Skiing is more than a sport. It's an entire social phenomenon, with a code and unwritten rules, and if you want people to talk to you on chairlifts and not laugh at your skiing antics, you'd best learn these customs.
The days of hopping on a chairlift with strangers and saying, "So, where ya from?" and then playing "do-you-know" are long gone. Join a romantic couple on a triple chairlift, for example, and it is proper to spend the ride looking off in the distance, studying the trail, rather than bragging how many runs you've already taken.
When riding a gondola, it's polite to share candies and snacks, but not that ugly liverwurst or broccoli-with-sprouts sandwich you made for lunch. Using cellphones or handheld radios on a lift marks you as an incredible bore. "Hey I'm just passing tower 17, where are ya?" And incidentally, when exiting the gondola, it's proper etiquette to take your own skis and not the newest ones from the holder.
Ski talk has been an art form from the beginning. Ask me about my skis and I tell you how much I love them, adding, "And I hand-tune them every night." Everyone loves their skis, but with a tuning that lasts the whole season costing little over $100, only a nut or a serious racer would hand-tune.
If anyone mentions how good the skiing is, I usually laugh derisively and say, "Oh you should have been here yesterday [or last week]" -- but only after determining that they were not.
A couple more no-no's:
No one is impressed by a stack of tickets fastened to your jacket. It just marks you as a beginner.
Do not frantically bring down the safety bar the instant you get on a lift. It tends to bang other skiers' heads and is the main reason I wear a helmet.
There is no need to clutch an armrest or chair seat to keep from falling off. Only really drunken people fall off. One exception is at Western ski areas that don't have safety bars. At these places, anyone clutching the ski lift is an Easterner.
Wine skins over your shoulder went out in the 1960s, and knocking your skis together on a chairlift only ruins the edges.
To determine the capability of a skier, do not be impressed by their skis or snazzy outfit. Sneak a peek at the DIN setting of their bindings. No one really knows what DIN stands for, but this number, on your binding, tells how much force will release your binding in a fall. The higher the number the larger the force. Get to a number around 20, which idiot racers like my sons use, and you have to fall going at least 60 miles per hour, crash into an oak tree, and probably rip your hip out before the binding will release. My kids tell me this is a really cool setting.
The key to keeping warm when you ski is to dress in layers. The disadvantage is that it generates incredible amounts of laundry and makes going to the bathroom devastatingly difficult. When guys are wearing several layers of long johns and one pair accidentally gets put on backwards -- well, you can imagine. And the exasperation of women trying to peel off layers of clothes in a cramped, damp toilet stall while wearing a one-piece suit is a part of skiing men don't want to know about.
Skiers top off their layers with a jacket having a gazillion pockets with zippers. The more zippers, the better the jacket. The more zippers, the more people you'll impress on the lifts (at least those who don't know about the DIN thing). There are zippers in the back and under the arms and zippers for goggles and tissues and passes and money and keys -- and speaking of keys, hundreds of locksmiths in ski country make their entire living opening locked car doors for skiers who merely misplaced their keys in one of these zippered pockets. I've been caught several times and now tape a key under my car bumper.
There is, of course, a formal skiers courtesy code. This code suggests that skiers should do things like look uphill before skiing out on a trail, should not stop in the middle of trails where they can't be seen by those skiing down, and should pick up people they hit or at least say they're sorry. This code is printed on millions of napkins at the lodges and posted all over the ski area. As far as I can tell, no one has ever read a word.
Herb Kavet is a freelance writer in Wayland.