As I was boarding my flight in San Francisco’s international terminal, I already felt like a stranger in a foreign land. My long blonde hair and tall frame stood out in the sea of humans. I wasn’t the only unique one though. Around me were a variety of faces searching for their seats, all speaking different languages.
Then, over the cacophony, I heard an excited voice say, “Hey, sweet Surefoot boots!” I finished positioning my ski boots in the overhead bin and turned around to a smiling face. I double-checked my boarding pass and sure enough, 39E was right next to this woman—and she must be a skier.
The plane took off and we were two strangers on our way to Tokyo. My end destination was Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island. She was en route to Myanmar. All we had was time, and we already knew that we had skiing in common. We both grew up in Colorado and chatted about that; we talked about her husband’s obsessive weekend trips to Tahoe; we talked about their recent discussion of moving to the mountains; we talked about how skiing had shaped our lives.
The experience got me thinking about how incredible of a connection the sport of skiing offers its network of enthusiasts. Skiers share an unspoken bond, the result of a passion that we all enjoy. Travel to any corner of the world, and if you’re lucky enough to meet a fellow skier, it’s like running into an old friend. The conversation feels natural and relaxed. You can share beta and stories from your respective home mountains. Oh, and there you go, you have a mutual friend. You’ll remember a tale from your deepest day at Alta last winter, and that reminds them of the greatest lap they ever had through Four Pines in Jackson 15 years ago. The connection is complete, whole, and natural, no matter how long the conversation lasts.
For me, the skier connection is one of the greatest parts of this sport. The people I have met along the way, whether they be on the other side of the planet or on the chairlift at Alta, make this sport and lifestyle what it is.
The skier connection is unique. Really though, what other communities have a similar connection? Climbers, perhaps. Surfers, maybe. I’m not experienced enough in any other sport, activity, or passion to know if such a connection exists elsewhere. But I sure am thankful it exists in skiing.
When our flight landed in Tokyo, I said goodbye to my new friend Emily. We wished each other the best in our respective travels and disappeared into another world, full of strangers. A week later I was sat down on a barstool. To the right, one of the bartenders kept looking over to me and my friends. He smiled. He came over shortly thereafter and in broken English said, “Are you skiers?” I knew when we sat down that he had the smile of a skier. And that was all the connection we needed.