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Why Would a Skier Live Anywhere But the 38th Parallel?

One skier’s journey around the world (in his mind, just to clarify)

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Illustrations by Guy Shields

Every time I ski Canada (above 49° N), I oversleep. It’s as if my internal clock simply cannot adapt to a sunrise that doesn’t bother rolling over the horizon till after 8 a.m. If our planet’s source of light and heat can hit the snooze button a dozen times, so can I, dammit.

My internal clock, see, has ticked away far south of Canada—at 37.94°N latitude—for 18 years. I was born and raised at 38.98° N. I spent college at chilly 42.04°, then corrected that error with several years in the sunny climes of 33.52° before settling at 37.94° N, 107.81°W—more commonly known as Telluride.


My career takes me on ski trips to Antarctica (65° S) and above the Arctic Circle (66.56° N). And I can’t wait to get back home to the temperate joys of the 38th parallel. I mean, even on the winter solstice we enjoy the sun for nine hours and 32 minutes. Six months later, we guzzle 14 hours and 48 minutes of vitamin D.

Come April in Telluride, dawn breaks around 5:20 a.m. and dark descends near 9:10 p.m. This is skiing as it should be: long sunny days engendering a corn-a-licious melt-freeze cycle. Dare I mention I get a killer tan? The sun here burns gingers to a crisp. But it makes anyone with a semblance of pigment better looking.

My chosen latitude is truly Mediterranean—as in the sea it spans while skipping from Portugal to Spain to Italy to Greece. No, Telluride does not enjoy those nations’ beaches or olive groves (not to mention their goat meat). But just a couple thousand feet below my 8,750-foot burg, you’ll run into the Mediterranean staple that makes life worth living: winemaking.

The path of 38 degrees north latitude trots up and down countless mountains, including those between North and South Korea; in fact, the 38th parallel served as their border before the Korean War. It connects the Talish Mountains of Iran with the Sicilian ranges that birthed Vito Corleone in “The Godfather.”

It crosses the Sierra Nevada in, uh, Nevada, then 5,700 miles later skims Sierra Nevada ski area in southern Spain. I actually skied there in 1993, a day after a sirocco wind collected sand from the Sahara Desert and barfed rust-colored powder on the pistes.

In America, good ol’ 37.94°N bisects Marin County, where mountain biking was invented, the Kaiparowits Plateau in Utah (setting of The Monkey Wrench Gang), the lime stone caves where the outlaw Jesse Jameshid out in Missouri’s Ozarks, and trails blazed by coonskin-capped frontiersmen in Virginia’s Appalachians. Its journey through Colorado links some of America’s finest backcountry peaks, but surprisingly touches only one chairlift system: Telluride’s, as the 38th parallel passes north of Wolf Creek and south of every other Colorado resort.

Winter Park and Steamboat might as well be Wyoming. I could never live so far north. I’d miss the way storms dry out over the Great Basin before dumping feather-light snow here. I’d miss scoping Utah’s Canyonlands from Telluride’s signature run, See Forever. And I’d miss thinking about all of the places to which I’m connected by 37.94 degrees north—my favorite imaginary line.