Skiing Is Better Without Performance Trackers

powder magazine
Photo: Courtesy of John Howland/POWDER Magazine

I was visiting Alta last summer, where I’d spent the previous winter living, when I decided to hike up towards Devil’s Castle. I pitched a tent high on the teetering limestone house of cards—normally hidden from me under 500 inches of dry Wasatch snow.

In the morning, I got up early to catch the sunrise emblazon the peaks in molten gold light. My serenity was abruptly halted by a party of two burning up the talus field in running vests, dragging along two-gallon water jugs. Kudos to ultra-runners, but I will never understand you.

It turns out they were doing the Wasatch Ultimate Ridge Linkup, a grueling 36-mile run linking up every ridgeline and summit surrounding Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. The linkup sounded rad, so I did a little research. What I found was a vortex of Strava spray that caused a knee-jerk reaction of horror and a bit of disgust. I didn’t know exactly why I felt such a visceral reaction to small route tweaks and gear choices and lighterpack—but I knew where I had seen it before. Skiing. Let me explain:

1. There is now a bevy of apps that track your every turn. These apps have leaderboards that stack up your vertical feet against people who likely have a lot more free time and money than you. Doesn’t Google sell enough of your data?

2. These days if I ask a stranger at the bar about their ski day, more often than not they’ll give me numbers instead of words. These numbers don’t inform me if you spent the day slashing pow or sideslipping down bump fields.

3. I have friends so obsessed with shape dimensions that they’ll ask folks in the lift line about the turn radius of their skis before they say hello.

4. The conversations I hear surrounding multi-resort passes focus on which resorts you’ve “done,” which misses the point of getting to know a new place entirely.

5. All of these issues lead to more spray, online, on the chair, and at the bar, and less time skiing—or at least enjoying it.

The blogs and forums around the world of WURL rubbed me the wrong way because they exemplify a culture of optimization, how to get the most efficient use out of your leisure time. That doesn’t feel very leisurely to me.

When I see long queues of skiers shuffling in the lift lines, looking down at their phones and Instagram feeds, checking their Strava tallies of vertical feet, I can’t help but think it doesn’t look like any fun. Which is exactly what skiing should be, particularly in bounds. It is an activity dreamt up solely for leisure. There is no objective other than fun.

But when we start optimizing every turn, it feels like the agglomeration of market forces that commodify your leisure time, juice your vacation for all its worth, and find ways to squeeze as much cash out of you as possible while you’re spending time in the mountains.

Reading forums about how to ski the most vert at any ski area or how to perfectly schedule a four-day vacation on a multi-resort pass aren’t inherently bad, they reflect a deeper illness. It’s not your fault if you want to ski 30K of vert in a day because you live in a world where Slack and email never end. But I don’t want to hear about your Strava stats in the lift line, or how your new shell/sticks/buff/lip balm makes your ski experience more optimized. Your performance tracker only quantifies your vanity.

Take a step back, find a quiet pitch in the trees, and just go skiing.

This article originally appeared on Powder.com and was republished with permission.

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