On Ski Lifts and the Human Condition

Invariably, it goes like this: lift, ski, repeat. Lift, ski, repeat. Lift, ski, repeat.

The most variable part of the formula -- the part most liable to be different each and every time -- is the lift.

When I was 15 and my dad finally let me go on the singles line by myself, I used to revel in the freedom the ski lift gave me. I pretended to be a college student on break, or an international here just for the week (I guess my British accent is convincing). It was the same sense I get when I'm traveling in an airport alone -- I could be whoever I wanted to be on the ski lift. The conversations were ephemeral and the story could change each time I went up. The ski lift provided the arena for the stories that were more interesting than those in the life of a 15-year-old on a ski trip with her dad. Each ride up brought a little bit of adrenaline of who I would be and whom I would tell. Each ski lift conversation, I think, was a tangential revelation of the progression of my ego.

Now that I actually am a college student, I tell my fellow ski lift riders real things about myself, because I guess they're finally interesting enough that figurative conjectures are unnecessary. I no longer have to pretend that I'm a sophomore studying blank, because I can talk about the fact that I really am a sophomore studying blank and that my future career interests lie in x field and that I have an educated opinion about current real-world events. I'm now of an age that each ski lift conversation is a brief revelation of my real self, a 15-minute snippet of a life story for that person I'll probably never see again to take along and remember, or not. The point is, the ski lift gives me the chance to tell someone who I am and for me to hear about who they are, if they're willing to share. This concept would be terrifying in nearly any other context; and so, the ski lift provides the outlet for conversations with a stranger that on a park bench would be awkward and cringe-worthy. The ski lift is the arena for the creation of the 15-minute friend I'll probably never see again.

Some ski lift rides are more memorable than others. There was the 45-year-old guy who took the slow double chair up with me once and told me about how he was bringing his seven-year-old daughter to that particular mountain for the first time, that they were staying the week in one of the ski resort chalets, that he used to ski Hunter with his dad when he was a kid, that he lived in Philadelphia and his wife was pursuing a doctorate at the university where I study. I told him I was once that seven-year-old girl, that that mountain was once my learning mountain, that I skied Hunter with my dad all the time. I didn't catch his name, and all I remember about his appearance was a Russian pelt hat and a gray beard, but what I remember about that ski lift ride is that I made a connection -- however small, for however little time -- with someone about things that coincided in our lives in a weird, peripheral and unexpected way. The ski lift gave me 15 minutes of evanescent connection with a random stranger.

The most interesting rides, though, are the ones that I end up taking by myself. The 15 minutes of conversation are filled instead by 15 minutes of my own thoughts mulling around my brain against the whirring white noise of the ski lift cable running over its grooves at each post. Sometimes I think about what I'll eat for dinner, or what I'll be doing that weekend, or where I put the driving directions to get back home. Sometimes I think about whether or not my Luna bar is melting in my pocket or about how much I wish I had remembered my chapstick. Other times I look down and think about the mushy grass underneath all that artificial snow, and then I think about global climate change, and then I think about what my current events email told me was happening in the world that day. Sometimes I think about what I really want to do with my life -- if the things I say on the ski lift to other people are actually true or if they're still reflections of what I think I want. The ski lift is my 15 minutes of introspection and extrospection -- my observations and mental comments about myself, my life, the people I know, the world we live in. The ski lift is my 15 minutes of silent therapy, with just the whirring sound of the cable of my solitary car to be the receptionist of my thoughts.

I'm sure there are people who spend their 15 minutes with a stranger in utter silence. I'm sure, too, that there are people who use 15 minutes of solitude as a reprieve from conversation or rumination on literally anything else. Those 15 minutes of aloneness, accompanied only by the whirring sound of the ski lift cable running over its grooves at each post, are the sanctuary of silence that life does not freely afford.

Shit, you had to pay money to get on the damn ski lift and hear the whir at all.