Why do we keep skiing, despite the crowds, the cost, and the unpredictable conditions? Spend an entire day on a chairlift and you’ll find out. Outside contributing editor Gloria Liu rode up and down (and up and down…) a lift at Truckee’s Northstar California Resort, talking with fellow skiers and snowboarders about the many hassles and challenges entailed just to enjoy a day in the mountains—and what makes all the effort worth it, at least some of the time.
Editor’s Note: Transcriptions of episodes of the Outside Podcast are created with a mix of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain some grammatical errors or slight deviations from the audio.
Maren Larsen: From Outside Magazine, this is the Outside Podcast.
Gloria Liu: What are these people doing? They sit in traffic for hours. They stand in lift lines so long you can see them from space. They pay $200 for four hours of this activity. What the heck are they doing? And what could possibly be so appealing about this sport that people would go to such lengths to do it?
I think people think we're crazy and I think we might be crazy
Maren: Meet my friend Gloria: a skier, a journalist, and, by her own admission, possibly a crazy person.
Gloria: My name is Gloria Liu and I am a contributing editor at Outside.
Maren:I'm Maren Larsen, and I recently talked to Gloria about her latest assignment for Outside–one that, for her, is very personal.
Gloria: I am currently based in Tahoe City, California. I usually live in Golden, Colorado, but I am out here for the winter so that I can get closer to skiing.
And so far it's been a great decision.
Maren: Gloria is so obsessed with skiing that she moved mountains–or, well, technically moved TO the mountains–to do it as much as she possibly can.
Gloria: So I've been skiing for I guess, most of my adult life, but did not learn as a kid unfortunately. I'm always jealous of people who learned when they were young.
Maren: You're like jealous of the little like fluffy starfish and they're little full body outfits that are like going down the bunny slope.
Gloria: They're all the subject of my envy.
Maren: So how did you get into skiing then as an adult?
Gloria: I had some friends who snowboarded and wanted to take me, and I was curious about it. You know, looked cool and fun.
My friend said, you're gonna cry, you're gonna hate it. But I guess maybe when you expect the worst, everything is better than that. So, I had the opposite experience. I loved it immediately and I think it was actually the first experience I'd ever had in my life of just doing an activity and thinking like, wow, I just wanna do this all the time. And I just knew immediately like, I'm gonna be obsessed with this and it's gonna take over my life.
And it did.
It has pretty much driven the direction and my life and the choices I've made in my career and where I live. And, yeah, it's, it's really is the best thing that's ever happened to me.
Maren: Once Gloria's obsession took hold, she just couldn't get enough of skiing. This, despite the outrageous cost of lift tickets, the increased crowding at resorts and car traffic to ski towns, the absolutely insane price of lodging, and, lest we forget, climate change, which has led to less snow.
It all makes you wonder why any of us are willing to do so much just to slide around on slushy groomers.
Gloria: So like, what is it about this activity that is so magnetic and seems to like push us past the point of being logical or rational. There must be something very special about it.
Maren: To find out what that special thing is, one day in February, Gloria did what she often does: she got up early, put on her layers, and drove herself to the ski area. But, thanks to the twisted mind of an Outside editor named Matt Skenazy, she wouldn't actually be skiing.
Gloria: He called me last summer actually, cuz he had had this idea and he was like, ‘Hey, do you wanna sit on a lift from first chair to last and just interview people all day long?’
And I was like, ‘that sounds super fun.’
I really enjoy talking to strangers on the chairlift. So this assignment kind of felt right up my alley.
But he wanted me to ride the chair both up the lift and down the lift. Like he wasn't going to allow me to ski down because he thought it'd be funny. And then I think he also was hoping to torture me a little bit.
Gloria (field): I'm Gloria, by the way.
Interviewee:I'm Chris, very nice to, nice to meet you. Nice to meet you.
Unidentified voice: Um, so Gloria, she's gonna, she's doing, um, a segment for Outside Magazine where she's gonna be interviewing guests on the chair all day.
