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Sailors who ski, and skiers who sail

by Daria Blackwell

Have you ever noticed how many sailors are skiers in the “off season”?  Or perhaps doing both concurrently in places like California and New Zealand?   Have you noticed how many ski instructors in Colorado are sailors from Michigan or Australia ? What is it about the two sports that calls out to the same people?  Is it a seasonal thing for us from northern climates?

Is this a sailor who skis?
One obvious connection is water.  One type just happens to be frozen.  There is wind and weather to contend with in each situation.  There is physical endurance, agility and stamina involved in both.  Both require high tech equipment although they can be done with "classic" gear.  You can think of skiing as the fine art of getting cold and wet while hurtling yourself down a mountain at great speed and at great expense.  You can think of sailing as the fine art of getting cold and wet or hot and parched while propelling yourself at miserably slow speed across a pond at great expense.  
Or is this a skier who sails?
Did you also notice that both skiing and sailing have cruisers and racers, the majority of whom are cruisers, yet the racers get most of the attention and the glory?  Most of the time, the people in these sports do not move in a straight line but rather tack and jibe over bumps and waves to reach their ultimate destination.   There are also extreme factions in both sports, like back country heliskiers and single-handed ocean racers.  I wonder if they do both?

Both sports have their pesky evil nemeses, in personal watercraft and snowmobiles, that you just want to swat down like nasty infested vermin.  But I digress.

Even the clothing is similar.  Foul weather gear, waterproof gloves and boots, hats, sunglasses/goggles.  And high tech gear abounds from Kevlar spars to chatter dampening composites, from quick release harnesses to quick release bindings.  We’ve been known to use snorkel gear in both, and have often used our ski gear for a cold weather boat delivery.  In sailing, we do still strap ourselves to our boats to avoid MOB procedures, whereas you might have to walk up the mountain if you fall off your skis. 

We’ve seen boats named Apres Ski and Sno-Go, and hailing from well know ports like Aspen,CO.  It’s surprising that people aren’t naming their skis yet. 

When conversation among sailors turns to skiing, it usually involves discussion of disasters averted – almost going off the cliff in pea soup fog at Vail, snowed in and bound by avalanche at Alta.  Likewise, when skiers get together and the conversation turns to sailing, the disasters averted are on the water – avoiding a collision with a freighter while traversing the length of Long Island Sound in pea soup fog, stuck at anchor in 45 knot winds on a lee shore.  There were, of course, the dislocated thumb from a fall on the last run and the lump on the head from the unexpected jibe.  Perhaps it’s the personal challenge against the elements that gets us hooked.

Then there are “the perfect day” memories.  The time we sailed circles around our friend’s classic boat in a 25 knot breeze because the light was perfect for photography and the wind was giving us the ride of our lives.  The time we skied the back bowls at Deer Valley in knee deep untracked powder in brilliant sunshine the day after a snowstorm and realized that none of the regular guests would have bothered.  The time we relaxed on the sun deck eating buffalo burgers in Aspen , and the time we relaxed in the sun grilling hamburgers while hove to in a light breeze off Rhode Island . 

Then there is our favorite time of day.  The après ski in the place at the base of the mountain with music blaring and drinks flowing.  The après race at the yacht club with the stories roaring and drinks flowing.  The raft up at sunset in our own cockpit with Jimmy Buffet soothing our souls and the cocktail reflecting the colors of the sunset. 

Neither sport makes much sense in today’s world: 1) Spending thousands on a boat so you can spend days getting somewhere at 7 knots when you can fly there in two hours for a couple of hundred.  2) Flying to distant places and strapping metal planks to your feet in cement boots and hurtling yourself down a mountain at breakneck speed so you can wait in line at the bottom to do it again.  When you think of it that way, it just sounds silly.  Not quite as silly as trying to hit a little white ball that you can barely see as far as you can with a skinny and very expensive stick so you get in a little car and drive to where you think it might be.   It seems that few avid sailors are also golfers as golf cuts into sailing time where seasonal factors come into play. 

Then again, you can think of them both as passions that bring you volumes of joy and plenty of great memories.  After all, it’s the joy of being out there, communing with nature, and celebrating the lives that are hurtling past us every day that makes each moment stand out rather than being lost forever.   Isn’t it? 

Here’s to wishing for snow in the winter and wind in the summer.  Here’s to the joy of skiing when we can’t be out there sailing! See you on the mountain.

This month:  Top Ten Ski Resorts for Sailors

Survey:  We are trying to gauge if the percentage of sailors who are also skiers is as high as we think.  Please take a moment to comment below if you are. 


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