It’s my own fault because I’m a cheapskate, and I’m becoming more of a Luddite as I get older, but my however-many-generations-old iPhone dies the second it gets cold these days. That means most of the time I go skiing I’m totally disconnected. I can shove it in my boobs to keep it warm for emergencies (stay tuned for my next invention: brockets!), but for most of last winter, every time I went to the mountains I went dark. And after my first round of “did you get my text message” paranoia and how-is-anyone-going-to-find-me FOMO freak out, it was great.
As a teenager, I fell in love with skiing because I liked the way it made me feel reckless and connected at the same time. I spent weekends trying to keep up with the kids I wanted to befriend or be like, high on some kind of hormonal pubescent cocktail of power and speed as I blundered down the blue ice bumps of Castle Rock, crossing my tips.
We didn’t have phones back then and that was part of the chase. You had to be in it, on your toes and ready to jump if you didn’t want to lose the crew. No one was going to wait for you, and you never knew which way the pack would head, so you had to stay close and pay attention. On the chair we sang along to Salt-N-Pepa, played “Would You Rather?” and hollered at the skiers zipper-lining bumps below us. Sometimes you could sneak a nervy slow double ride with an older boy, praying that the lift wouldn’t stop. Or maybe that it would.
I don’t necessarily want to rocket myself back to the embedded awkwardness of high school, but I often find myself wishing I could hold on to that headspace when all I had to do was pay attention.
Skiing, in so many ways, is caked in nostalgia: simpler times, nature, no agenda, the idea that the ‘80s were perennially sunny. It feels like the closer we get to phone-centered convenience, the farther we get from that ideal. I don’t want to track my elevation, I don’t want to check in, I don’t want to have to fight the urge to check work emails when I’m ostensibly getting rad. I don’t want to. But I do it compulsively. So often now, the only time that I’m not hyperconscious of my phone is when I’m in motion.
Sure, it’s nice to be able to text a friend to see where they’re having lunch. And I like having a camera in my pocket to capture a cool moment, but more and more I feel like I’m snapping pictures to prove something to an audience that isn’t there instead of shooting them so I can remember the moment, or focusing on what I’m actually doing. I like to think of myself as someone who is engaged in the world around me, who talks to people and cares and notices the details, but when I reach for my phone I can feel those details rolling away as I scroll. It’s not just skiing, it shows up everywhere. I’ll blink up from the screen on a bus ride and an hour will have vanished. Doing that during a day of skiing, even if it was just for a lift ride, feels particularly sad. Like the loss of something that used to be pure.
But if you can force yourself out of the phone zone, even if it takes some extenuating circumstances, it’s not so hard to get that headspace back. This winter, when I couldn’t whip out my phone on the lift, I talked to people or sat in awkward silence until we had something to say. There’s an icy joy in that feeling of realness. I looked around. I noticed more.
I’m always trying to figure out why I love skiing so much, because I know that it’s illogical and expensive and, honestly, a sometimes a pain. I think, at the heart of it, it’s because it’s so physical. It’s all feel: the rushing risk of being on edge too fast, or the sharpness of breathing in the mountains, at altitude. Those are things you’ll never be able to get from your phone.
Heather Hansman is a freelance writer living in Seattle. She still hasn’t upgraded her phone. Originally published in the October 2018 print edition of SKI Magazine.