Up here in the snowy mountains, we have our own language. When we say the conditions are “wicked,” we mean they’re terrific. When we say we are skiing through “frozen granular,’’ we mean we are skidding across complete ice. When we sing the praises of “spring skiing,” we really mean the snow is mush, we’re off the slopes by 11:30, and we hang around the resort only because we want to see some hopeless dunce fly into a pond of water during a “Bash and Splash” event or witness a kayak race down what remains of the snow.
But now we lexicographers of the slopes face our most formidable challenge: Making the all-important distinction between someone who identifies as a “skier” and another who “goes skiing.”
We are up to this task. We are, after all, the people who live with winter nuance: We know the difference, for example, between skis that are described as alpine and alpine touring, between telemark for alpine and telemark for backcountry. For those of us with a downhill inclination, we know the difference between the bindings manufactured by Salomon, Marker and Look. For the cross-country skiers among us, we know the meaning of these sets of letters: NNN, NN, NIS, SNS and NTN. Breathes there one of us who cannot make the distinction between skis that are cruisers, racing, freestyle, big-mountain and all-mountain? Some of us even can explain to our significant others the difference between slalom and giant slalom, and maybe even know what a super giant slalom and a combined is.
Now to the super-giant challenge, the “skier” and the person who “goes skiing.”
A skier is someone who plans no event, even a wedding, for anytime between the second week of November through the early weeks of spring. Someone who goes skiing has a calendar full of college football weekends and Super Bowl parties and heads to the slopes when a friend offers a slopeside condo that is free only because the owner is in traction in the hospital and cannot use the place himself.
A skier is someone who plans to ski the day after Thanksgiving, even if only one slope is open — and that one is open only halfway. Someone who goes skiing is at Marshall’s at 7 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving and would be at Jordan Marsh if it still were in business.
A skier is someone who is on the slopes at 8:30 a.m., knows the meaning of the term first tracks and feels that the conditions have deteriorated by 10:15. Someone who goes skiing arrives at the mountain at 10:15.
A skier is someone who packs his own lunch and eats it on the chairlift at 12:15 p.m., because the people who go skiing are packed into the lodge eating overpriced and under-seasoned food at 12:15 p.m.
A skier is someone who knows that the best skiing is on the east-facing slopes in the early morning of frosty ski days and follows the sun across the mountain. Someone who goes skiing has an uncanny ability to find the crusted-over runs on the west-facing trails first and then proceeds to the east-facing slopes when they are pockmarked by ruts if not totally impassible.
A skier is someone who knows the danger inherent in a high-speed chair lift that can carry six people and is consumed with worries that it is shuttling too many people to the slopes at once, clogging the best runs. Someone who goes skiing believes that high-speed lifts for six are great because they shuttle so many people to the slopes at once and lets them experience the best runs.
A skier is someone who never pays full price for a lift ticket. Someone who goes skiing is in line for a ski pass at noon and is too dumb to, A, be there early for the best skiing, or, B, wait a half-hour and buy the afternoon pass at a lower rate.
A skier is someone who has never bought an afternoon pass. Someone who goes skiing thinks an afternoon pass is a grand idea, in large measure because of A, above.
A skier is someone who possesses the rudimentary equipment, such as skis. Someone who goes skiing rents equipment, usually the wrong size.
A skier is someone who tells a friend who merely goes skiing to rent skis at home before going north, the better to avoid lines and miss the best snow. Someone who goes skiing is in an interminable rental line for at least 45 minutes. Moreover, someone who is a skier seethes with impatience while his someone-who-goes-skiing friend makes him relinquish first tracks because of the line for rental skis.
A skier is someone who knows that a boyfriend or girlfriend who has never skied before belongs in a lesson, giving the skier at least two hours of decent skiing before wasting the rest of the day on the bunny slope watching the (former) romantic interest inch down a slope with a vertical drop of about 25 feet. A person who merely goes skiing thinks it is a grand idea to teach a significant other how to do a snowplow.
A skier is someone who knows there is a lost-and-found bucket full of gloves available to be borrowed if necessary. Someone who goes skiing and loses a glove pays an extortionate price for a new pair of gloves at the slopeside ski shop.
A skier is someone who resents the month of May (substitute April, or even late March in some parts of New England). That is when the ski season ends, even for the nutcases, for one of two simple reasons: There is no more snow. Or there is a little bit of snow remaining but the resort operators have shut down the lifts and told their seasonal employees to go back home. Someone who goes skiing has been playing golf for weeks.
A skier is someone who spends the summer months as a melancholiac, occasionally wandering solemnly through a favorite ski shop and cursing the bicycles and porch furniture that sit where, in winter, the poles and skis are on display. Someone who goes skiing has been playing golf for months.
On occasion people who go skiing become skiers. But usually they become really good at golf. ′
David M. Shribman, executive editor emeritus of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, did not win his Pulitzer Prize for ski writing. He has skied in 14 states, three Canadian provinces and five countries — and, frequently, after classes at Dartmouth College