The education you get in college is of the utmost importance. But of course, you can’t learn everything in a college classroom. In fact, some of life’s greatest lessons are not things you learn in class, but things you learn on the mountain. Skiing is one of life’s greatest teachers (and the classroom isn’t half bad). From novice to veteran, the mountain can teach you new lessons everyday:
School is—even at its best—an exercise in following a predefined, narrow path. You take the classes you need to graduate, and straying too far from that path can spell disaster. Skiing teaches you the opposite. It’s fine to take the easiest way down, follow the groomers, and not stray far from the center of the path. But taking the creative route can be a lot of fun. Dip into the trees, ski the bowls, chase not only the path less traveled, but the path not traveled at all. Learn to be the first one there.
Maybe the most often repeated advice heard when entering college is to not, under any circumstances, take 8 a.m. classes. Many try, and many—including myself—fail miserably to avoid early morning courses. They provide nothing but terrible, terrible suffering. School teaches you that it’s really not worth waking up early. But on the mountain, even for a night owl like myself, there is maybe no wider-preached lesson than to wake up and hit the slopes early. Although it’s enticing to sleep in and arrive at the mountain fully rested, it’s far more worth it to wake up early and enjoy the splendor of unspoiled snow. In addition, staying out until the last chair, when the mountain is quiet and the snow is soft, is one of the best ways to experience the slopes.
The classroom tends to be an authoritarian system where the professor speaks and the students listen. Skiing teaches the opposite lesson. Go against the grain, challenge everything before you. Skiing and snowboarding are constantly evolving sports that have both elements of innovation but also resistance. We would not have some of the wonderful parts of skiing, like terrain parks, or twin-tip skis, or snowboarding in its entirety, if it wasn’t for men and women who said “no” to the status quo and forged their own path.
In my experience as a student, classes continually attempt to implement more and more technology. In fact, it would be almost impossible to go through college without a computer nowadays, and school teaches us to stay constantly connected to emails, online assignments and social media to advance ourselves academically and professionally. Skiing gives us the opportunity to unplug. Like many skiers, I enjoy listening to music while I ski, and taking pictures and videos of the day. But beyond that, it can be hard to use technology on the slopes, between the clumsy gloves, freezing temperatures that zap phone batteries, and messes of pockets and layers. Skiing has taught me that disconnecting is good and that I don’t need technology to have a good time.
As much as I wish there was a class in organizing the space in the back of a 2014 Ford Focus to fit you, three of your friends and a slightly absurd amount of gear (including multiple boards for each person), alas there is not. In fact, a day trip up to the slopes, or an even more educating weekend trip to the slopes, is probably one of the best lessons in spatial organization in the entire world.
I’m sure that somewhere in the wide world of secondary education there’s a university with a science class dedicated to the different ways snow can form and land on our earth but, for most, this isn’t a common lesson in school. However, ask a skier about different kinds of snow and you’ll get an answer back that is at the same time surprisingly scientific as it is full of insane lingo. Corn, pow, crud, crust, corduroy, slush, mashed-potatoes and more. A couple days on the slopes can supply you with an intensive knowledge of how different types of snow feel, and what ridiculous name they’re called.
Classes tend to involve far less socialization than college brochures and movies tend to make you believe. In fact, it’s pretty easy, especially in large lecture hall classes, to show up to class and not speak a single word. Luckily, the chairlift offers even the most socially anxious or introverted among us the perfect opportunity to socialize. Chairlift conversations are transient, anonymous conversations. While you could meet the future love of your life, or a skiing buddy for the day, it’s more likely you’ll make nice small talk and then both disappear from each others lives.
Skiing is old, like real old, 6000 BCE old. Because of that, taking part in skiing is taking part in an ancient human activity. Of course, skiing has been transformed incredibly in its long history, and the hunters of prehistoric Scandinavia have little in common with the modern day skiers of Colorado. Skiing is a first-hand experience in history, one as fascinating as any lecture or textbook chapter you might find in a class. And it’s easy to appreciate history when you’re having the time of your life.
Justin Cygan is a fourth-year student at the University of Denver, where he studies International Relations and Journalism. Born and raised in Colorado, he learned to ski and snowboard at his home mountain of Loveland, where he still regularly rides today. When not chasing pow he can be found skateboarding, writing, reading, cooking and taking pictures in Denver and throughout the state. Justin is the proud father of a year-old aloe plant. Read more of Justin’s stories .