Middle-aged Spread: Powder Skiing for Economists
By Sam Masters
I’ve devoted my life to skiing powder. I can’t back a trailer or use a chainsaw - but I can adjust a race binding with my fingernail. I’m at best an uninspiring cook and actually like sliced white bread more than artisan sourdough but that’s fine because burnt toast tastes like blini and caviar after enough face shots. At least a couple of times a month I’ll call my kids by their correct names, the world already has enough helicopter parents. My lady wife doesn’t seem to mind being a ski widow. The pool guy turns up at least three times a week; and we don’t even have a pool.
You’d think I’d have a Powder 8 trophy or something to show for it; but powder snow doesn’t quite work that way. Let me tell you what 44 years of chasing powder can do to a person. Mentally you will go to pieces waiting for something that randomly falls out the sky. The physical effects are even more profound.
I’ve got calcified bone spurs on my heels the size of plums. It’s like each foot has its own testicle. I get great heel lock in my ski boots so perhaps this is an evolutionary advantage. Maybe if I keep skiing long enough I’ll develop a transparent third eyelid and won’t need goggles anymore. My entire body has already developed a thick covering of pubic hair as an extra thermal layer. Knees? Don’t even go there, girlfriend. The whole internal structure appears on X-rays as half-eaten marshmallows and frayed dental floss. Spend enough time skiing powder and your skeleton will one day freak out an archaeologist.
And all this for what? Powder snow on ridable terrain is one of the world’s most precious commodities. Time, wind, temperature, other riders and sun all work to change this most ephemeral form of water into something more prosaic. Everything is working against you, including you; with every turn you track out the mountain and make it harder to find your next powder turn. The philosophical implications are severe: the powder skier veers between the euphoria of the moment and nihilism as soon as you stop. No wonder so many of us either listen to The Smiths or inject heroin.
Hopefully you are reading this in the back of your Bentley on the way to the helipad. You have an on-retainer mountain guide whose weather-beaten face resembles a saddlebag with eyes. The best way to ski powder is to have someone else deliver it gift-wrapped. For the rest of us powder snow has to hit the centre of the value curve. Exerting the least amount of energy and cash to ski the most powder. It’s the principles of value investing applied to the mountains.
Any economic meta-study of powder skiing in New Zealand turns up the same results: sidecountry in the Chill resorts offers the best bang for your buck. Economists aren’t normally optimists; they have predicted seven of the last three recessions, but this is one instance where they are on the money.
Photos: J Larraman, A Herbert.