Chris: Okay. From like, first, would you want to possibly be interviewing people in the gondola? So, or, in the chair.
In the chair. Yeah. Okay. If that is that cool. But, but I was hoping to download on the gondola each lap, if that's okay.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. You can do that too. Cool.
MAren: So Gloria found herself at Northstar California Resort one very busy Saturday morning, wearing boots she wouldn't make turns in, clicked into skis she wouldn't be carving with, and juggling an armload of unwieldy audio equipment.
Gloria: I have to say, I was like, wow, I hope Maren and Mike appreciate this.
Maren: This is insane. You put on ski boots and skis and did not for an entire day. and you didn't ski?!
Gloria: No, I didn't ski at all. I think this was part of the torture. This was part of my editor's plan for the torture. I just went around and around as a chairlift for seven hours,
Maren: This is–
Gloria: I mean, definitely I would say that by noon I was like, oh my gosh, I can't believe I have four more hours of this. And then, by like one, I was looking at the slope in this like yearning wistful way, and the snow was not good, but I was like, wow. It was be so fun to just like slide down that thing.
Maren: Gloria's first ride of the day was with Northstar's communications manager, Ashlee Lambert, who was taking her up the mountain to introduce her to the lifties running the chondola–part chairlift, part gondola–that would be Gloria's office for the next seven hours.
Gloria: So what's, um, the best day of the season you've had so far this year?
Ashlee: Oh, it was Monday. There was no one here, there were no lines. And there was just all this snow from the night before just untracked everywhere.
Yeah. And my legs were absolutely fried by the end of the day, but it was so worth it.
Gloria: Yeah. When the snow is good, I always say like, you find, I find this like reserve of strength inside me that's like, I'm like, I could not physically do this normally. I don't know, but I just keep getting in line.
Ashlee: Yeah, it's uh, it was kind of like me when I gave birth.
I'm like, this, this will be worth it at the end of the day. I'm sure.
Gloria: That's a good sound bite.
Maren: For Ashlee, skiing is all about chasing powder. But that chase has led her to a lot of other joy in her life, too.
Gloria: So how did you meet your husband? Did you meet him skiing or?
Ashlee: No. We met, um, at Mountain Hardware, we worked there together.
Gloria: Oh, okay.
Ashlee: And started dating and he actually proposed to me on a chairlift.
Maren: So maybe it's not ALL about powder. Ashlee doesn't just ski with anyone: she skis with the people she loves the most. She and her husband even cross country skied while towing their two-month-old baby in a sled recently. Because if you love skiing, you share it as much as you can. So it's no surprise that Gloria rode on the chair and in the gondola with quite a few people for whom skiing runs in the family.
Gloria: Where are you guys from?
Gloria: Oh, granite Bay. Yeah. Okay. Is that near Sacramento as well?
Charissa: Yeah, just north of Sacramento.
Gloria: Nice. Awesome. And how do y'all know each other?
Charissa: This is my mom.
Gloria: Oh, it is.
Charissa: I've known her for a while now.
Kelly: The day of her birth.
Gloria: Yeah. Yeah. That's pretty, it doesn't get longer than that. That's awesome. What are your names?
Kelly: And Kelly.
Gloria: Kelly. Nice. How long y'all been skiing together?
Kelly: Oh gosh. You were what, four or five when we first started, right?
Charissa: Three. I was three. Because you were working ski patrol and Yeah.
Kelly: Yeah. And Billy was five. That's right. Yeah. So she was three and I, and Billy was five and brother. And we decided what the heck, we're just gonna go ahead and start skiing together. And we have been skiing together for many years. Yeah. Wow.
Charissa: I’ll be 40 February 23rd so for 37 years.
Gloria: Wow, that's amazing. So, how was it? What was it like teaching her to ski? Did she learn pretty quickly or?
Kelly: She was, yeah. You know what was really interesting cuz my son was the one that really wanted to get into it. And I got him a pair of skis and I remember him skiing in, in the living room.
