When a huge winter storm hits, my Facebook friends fall into two camps. They may post identical status updates -- "We're about to get 15 inches of snow!" -- but for the first camp, it's a cry of cataclysmic horror. For them, winter storms are transportation nightmares that the Weather Channel has started naming this year, like hurricanes. Nemo is no longer a poor, lost clownfish; he's a menacing snow monster. For the second camp, that same status update will earn a dozen "likes" and an excited string of comments: "See you on the first chair tomorrow morning -- powder day!" These friends love to ski and snowboard.
A few years ago I created a group for LGBT skiers and snowboarders and called it Ski Bums. We host social events and group trips to all the world's best ski resorts, and it's given me the chance to have a Facebook news feed filled with posts by more than 3,000 winter enthusiasts who get giddy at the sight of snow. Membership is free, so we've got folks from around the globe, some who are learning the sport for the first time, others who have been skiing and riding since they were 5.
It's not that I don't understand why those in the first camp would rather hibernate than head outdoors. I live in New York City, where a thunderstorm can justify rescheduling a dinner date. Slush isn't kind to designer shoes. Outdoorsy gays can be hard to find; simply ask the locals how they'd feel about a day in the snow, and you'll hear a lot more "ewwww" than "ooooh!" As the storm called Nemo started pummeling the city, these friends planned a weekend on the couch, queuing up episodes of Downton Abbey for their favorite quotations, and queuing up at Trader Joe's for their favorite munchies.
But spend a day on a Ski Bums trip to Colorado, Utah, Austria or Argentina and you'll understand our enthusiasm. Skiing and snowboarding aren't merely sports; they combine the thrill of an exhilarating outdoor activity with the relaxation of a vacation. A day on skis can feel like flying, as you soar over hills through some of the world's most spectacular vistas. Riding a snowboard through fluffy pillows of powder is fun, the kind of pure fun that little kids seem to have more easily than we do. Remember when you simply wanted to go outside and play? You still can.
Within LGBT culture, there's something about that sort of fun that feels extra-rare. And extra-great. Although gay nightlife may offer the chance for an extended adolescence, by the time you hit your mid-30s, what passed for "fun" when you first arrived in the city just isn't quite so exciting anymore. The fresh-faced new crop of cuties will happily remind you that you're not a kid anymore. It's harder to bounce back from a weekend bender.
But skiing and snowboarding is just as enjoyable now as it was when I was 7. When you're dangling on a chair lift, ascending to an altitude above 10,000 feet, with nothing but sheer rocky cliffs underneath you, your pulse races in a way that no midnight dance club can match. As I drop in on a double black diamond run, pushing the bounds of my physical agility in some of the world's most beautiful places, there's a spine-tingling rush and a huge sense of satisfaction at the end of the day.
There's an entire mindset that you'll find among skiers and snowboarders worldwide. It's a laid-back ease. A love of simply being outdoors. A bond that's formed by exploring unfamiliar terrain. For many of us in Ski Bums, it's refreshing to find other people with that mindset who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. These aren't people who sit at home; they want to explore the world and try new things. They push their boundaries, mentally and physically. And thankfully, that mindset extends beyond my group to the rural mountain communities where we ski and ride; we're always given a warm welcome everywhere we go.
So thankfully, those winter whiners won't come to mind when my friends and I are finishing the day on a sun-drenched terrace, with mountains stretching in every direction, drinking crisp beers and soaking in a steaming hot tub. Let the haters hibernate. When we post our pictures of a gorgeous adventure in the mountains together, they just may be the first to admit, "Wow, that looks like fun!"