14 Things You Didn’t Know About Ski Culture

Written by Alexa Owen • Nov 24, 2015

When you go on a ski vacation, you have the opportunity to glimpse into a culture of stunning natural surroundings, action sports, unique activities, and really good food and beer. You’ll dip into the industry that took outdoor winter pursuits to new heights, and continues to expand and evolve with ideas about how we can have the most fun skiing and riding all over the world. And while some aspects of this culture are quite clear (like the value of stretch pants and the film Hot Dog), others aren’t so obvious. Here’s an informative look at some ski culture secrets:

1. West Is Not Always Best

Yes, skiers who grow up in the West know how to huck huge cliffs and float through waist-deep pow – they grow up on the goods, so it’s no wonder they make it look so easy. But it’s the East coast warriors that can carve through crud on a 49 degree slope with freezing rain blasting them in the face. Fantastic skiers and riders come out of New England because there is so little forgiveness in the conditions and little room for poor technique. So cheers to the East Coasters, and to the powderhounds of the West who teach us to relax, hang back, and flow.

2. Even The Suits Like To Ski

Excluding some of the super big guns of the corporate resorts, pretty much everyone who has climbed the professional ladder in the ski industry started as a dude or chick that just loved to ski. They’re the ones who moved to ski towns thirty years ago for a winter and never turned back, and continue to evolve the industry while maintaining some sort of cultural authenticity. They’re not logging 100+ days per season anymore, but you can bet whenever they get the chance, they’re hopping on snow.

3. The Dream Is A Grind

It’s true, friends. The dream is a freakin’ grind. To be able to live in a place where you can wake up and go skiing every single day requires a love affair with the lifestyle that can’t be dampened by pulling 5 nights a week in a restaurant or working doubles 20 days in a row over Christmas vacation. We live by the theme of work to live, don’t live to work, but it definitely takes work to “live the life”. As for a break from it all? That’s what off seasons and surf trips to Central America are for.

4. Sustainability Matters

The “go green” approach sweeping through the ski industry is not just a marketing tactic. Whatever you’re view on climate change, resorts across the world are recognizing that winters are getting both shorter and warmer, and they are doing their best to make conscious choices about how to do less harm while spreading the skiing stoke. Will we eventually be heading to Afghanistan and Northern India to get the good snow? Perhaps. But for now, the industry is interested in doing as little harm as possible to save winter.

5. When You’re In, You’re In

Skiing is not just a perfect sport for families, but a perfect sport to dip into if you want to be part of an even bigger family: one with quirks, inside jokes, theme parties, adventures, and its very own lingo. Like in most families, skiers help each other out, whether that means spotting cash for an après beer, offering a couch to crash on, or connecting with the right people when changing careers for the umpteenth time.

6. There’s A New Kind Of Ski Bum

While the PBR-guzzling, tram-lapping, mid-twenties dirt-bag ski bum is well and thriving, a new species has come to be in ski towns over the past decade, and that is the totally successful, classy, professional ski bum. By definition, a ski bum is someone who crafts their lifestyle to be able to ski as much as they can, and through full-time ski industry jobs at resorts, marketing companies, high-end hotels and gear companies, this ski bum is a hybrid of old and new, East Coast and West Coast, hippie and yuppie – all while maintaining the healthy outlook of someone who is in this world to simply play in the mountains.

7. The Rivalries Are Real

In America, we mostly see it in football and baseball and major food and tech industries, but the rivalries in the ski industry can get playfully heated too – especially when it comes to a resort “selling out” to a major corporation. Debates regarding who has more soul, better terrain, and cooler après scenes are endless. Basically every major ski magazine hosts platforms for these debates in endless lists and contests, and it’s not unlikely to see bumper stickers and T-shirts poking fun.

8. We Make Our Own Gear

Like mircobreweries and health food products, grass roots ski gear and clothing companies started because a) someone thought it would be really cool and b) they weren’t satisfied with the options out there in giant, generic businesses. So custom skis, bamboo poles, hipster flannels and neon headbands started popping up in ski towns, catering to customers who wanted to use great gear, support their friends, and have a say in what they wear.

9. You Can Pay For Perks

In some places it’s an early tram to guarantee first tracks on a powder day. In others, a golden ticket that lets you cut the 45-minute lift line every time. When skiers don’t have the professional or personal connections to enjoy the perks, they have the option of dishing out the money for them. Hey, if you’ve got the goods, why not?

10. We’ve Got Stoke

When you land in a ski town and suddenly everything seems light and happy and the patrollers and ambassadors and ski instructors and mountain directors are all so thrilled that you’re there and tell you a hundred helpful hints about what to do and where to go and what runs to ski on which days and everything is just so…perfect, they’re not faking it. The ski industry is generously flavored with the spice of life, and the people in it are usually ready to share.

11. Ski Schoolers Are Socialites

Not only are they magicians at teaching the most uncoordinated of adults and the unhappiest of kids how to strap their feet to wooden boards and cruise down a snowy hill: ski schoolers are the full-time socialites of ski town in-crowds. They know how to crash a party, become the party, and shut down the party while maintaining impeccable style and professionalism…most of the time.

12. They’re Called Gear Geeks

You’ll know them when you hear them: talking about their designer boot liners, GoPro props, and next year’s lightweight powder boards that just came out to demo. They don’t mean any harm; they just simply love their gear. These folks are constantly pushing this aspect of the industry to the next level, and some of them are quite literally designing the future of skiing.

13. Skinning Is In

Previously reserved as a pastime for hardcore backcountry skiers seeking the best powder in the most remote terrain, skinning (ski touring, backcountry touring) is now the go-to way to get in a great workout, explore, and truly earn your turns. Most New England resorts now have official “uphill travel” policies that lay down the law for skinning on their slopes. (FYI, it’s much faster than hiking up a mountain, and usually free).

14. A Beer Will Get You Far

Regulars of the ski industry are big on bartering, and the main currency of the exchange seems to be beer for services. A case of beer can get you a good ski tune, free demo, ride up the gondola, or an après soak in a roof-top hot tub. There’s always a way to live well in the life that is everyone else’s vacation, and a gesture of a brew and sincere respect gets you far.

Feel like getting to know the culture a little better? Check out all the best deals to get you started on your most awesome ski vacation yet.