Feb 13, 2011

The Price of Skiing

Can I afford skiing? Can the world afford skiing?

Nine years into this family thing and we finally had our first ski vacation. A beautiful 3-day gala with 4 other beautiful families at a beautiful cabin on 5 metres (that's 195 inches!) of snow at the beautiful Mt Washington. Before I analyze it to death, let me be clear that we loved it. We had delicious family time, the kids enjoyed a sense of mastery with snow and gravity, I worked muscle memory from 14 years ago, and we bonded with old and new friends like only a ski chalet can allow.

BUT... it warn't cheap. Rentals, lift tickets and kids lessons cost over $300, for one day. Add in a 250 mile drive, 2-night cabin rental and a lot more store-bought food than normal and voila!, we've spent our entire profit from last year's garlic field. A couple hundred hours of hoeing, weeding, harvesting, processing and selling time translated into 6 hours of skiing.

Yes it would be cheaper with our own equipment and season pass, but when it comes to selecting what pastimes we're going to indulge in, why choose one that would require me to cultivate another couple acres of garlic, or work that many more days away from my family? My definition of simplicity isn't to never spend money, but it is a call to consider the life energy that money represents. Two hundred hours of garlic farming, or 30-hours of working a paid job, exchanged for 6 hours of family fun is not for me the best bang for my labour.

In addition to weighing the life energy input, I of course need to analyze the global impact of my choices. Environmentally, skiing ain't friendly - carbon footprint (mostly from the drive to get there and snow-making machines), soil erosion, watershed damage, construction, roads... And the money that just our five families spent for just one weekend could have paid for the entire 4-year college education of about 6 ACCES Kenyan students. I was riding that chair lift high above the natural world I was harming and out of sight of the majority of global citizens who pay the real price for my little bit of fun.

Wow, that was dramatic! Doesn't really make me sound like someone you want to sit with on the chairlift or even share an ice cream with. Ask my friends and family - I was having a blast out there, not carrying this all around like an albatross. We make our decisions then accept them, and I decided beforehand that this was going to be OK, and it was. I don't regret our ski vacation, don't apologize for it, and don't even swear it won't happen again. But I do want to think about what it was I was truly enjoying out there, and if there are ways of re-creating that experience with a lower impact.

The most fun aspects of the adventure were being together as a family, being together with the other families, and a fun outdoor activity. Sounds an awful lot like camping, or snowshoeing up to an alpine cabin, or a sleepover birthday bonfire party. There are many ways to create the fun, social and physical Joy we're seeking. As much fun as I had on that snowboard, the day hike and picnic with another family the week before was equally (and differently) satisfying and rich.

But what about the incredible rush of skiing? That rush that I was addicted to as a youth - going almost every weekend, subscribing to Ski magazine, dreaming of Vail and Swiss ski resorts? There is an undeniable thrill to the sport that a hike or group curling night can't match. How do I balance the true passion I once held for the sport with these other considerations of environment, social justice and life energy that now also guide my life?

My own answer - for myself (probably not even for my children, certainly not for anyone else) - is that I have the power to choose my thrills. And I choose pursuits that bring Joy and excitement and social bonding at a minimum cost to my life energy and global impact. Skiing, for me, is no longer important enough to me to justify the cost. Or perhaps more accurately, I am choosing not to value skiing that highly.

We deserve fun. We owe it to ourselves and our families to create daily Joy and memorable special outings. It's absolutely OK to spend some money on ourselves instead of sending it all to Africa. But it is never OK to use those resources without considering the greater impact we are having; to justify harm by simply saying "we deserve it." It's when we make our life choices in full honesty and consideration of all factors that we are living a life of integrity, and out of that integrity flows true Joy and meaning.

Can I and the world afford skiing? I guess there's no single answer to that question, just a call to be true to our values. Usually for me that will mean choosing to say no to skiing and scuba diving and Nascar races (oh darn!). And sometimes, like the ski weekend our family fully enjoyed, it will mean saying Yes to something surprising.


  1. My husband actually gave away his snowboard for exactly those reasons. It was fun, yes, but it felt a bit extravagant.

    On the flip side, I have many many friends who enjoy backcountry skiing and I think this has far less impact than skiing at one of the hills - you hike in/skin up and ski out. Not as family friendly with young ones, takes more knowledge (avalanches etc.) and still expensive gear but could be a good middle ground....

  2. You're guilting me out here but I have to say we take a family ski trip every year and this tradition has built some of the most precious memories we have ! Fun and adventure bonds a family and skiing is one of the few physical activities we can all do together. We cut costs by getting 2 for 1 ski tickets , trading for kids used equipment etc. There is camping and cycling for summer, but not much to do as a family for winter. So glad you had fun. So you should.

  3. @ Bluebird - yes, i've been wanting to try cross country for a long time. Doesn't do much for the driving impact, but good in many other ways, and I suspect even more enjoyable, since what I'm really loving is just being out in the snowy outdoors with my family.

    @ Shelley - this was a really hard post to write, especially knowing that a number of dear friends are off skiing this week. No intention to guilt-trip, and if it's any consolation i'll likely go again next year if the multi-family thing becomes a tradition. Just trying to explore within myself how my actions align with my values. If we can find ways to still create those family traditions and precious memories in ways that have less impact, then all the better, but the value of family and memories is one we definitely share.

  4. Love it!!!! Thanks for the inspiration. :-)