And then I looked at her and she's like, well, she's gotta ski too. And honestly I didn't have to teach them. They just went out. When you're that young, you just get out and you just go for it. And so we had a lot of friends and the owners of the ski area, and they'd keep an eye on her because I was usually doing whatever I had to do. And so it was a perfect place for them to learn. And she stayed on skis for a while and then went snowboarding.
Charissa: Yeah. In high school I swapped over, I rebelled a bit. And then through college I snowboarded. And my son was born seven years ago. So when he was three, I wanted to start getting him up here. So I switched back to skiing, thinking it'd be easier to teach him. And the first day up he decided he wanted to snowboard, not ski. So I've been stuck on skis since, and he's snowboarding and he's ripping it up now himself.
Kelly: Yeah. It's a generational thing.
Gloria: Well enjoy ladies, so nice to speak with you. And I love the Outside Podcast.
Kelly: Oh, awesome. I listen to it all the time, so, well maybe you guys will be, Thank you.
Maren: But spending time with loved ones certainly isn't the only reason we ski. Just look at the length of the singles line for any chairlift.
Gloria:What's your name?
Gloria: Okay. So tell me about how your day's been going.
Calvin: It's going good.
Gloria: You've been skiing? Yeah. Or snowboarding?
Calvin: Snowboarding. Yeah. I'm, I'm from Florida originally.
Gloria: Oh, you are?
Gloria: So are you visiting from Florida right now?
Calvin: Yeah, I'm visiting.
Gloria: So you live there?
Gloria: Okay. Uh, do you ski often or?
Calvin: No. I, I've done like three ti, like maybe three or four times.
Calvin: It was pretty complex. Like I've, I've done it like in Tennessee where you land on like ice.
Calvin: And then I did it once in Colorado. Um, but that was just for a day.
Gloria: And this is, this is next level?
Gloria: Oh, is it?
Gloria: You were like, I'm, I'm coming out from Florida, I'm definitely gonna ski. I was like, yeah. I was like, whatever cost, I'm paying it, I'm doing it. You know?
Gloria: Yeah. How much did you pay?
Calvin: Uh, I don't know. Uh, rented the gear. It was maybe 130, and then for the day I was like 200. So not too bad.
Calvin: You know, you usually expect to spend like 500 bucks to go snowboarding or something like that. I'm not complaining.
Gloria: Yeah. That's cool. It feels worth it?
Calvin: Oh, a hundred percent. Yeah. Yeah. And, and the views from the top of the mountain. Unreal. It's just so beautiful.
Maren: Okay, but three to five HUNDRED dollars is a lot to pay for a view and just one day of skiing or snowboarding. Getting a season pass and buying your own gear can drop the per-day dollar amount dramatically, but committed skiers pay a different kind of price to get to the mountains.
Just ask the next guys Gloria spoke with: Alex, Jim Bob, and Johnny Rad... Are those their real names? We dunno. But that's what they said when Gloria put a mic in their faces, so we're rolling with it.
Gloria: Anything interesting happen today?
Voice 1: Um, there's an incredible amount of traffic on the way in if that, if you want to count that.
But how long, how much traffic? Tell me about it.
Voice 2: From seven miles away, it took us an hour and 20 minutes. Oh my gosh. An hour and 20 minutes. Yeah. That was brutal. But seven miles. It's good to be here either way.
Gloria: So like that, I feel like that's kind of a trend with my conversations is like people talk about traffic But why? Why do we keep doing that?
Voice 2: It's just the journey. You're right. It's, it's not even worth talking about the ride. How we get to ride.
How much waiting time we do. All right. It's just, yeah, it's a good trade off I guess. All right. Because we want the incentive to just move here and get it over with. We're just upset, we're not locals. We don't live here.
Gloria: But like, but you obviously keep coming back. Like why? What makes it worth it?
Voice 1: It's such a good way to spend your time.
