One of my favorite things about skiing is the people watching.
I kid you not: after over two decades of being immersed in this sport, I still appreciate with all my heart the characters I encounter at ski resorts across the world. From the goofy outfits to the huge tricks to the kids that fly past me on the slopes, ski resorts are chock full of interesting people – and it’s helpful to know who’s who. Of course, you can’t always judge a skier by appearances, but our list will give you some hints about who you can expect to see on the slopes. Which one are you?
This is the baggy pants-wearing, backflip-throwing, earbud-sporting skier who can be found lapping the terrain park run after run after run. They get their thrills hitting the rails, boxes, jumps, and other features in the park, and may take the occasional lap in the halfpipe as well. If you want to know the ins and outs of throwing tricks, these are the ones to watch. (You may want to take a lesson as well.)
My grandmother once showed me a photo of her in the Swiss Alps from the late 1940s. There she was, dressed head-to-toe in a swanky one-piece, skis held casually over her shoulder, looking ready to embark on a day on the slopes. The truth is she was about to board the funicular to the mid-mountain lodge to sunbathe and sip martinis most the day while her partner skied (they’d meet for lunch, then après drinks later). While the modern day snow bunny is more likely to actually take a few runs, you can still expect her (or him) to be the best dressed on the slopes, with an air of lightness to boot.
The dawn patroller is not to be confused with ski patroller. The term “dawn patrol” comes from the practice of getting up before sunrise to get fresh tracks in the backcountry on a powder day, but we can use it liberally here to describe the die-hard powder hounds who show up in the tram line before most the lifties even get there. Coffee thermos and microwaved breakfast burrito in hand, these skiers and riders don’t let anything (even sleep) get in the way of first tracks on a powder day.
These are the guys and gals to watch, whether they’re slipping out of the tram line to hit the lower lifts because they got an inside tip about where the best powder is that day, or heading to the best après bar in the village. The local (because they live in a ski town) looks vibrant and healthy, knows everyone, and expertly navigates their home hill. Locals are the restaurant servers, ski instructors, bus drivers, and concierges who keep resort towns running. When they’re not at work, they’re getting in their turns, one ski break at a time.
In Pennsylvania they call them “yetis”, in Maine, “one-bucklers”, in Wyoming, “Jerrys”. These skiers are the fine folks sporting the classic blue-jeans tucked into boots, cowboy hats strapped on with goggles, or neon onesies they got from their grandmother’s closet (I have a purple one with shoulder pads myself). They’re the fierce individualists who rock their own style on the slopes, totally unconcerned with what others will think of their specialty outfits or poke-shuff technique. If you happen to drop into closing day at any ski resort in the Rockies, nearly everyone will be rocking the yeti look. Enjoy.
Because fair-weather skier doesn’t quite fit, we’ll name these the sunshine skiers. These are the ones that click into their skis only in the finest of weather: bluebird powder days, not-too-crisp January mornings, and those long-awaited spring afternoons in late March. Unapologetically leaving the cold, wet, snowy days to the die-hards, they enjoy various other mountain activities in their spare time. (Truth? This writer can definitely see herself shifting into this category someday. Sunshiney days on the slopes are just that good).
5 Year Old Phenom
These little dudes are the ones speeding down the slopes, launching off jumps twice their size, and begging their parents to keep up as they rip all over the mountain. They may need help getting onto the chairlifts, but they’re total whizz kids on skis. They may spook you when they ski in close, but rest assured they probably have way more control over their skis than most adults on the slopes. They’re also totally adorable.
Old timers are the grandfathers and grandmothers of the mountains: with a finesse that’s taken many decades to refine, they cruise down the slopes like they’ve been doing it every day since they were kids – and most of them have been. They whip past you up the boot pack, choose the best lines in the backcountry, and occasionally drop into the bar at day’s end to catch up with local friends. They’re often the best skiers on the mountain – but you’ll never hear them talking about it.