Despite my love of spontaneity and my desire to uphold the tenets of uber-chill-go-with-the-flow mountain town living, I am a boring creature of habit. If it’s date night, I always order steak and potatoes. My ice cream choices are a forever three-way tie between rocky road, mint chocolate chip, and chunky monkey. I run the same neighborhood road and handful of trails every time I’m dumb enough to go for a run.
I mountain bike the same trail system every summer. Each winter, you can find me in the same go-to ski zones at my local hill, and I wiggle the same lines day after day, season after season. There’s something comforting about knowing the outcome, I guess. However, I do recognize the need to step outside of routine. And nothing breaks me out of my schedule of knowns like a new pair of skis. But it’s probably not for the reason you think.
I didn’t grow up skiing so I don’t have any adorable stories of my first new pair of skis after years of hand-me-down planks. But I do have a laundry list of skis that have made me happier than a Ninja Turtle on pizza night. When I started my ski bum career in my twenties, I moved to Colorado with a pair of blue Rossi B 3’s. They symbolized the shattering of my rote Midwestern city life.
I loved them to death, skied them dead flat and blew an edge from tip to tail on an epic powder day during my sophomore year at Telluride Ski Bummery University. Then my first ski town girlfriend got me a pair of Volkl Gotama’s, the gold ones with the Buddha on the tail. Those skis lasted longer and were far more enjoyable than that relationship.
Working for the Telluride Ski Resort gave me a few wonderful perks, like a perma-goggle tan, the ability to turn $6.57 into dinner (thanks, Hillshire Farms kielbasa and Zatarans!), and a stellar discount on K2’s. Those purple and black obSETHed with the totem top sheet were my first ever real deal powder plank.
That was during the “make everything a U-shape” rockered craze when every ski manufacturer made floppy spaghetti noodles. But holy hell, those skis made me bound through the depths like a smiling snowshoe hair. Then Pete Wagner sold me a pair of Wagner Custom Ski’s for $450 because there was a blemish on the top sheet and, very unapologetically, I begged him. Those skis made me a Telluride local forever.
Then I had a love affair with Line, a tryst with DPS, a crush on Salomon, and last season the Blizzard Zero G and Bonafide became my touring and on-resort boo-things. I have loved all these skis when they were new, loved them until the next new pair came along (I still have most of them in my garage). Every pair of skis I’ve ever owned has been special and meaningful. And that is because of how they’ve made me feel, or more specifically, the pleasurable electrical storm they created in my cranium.
Our brains are wired to like new things. Ever hear of “retail therapy?” Well, it’s not just a catchy phrase. We feel a boost of joy when shopping because our brains pump the happy nectar, serotonin, and dopamine, throughout the body’s plumbing. And I argue that for skiers, our melon circuitry is constructed to go absolutely bananas when buying or thinking about buying and definitely when clicked into new skis. But it’s not just because smile syrup is coursing through our veins. There is a far more, dare I say, erotic reason.
Ok, here’s the dealio; there’s a spot in our mid-brains called the ventral tegmental area, or the VTA. The VTA is the headquarters of dopaminergic cell bodies and other dopamine pathways, the feel-good brain juice highway that goes bananas when your brain recognizes something as new and novel.
This happens during movement, learning, executive functions, reward, and motivation, which are all associated with skis and skiing. The VTA also goes bonkers when your neuroendocrine system is all sorts of abuzz, ahem, meaning sexy time. When your brain is expecting a reward from something different or unique, like purchasing new skis or flying into a meaty powder turn on a pair of brand new planks, the VTA lights up like a Menorah on top of a Christmas Tree inside a bonfire, and let’s fire a pleasure-motivation-satisfaction explosion that is similar to the blast of yippee brain chemicals you receive during sex. Yes friends, that’s right and you’re welcome: New skis equal brain orgasms.
Maybe that’s a stretch. Maybe I’m a liberal arts major turned ski bum and I have no clue about anything that has to do with neuroscience. Or maybe the reason we all deal with lift lines that seem to stretch all the way into the cities we leave to go skiing, the ski town housing crisis, frigid temps and crappy snow, chalet food so expensive you need to start a GoFundMe to have lunch, and any number of skiing’s less-than-awesome characteristics is because the feeling a pair of new skis delivers is remarkable and unmatched, and goddammit, even erotic if we are all being honest. Go ahead, go get you some new skis and just try to frown. You can’t. It’s not possible. No one can wear a scowl once a pair of new sticks sparks your brain to crackle with the same spicy fireworks display put on by bedroom calisthenics. Ya know, it’s no wonder we skiers smile so damn much.
Happy grinning, pals!