Voice 3: I mean, just in general. Like you're doing something that's active and healthy and challenging. What else are we gonna do? Huh? Sit in the car and stay at home all day. I know well, one of our friends here, we gotta make the trip.
Voice 2: One of our friends and their friends is learning to board and I was talking about how you're always excited, like the vibe is always so good when you're out here snowboarding. So, and even off the record, uh, we're, we have, we have a couple white claws stashed on this lift. That's the reason we go back to this lift.
Gloria: Okay. Does that really have to be off the record? Can I please use that?
Voice 2: Uh, yeah. Okay. You can use that.
Gloria: Well, we're on a first name basis only. Okay. Tell me where you stashed the white claws. I won't take them.
Voice 3: Yeah, well, uh, no, that…
Maren: It seems like, whether you're floating on ten inches of powder or skating on icy groomers, riding with a crew or flying solo, paying $500 a day or stretching your pass for as many days as you can, sitting in hours of traffic or waking up at the hill–whatever you encounter on your way to the mountain, it could just take one run to make it all worth it.
We'll hear about that one run, after this.
Maren: Whether they had invested time in traffic and crowds, or money in expensive tickets and gear, everyone that Outside contributing editor Gloria Liu had talked to by midday on the mountain had told her that skiing was worth it.
Then she talked to Dante, who confessed he had once been disillusioned with the many barriers to the sport. But on this bluebird day, he was back at it, snowboarding with his almost-brother-in-law, Travis.
Dante: I grew up getting a season pass. And then I just kind of got away from the sport cuz of the lines, the traffic, the mayhem. But I just kind of got pulled back into it just cuz it's too good out here, you know? But it's, it's tough. It makes you, the one thing is, to me, it really makes you work for it, especially up here. It's so busy on the weekends, it's just like, and that's the only time I have off. It's challenging. But you know what I, I realized last year I had one run and it made the whole season worth it.
Dante: And it was like just, I went out these backcountry gates there, heaven. And it was untouched powder the whole way down on an otherwise insignificant season.
And I was like, that was worth it. Like, it was like a light bulb went off and I was, I have to have moments. I have to keep doing this because wow, I love this too much not to.
Gloria: Wow. So you really, you felt like that one run?
Dante: Yeah. That was it. It, it was just a reminder, like I felt that sensation before but I, the crowds are what throw me off. And, uh, that's the hardest part to me about snowboarding or skiing, is the, the crowds.
Dante: And, you know, at these big mountains, they're beautiful, they're awesome, but man, it's tough. Yeah. The lines and the grass.
Travis: You know, it's like, I, I, I come here a lot with my dad and my dad's 77 now and Wow. Um, he was talking to me about getting my son Diego on skis and you know, he was really questioning whether I want to go down that road, you know, cuz it's just such a, you know, such a mess. And you know, everybody's skiing now. And I said, absolutely. You know, it's totally worth it. And yesterday was that day for me and it's just gratifying to know that he's into it and he's gonna be into it.
So whatever price we gotta pay.
Dante: Right? It's worth it.
Maren: Dante and Travis sound a bit like gamblers, putting their money and time on THIS being the day that it all pays off. This mountain, these conditions, this run–it might be the one. Which, actually, also sounds a lot like...dating. And that brings us to Madison and Dakota, two snowboarders who were hoping to hit the jackpot.
Gloria: How do y'all know each other then?
Dakota: We matched on Tinder.
Gloria: Is this your first day skiing together or?
Dakota: So we just met like 10 minutes ago.
Gloria: So have you taken a run together yet?
Madison: No. No. We’ve been in line the whole time.
Gloria: Well, how is, how's it going so far?
Madison: So far so good.
Dakota: I think it's going pretty well. Yeah.
Gloria: Um, so tell me how do you guys think snowboarding together's gonna go?
Dakota: Uh, she says she's pretty good. I think I'm pretty good. But we're, we're gonna see, maybe one of us is lying.
Madison: Could be a deal breaker. We'll see.
