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The Stoke Factor: Explained

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The author, living the dream.

Stoke Factor. st?k ?fakt?r — Noun: The level of excitement on the hill. Tends to rise and fall week to week, day to day, as the snow varies with weather conditions.

There is nothing in the whole world like a ski town on a powder day. Since early December I’ve been living the vaunted ski bum lifestyle, working for Alta Ski Resort and living slopeside up in Little Cottonwood Canyon. I’m a lifty (lift operator), which basically means that in exchange for making sure you know how to sit down on a slow-moving bench I get to ski the mountain every morning before you.

Jealous much?

Needless to say it’s a pretty cushy position with plenty of perks, but fortunately the greatest perk of all is not limited to lifty employment, nor even to employment by the resort at all. In fact, anyone who visits a ski town on a powder day can cash in on the benefit of the stoke factor.

You see, close to everyone in a tiny ski town like Alta is here for the same reason; to ski powder snow. So when a bunch of people in a town want the same thing, and they all get it at the same time (during a massive overnight dump, maybe), they tend to get very excited, together.

Moments like these, when an entire community can unite in reaffirming its core values, its most fundamental purpose, are rare in my experience. Common ground can be difficult to come by, especially in as transplanted a population as the one that occupies Alta. But on days when the powder is deep and fluffy, on days when wind effect has smoothed out the bumps and filled in the ruts, on days when everything is just right, the stoke factor is high and the standard is clear:

When the powder is good, life is good.

The mantra “no friends on a powder day” doesn’t imply selfishness or even solitude; it’s a declaration of your intentions, of your accountability for your own happiness. It means that on a given day you have the opportunity to do what you love, live your dream, and savor the experience of the sensations, emotions, and activities you build your life around. You don’t need to worry about your friends because they’re all doing the exact same thing, and they’re probably stoked about it.

Politics, ethical justice, religion—none of these things govern way of life in Alta. None of these things yield the same stoke as fresh tracks and face shots, which, in the end, is what it’s all about, isn’t it? What’s more important than how excited you are to be where you are, when you are, who you are?

What’s more important than the stoke?

—Tommy Symmes is a contributing writer who’s wrapping up in Alta with plans to bike tour this summer.

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