing to get an invitation to the conversation. It’s a common story from so many skiers, whether they are people of color, women, or just those new to the sport. I hear a million stories about skiers feeling like they aren’t enough or don’t belong. In short, they have been made to feel like they are not “cool.”

I grew up in a very athletic family, playing team sports from the time I was four years old. I played volleyball, ran track, even attempted tennis. Soccer took me through college before I went on to play professionally in Russia. Through it all, there was a strong connection to skiing. Skiing was my escape, my break from competing, and something I did for fun because I loved it.

The coolest skiers among us are those with an inclusive mindset who are welcoming of everyone.

In college, when my soccer program put a clause in our contract that said we would not ski, I signed it, then took up snowboarding. The sport was still new enough, so my contract didn’t mention it. I used this loophole every winter to escape to Colorado and be in the mountains with my friends.

I retired from playing professional soccer when I was 36 and came back fully to the outdoors. My weekends were finally free for skiing. I was reminded how grateful I am for my parents who put me on snow as soon as I could stand up and gave me a foundation in skiing.

It was in my return to the skiing lifestyle that I first noticed the sport had a cool-factor problem.

Skiers today mistake credibility for cool, and we focus that credibility on individual exploits and appearances. Making fun of how someone is dressed on the mountain, the car they drive, or where they come from doesn’t make you cool. Neither is making homophobic, racial, or other slurs or belittling others to elevate yourself. Skiing is fun and silly. We can, and should, laugh at ourselves. But as soon as it crosses the line from laughing at us to laughing at “them,” the fun ends. Disrespect for others should never be rewarded. It creates a type of detachment, coldness, and snobbery that is disenfranchising.

The coolest skiers among us are those with an inclusive mindset who are welcoming of everyone, those who embody the spirit of camaraderie and fun and enjoyment and invention and play that drew us all here in the first place. These are all things we limit when we’re overly concerned that someone’s five-year-old jacket from the wrong brand isn’t cool. This brand of cool makes skiing more exclusive and allows us to deem others as “less than” or people who shouldn’t even be joining in.

So how did we get here? Certainly, there is a diversity issue in skiing that doesn’t exist in team sports. There’s racism and sexism in all spaces, of course, and we’re seeing our entire country deal with issues of equity and discrimination. But somehow skiing became a country club-level powerhouse in exclusion. Some people want to maintain the perception that skiing has to be an exclusive club because it makes them feel powerful. Too often our communities, the industry, and ski media elevate these people and give them a platform to promote their limited view of what is cool.

That projects a limited scope of who feels welcome, and we let it determine who fits the role of a skier and who deserves attention, respect, and opportunity. We’re telling people they don’t belong here; the initial rejection is acute, emotional, and traumatic, but the long-term effects of this gatekeeping limit us all. It restricts our creative potential as skiers and keeps the lanes for excellence and success narrow and repetitive. Judgment only breeds more judgment. Don’t we all already have too many voices making us feel like we are not enough?

It’s time to extend an invitation to diversity, expansion, new ideas, and create a more collaborative environment. We have to be more curious, take bigger risks, and embrace our unique styles and interests. Be adventurous and try new lanes, introduce someone to something they haven’t tried before. Stay with them through the process, and pay attention to what they are drawn to and what they need—and who cares what they look like? This is about skiing.

Cool, Actually:

  • Learning to ski after 30
  • T-bars
  • Night skiing back East
  • Ski patrollers
  • Avalanche safety
  • Skiing in denim
  • Hand-me-down gear
  • Human slalom courses
  • Pocket bacon
  • Hidden liquor boxes
  • Fixed-grip doubles
  • Being sober at après
  • Skiing with your elderly parents
  • Making friends in the singles line
  • Riding the ski bus
  • Midwest race leagues
  • Dad jokes on the chairlift
  • Setting the boot pack
  • Giving your friend first tracks
  • Leaving your phone behind
  • Tipping your bartender

Danica Carey is the Director of Marketing Operations at Seirus Innovation. Her father, Mike Carey, co-founded the company when he brought Cat Tracks to market in 1979, followed by the Neoprene face mask, and the heated glove. When she’s not traveling the country in her van, Lady Vanica Patrick, Danica lives in Carlsbad, Calif.

Lead Illustration: Michael Byers