Gloria: Any like signs or clues so far? One way or another?
Dakota: I mean, she's got her beer in her glove. I like that.
Gloria: Wait, what do you got there? Which, what's your beer of choice?
Madison: Well, right now the easy glove fit is the, uh, ultra Michelob. Yep. Uh, so, you know, move easy, slim, fit, can,
Gloria: It's like perfect in your glove.
Madison: Yeah, exactly!
Gloria: Has, have you ever had like a date just go wrong on the mountain?
Madison: Several times.
Gloria: Oh, you have too.
Dakota: long-term girlfriend.
Madison: I had an ex give me a concussion two times. That's a, that's a deal breaker.
Maren: By the end of Gloria's ski-less day on the mountain, she'd heard a dozen different reasons why people had braved the crowds and paid the price to be out there that day.
Did it make you think about why you still ski and like what makes that crazy math work for you?
Gloria: Yeah. It did. I guess the conversation that kind of brought it home for me was actually my last chair of the day.
This will probably be the last chair up. Yeah. Are you going up one more time? Yeah. I'm supposed to go bell to bell. So here I go.
I ended up getting on with a middle-aged man and four little kids, who were all on the North Star like youth team. And, all of them were Asian American, like me. And we were riding up the lift and, you know, I was asking the kids about what their favorite part of snowboarding is, and they just had the sweetest little answers.
Who, who do I have here? What's your name?
Gloria: Zyana. How do I spell that?
Zyana: Z-y-a-n-a. Okay. How old are you guys?
Olivia: I'm 10 years old.
Johan: Seven and a half.
Simon: Almost 12.
Zyana: Nine and a half.
Gloria: So are you guys having fun out here today?
All of them: Yes.
Gloria: What's your favorite thing about snowboarding?
Olivia: Probably park and riding the trees.
Gloria: How about you?
Johan: Probably park.
Simon: Just park.
Gloria: Just the park? Do you like to go off jumps?
Simon: I like boxes and rails more than jumps.
Gloria: Oh, nice. How about you?
Simon: Powder and park.
Zyana: Powder and jumps.
Gloria: Nice. That's super cool. How about you? Do you ride park too?
Dad: Myself? I do deep carving. Park is like my enemy.
Gloria: How did you get into snowboarding?
Dad: How did I get into it? It was an accident. I did ski in 2011 for like two or three times and then never touched snow for like seven years. And then in uh, 2017 we had a, had a budget to go to Mexico, but this little guy's passport got, uh, expired so we can't go anywhere.
So we were like, might well just go to Tahoe for a few days for a hotel and enjoy the winter and snow. Then we think about it, since we're here already, it might as well just get a, get a lesson or something. That's how we just get into it. It was like so addictive.
Gloria: Yeah. So what's it like, uh, watching your kids learn from such a young age?
Dad: Uh, it's a rare experience for kids like this age. To be a hardcore, to be strong and to be, uh, um, conquering stuff that they think is scary. But it's not like, for example, I'm not talking about even like the park tricks. It's not just that, but also like in a deep powder. For example, last weekend, right when they're in the bare end of the powder.
To know that I gotta survive. I gotta calm down. I gotta pick myself up. I got exhausted, but I breathe, recover, and then keep going. That kind of experience is valuable for kids at this age, right? Like difficulties doesn't really matter. Just like get up and keep going.
Gloria: It made me think about how I didn't grow up snowboarding. And, um, seeing them just made me like, think about all that, like lost time I guess.
And that kind of missed opportunity and how, you know, this sport's like such a beautiful sport and I just always feel like I haven't had enough of it. Part of the reason like I still ski even though it's such a pain in the butt, is because I just like, haven't skied enough, you know?
And, in a way I'm kind of making up for some lost time. And it's again, because this sport is so beautiful and it delivers like a form of joy that is like really hard to find otherwise.
