What was to be the birth of my ski career began with a bold-faced lie at the base of Arapahoe Basin. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I spent my winters making snow forts, playing pond hockey, rooting for the Blackhawks, and thinking that my home “mountain,” with its 230 vertical feet, was the epitome of extreme snow sports.
There I stood, clicking my boots into an ex-rental pair of K2 Apaches I had picked up for $150, staring up at the behemoth mountain towering above me. It might as well have been Everest. The truth was, I had never skied before. Sure, I had waterskied every summer growing up on the wooded lakes of Wisconsin and tried nearly every other adventure sport I could scrape together the babysitting money to buy gear for. But this was new. Of course, I wasn’t going to tell that to my ski partners, two girls who had grown up in Colorado and one who’d raced in Montana as a kid. It was looking to be a rugged day. And I was an 18-year-old freshman. My entire college reputation—and perhaps my foreseeable dating future—was at stake (or at least it seemed so at the time). So, with the sometimes regrettable line “I’ll follow you guys,” I dropped into A-Bay’s West Wall and was instantly lost in the magic of skiing.
I spent the rest of that winter hucking myself and those poor little Apaches down anything and everything I could find within driving distance of the University of Denver. Whether I was convincing myself that I could totally ski park or that a 72-mm waist was plenty wide for powder, every second I was on the mountain I was lost in the ignorant bliss of being strapped into a pair of skis. In those moments, nothing else mattered, not my iPhone buzzing in my pocket, and certainly not the 15-page paper waiting for me back on campus. I only had to think about one thing: skiing.
That’s still true for me today. I graduated last spring, and I feel I haven’t changed all that much (well, maybe a little) from that freshman rookie eyeing survival lines at A-Basin. But I feel skiing has. And that’s only in the four years I’ve been keeping score. The culprit? The usual suspects—the digital life and its most fiendish incarnation: cell phones. My buddies, girls and guys, are within arm’s reach of theirs pretty much 24/7. Most sleep with them. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a group of us 20-somethings who don’t pull them out way too often—chilling at bars and restaurants, hiking and biking, driving (ugh) and, yes, skiing.
Unfortunately, the ski world isn’t immune to this epidemic. From Epic Mix offering a social platform to brag about how much vert I scored or apps telling me how fast I went on every run of the day on every day of the season, the digital world is encroaching upon my safe zone, which is skiing.
Even at the ripe age of 21, I look back at how amazing it was to be a kid. No smartphone in my pocket. No e-mails to check. The Internet was just something that made a funny noise when you logged into AOL. It took five minutes to load a webpage.
Maybe it’s weird for me to say this, but skiing gives me what I have found to be the closest thing to pure childhood bliss, a return to the good ol’ days. For even just a few hours, I’m able to completely disconnect and enjoy what’s right in front of me—without a screen in between. Whether it’s popping the tab for a quick can of beer on the chairlift with a stranger or hootin’ and hollerin’ with my friends as we rip down a run, skiing brings me together in an old-school way with reality, just like when I was a kid. In person, face to face.
Because at the end of the day, as your skis hang over the edge of a new line and all your friends are yelling your name to drop in, the one thing that should not be going through your head is the ping of a new text message on the phone in your pocket.
A recent college graduate, Jack Foersterling is now living in New Zealand, skiing as much as possible and calling home every so often to tell his mom he’s OK.