Journalist • Photographer

Bobby Magill is a journalist and photographer based in Port Jervis, NY and Alexandria, Va.

Winter toys and gear: A lament

I was standing in line today at the Fort Collins REI store waiting for someone to help me and three others rent snowshoes. One woman ahead of me rented four pairs, another rented two pairs, and confusion ensued when someone wanting to rent more gear asked a ski technician for help. I stood in line about 10 minutes before someone helped me. And then I realized, why am I wasting $16 each time I rent snow shoes when I can get my money's worth out of actually buying a pair? Meanwhile, a line 30 people deep piled up at the front registers — a line I'd have to get into to drop the cash to rent my snowshoes. I went through this ritual last weekend, and it's a pain in the ass.

For someone living in Colorado to admit this is to commit sacrilege and heresy simultaneously, but let the truth be known: I'm no fanatic of winter sports, especially skiing and snowboarding. I suffer cold weather with mild annoyance, but I suffer gear rental lines and the annual ritual of forking over hundreds of dollars for a ski pass much less gladly. (Not to mention ski traffic on I-70, overpriced concessions, the whole miserable skiing ritual and the truly inexcusable ski-related carbon emissions. Fuck 'em all!)

Yes, I know, my slopes-obsesssed friends stand ready to castigate me here, but I don't care (see above).

Really, it's the expense of the whole thing. I can buy summer backpacking and hiking gear for under $500 (or so) and it lasts me more than a decade (I bought my current backpack in 1997). Entering a wilderness area costs nothing beyond the gasoline used to get there and the food you'll eat while you're in the woods. A federal public lands pass (good, mainly, for national parks) costs $80 a year, and it's good for hundreds of national parks, monuments, forests, recreation areas and historic sites nationwide. Camping can be done for free, or, if you're insistent on a flush toilet, you might have to fork over $10 or $15 for a flat place to pitch your tent.

A ski pass on a good year, on the other hand, costs in excess (sometimes far in excess) of $400 for a resort or three. Once you drop hundreds of dollars on ski gear, if you're coming from Fort Collins, chances are you'll end up wanting to spend the night in or near the resort. And if you don't have friends nearby, prepare to spend three digits per night.... or drive home. If you don't have gear, you'll rent, which is a tremendous and, over time, expensive hassle. And if you don't know how to ski, well, you can always spend hundreds of bucks on ski lessons.

And if you attempt to learn to ski from a friend, you may not be keeping that friend for long. It's best to be taught by a dispassionate observer.

Hiking and backpacking, on the other hand, requires putting one foot in front of the other and a healthy dose of outdoors sense, much of which is free of charge.

That brings me to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. No lift tickets. For me, no tremendous distances. And it's hard not to justify a $150 pair of snowshoes. Especially when renting is the same headache as renting skis.

So, right now, I'm going to head over to Craigslist to search for some used snowshoes. Cheap. A decade old. I don't care, as long as they get me down the trail.

And this year, you won't see me on the ski slopes, which seem to be for people who aren't affected very much by the recession or the crashing and burning newspaper industry.

You will, however, see me up at Cameron Pass tomorrow, inhaling newborn flurries and rediscovering the wonders of the Rockies in winter.

Regardless, June can't get here fast enough...