It's really cheesy, but it, some of those moments, like when you have like a perfect powder run, and you share that with people you care about.I mean, really those are pretty much like the highlight moments of our lives. And so yeah, like it's a lot of work to do it, but, I can't imagine my life without it.
Maren: Yeah. I mean, anyone who's had a like pow-church moment like that, like it feels transcendent. Like I remember the one run for me that is like that. And I'm sure everyone can point to that one run.
It was like last season, 18 inches of new snow. And my friend and I went and did our, our favorite run. And it had been cloudy all day. And as we started going down the run, like the sun started peeking through the trees. And I just remember looking up the slope at her and she just had this absolutely like maniacal grin on her face. And we both were just like, like, I literally don't think I could have been happier.
Gloria: I think that's actually the best way to describe it, like peak happiness. It's true. I, I completely agree. I don't think I could be happier than I am in those moments. And why, how could you, like, deprive yourself of that if you know that that's out there?
I think, like, ultimately, I guess what it made me feel was like skiing is a, an imperiled sport, but like a beautiful sport. And, if you fall in love with skiing today, it could be like a bad marriage.
But then it's like, why do we still fall in love anyway? It's like saying like, why go on a Tinder date if you could just get your heart broken? You know, it's like, why take a chance?
Because whether or not it ends up lasting forever, you know, there could still be some really cool moments along the way that you like, wouldn't wanna miss, like the kind of moments that make you feel alive. So I think it's something that's still worth doing as long as we can.
Maren: Gloria, I'm gonna, I'm gonna start out my Thursday crying.
Gloria: I'm tearing up too!
Maren: Speaking of taking a chance on love, remember Madison and Dakota, the Tinder couple who were about to take their first run together? Gloria called up Dakota a few days later to see how it went.
Gloria: Hey Dakota.
Dakota: Hey, how you doing?
Gloria: Good. How are you?
Dakota: Good. I'm super tired, but I'm good.
Gloria: Um, well, how, how did the date go?
Dakota: Uh, pretty well. I think we had a lot of fun.
Gloria: Yeah. Tell me about the date.
Dakota: Well, we were just pretty much hitting runs for the most part. I, uh, I kind of embarrassed myself. I threw a snowball at her while we were going down the hill, and, uh, I like called out her name, and I threw at her and it hit her on the helmet. And then I started laughing and then I caught an edge and I totally wiped out right in front of her.
Gloria: That's pretty good. Was she, uh, was she laughing about that?
Dakota: Yeah, she was laughing at me.
Gloria: I was gonna ask if anything kind of interesting happened during the day. Um, anything else noteworthy?
Dakota: Well, you called it, we had our first kiss on the mountain.
Gloria: Aw. Wait. Okay. Will you tell me about that?
Dakota: Mm, depends what you wanna. ,
Gloria: Whatever you're comfortable sharing.
Dakota: Um, I don't know. It was like towards the end of the day. And uh, I don't know if it just felt like we were hitting it off, so I asked if I could kiss her and just said, yeah. And then, yeah.
Gloria: Okay. So do you think you guys will see each other again?
Dakota: Yeah, I hope so. I think so. We're, uh, I'm planning on going back out. pretty much every weekend. That was like already my plan, but I mean even more of a reason to go.
Maren: Thank you to Gloria Liu for riding a chairlift for seven hours for this story, and for talking to us about her experience afterwards. And thank you to Ashlee, Cherisa, Kelly, Calvin, Alex, Jim Bob, Johnny Rad, Dante, Travis, Madison, Dakota, Olivia, Johann, Simon, Zyana, Sean, and everyone else at Northstar California Resort who talked to Gloria on the chairlift.
This episode was written and produced by me, Maren Larsen, and edited by Michael Roberts. Music and mixing by Robbie Carver.
Listener, if you want to tell us what makes skiing still worth it to you, record your story as a voice memo and email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you enjoyed this episode, leave us a review wherever you listen, or tell someone on a ski lift about it.
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Gloria: And now it's time to ski my one run of the day. Honestly, I am looking forward to it.
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