My toenail should fall off any day now. The big one on my right foot. It’s black and pearly white and I know I’m going to lose it because the same thing happens every ski season. It’s because my ski boots are too tight and too loose at the same time, so when I hit a jump and don’t land just right, my big toe bashes into the front of my boot. And this happens over and over all winter until the toenail is beaten into submission and falls off.
Losing a toenail is just one reason why skiing sucks. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sport. It’s one of my favorite pastimes, right up there with skinny dipping and eating food. But it’s the worst. Just a miserable experience. First you have the injuries. Annoying ones like the toenail thing, but then weird ones like how I almost sliced my ear off during a crash (somehow my head landed on the edge of my ski), and the serious ones, like when my buddy dislocated both shoulders and got a concussion while trying to hit a tabletop (his landing didn’t go as planned).
The injuries are dramatic, but they’re not the worst part of skiing. The worst part of skiing is the preparation. The logistics. Getting ready to ski is the DMV line of adventure sports, especially when there are kids involved. Holy shit, getting kids ready to ski is more difficult than child birth.
Have you ever tried to get a family of four out the door for a day on the local ski hill? There is nothing in this world harder. Summiting Everest without oxygen is a walk in the park compared with trying to get two kids to put their damn socks on at 7am as you’re rushing to try to get first chair. Do you know how many times I have to yell at my kids to put their socks on in this situation? On average, seven times. Seven. The socks alone is a 30-minute process and that’s just one layer they have to wear. There are 36 other layers we have to deal with.
And don’t get me started on the ski boots. Putting my kids’ feet in their boots in the parking lot of the resort is easily the most challenging aspect of an already difficult process. Children are too pure-of-heart to understand that ski boots aren’t supposed to fit and that if they’re comfortable, they won’t work right. So, there’s resistance and crying until the child finally just goes limp, resigned to suffer but unwilling to aid in that suffering. I imagine putting ski boots on small children is what really terrible people have to do over and over in hell—a punishment reserved for the worst of us, murderers and van lifers who stage fake Instagram photos.
Once the boots are on, we can begin the death march to the lift line. Of course, we had to park at the last parking space in the lot, the one farthest from the resort, because it took so long for my kids to get their damn socks on. Still, I consider myself lucky because I didn’t have to park in the auxiliary lot—the one down the street that requires taking a shuttle to the resort. Adding the shuttle to the mix takes the whole process over the edge. If I roll up to the ski slope and it’s an auxiliary lot/shuttle situation, I just turn around and go home. It’s not worth it. We’ll spend the day watching cartoons in our ski socks.
But we score a spot, so the death march entails my kids clogging through the icy lot, falling often because walking in ski boots is actually more technically difficult than skiing the hardest black diamond. Meanwhile they carry their skis and poles cradled in their arms, like haphazardly gathered firewood, dropping a pole every three feet. I don’t know why they can’t carry the skis on their shoulder. I’ve showed them how to do it. I even put the skis on their shoulders and we start walking, but when I turn around, they’re holding the gear in their arms. “Because it’s easier, dad.” Then they drop a pole, lose grasp of the rest of their gear when they bend over to pick up the first pole, and we have to start the process all over again. This dance happens seven times between the car and the lift line, and it has me fantasizing about taking up a sport that requires less logistics, something like pickleball where you just show up to a tennis court with a tiny racquet and play. I don’t think you even need to wear socks to play pickleball. That would significantly reduce the yelling.
And yet, as soon as we hit the snow and the lift takes us to the top of the mountain, I forget all about how difficult it was to get there. Even though every two hours of skiing requires roughly six hours of logistical hell, it’s totally worth it. That’s what’s so amazing about skiing: It sucks, but I still love it. The overpriced lodge food, the death march, the kids complaining, the expensive lift tickets, black toes and frozen fingers…it’s worth it for a handful of perfect runs down a snow-covered slope.
And listen, the mountains we ski here aren’t as grandiose as the mountains out West, but can we all take a moment to appreciate the miracle that is skiing in the South? The fact that these resorts can keep snow on their slopes while operating in what is essentially a temperate rain forest that is trending warmer year by year is nothing short of black magic. Every ski resort employee deserves a golf clap for making it happen winter after winter. The least we can do is show up and introduce the next generation to the delicate balance of misery and joy that is skiing. Personally, I’m grateful for the opportunity to suffer through this hell all winter long. Consider me #blessed.
As I write this, there are two snowflakes on my phone’s weather app at the end of the week, which means we might have the best conditions of the season ahead. I’m psyched beyond belief at the prospect of fresh powder, and I can’t wait to lose a toenail and yell at my kids to put on their damn socks.
Cover photo: Former staff editor Graham Averill is back to share thoughts on adventure (and misadventures) in his new column, the Out and Back.