Could Chairlifts Hold the Cure to an Epidemic of Loneliness?
As we long for the past days of the 22-23 ski season, let's explore why the anti-social generation can't stop making friends up on the mountain
The thumping base of nondescript music fills the parking lot, along with scents of sizzling bacon and cowboy coffee. Riders mill around, half dressed in long underwear, getting ready for first chair.
The sun is fighting a losing battle with an incoming cloud bank; a fresh dusting of snow glitters like broken glass littering a Denver parking lot.
Today is “One of Those Days.”
It's something everyone knows, whether they can articulate it or not. There's something electric in the air. The stoke is high. Conditions are great. And there's a strange, friendly atmosphere on the mountain.
Riders cruise into lift corrals coated in powder, dusting themselves off and fist-bumping the lifties. On the chairlifts and in the line queues, conversation flows easily, with strangers talking like life-long friends.
“You getting in some good turns?”
“Where you dropping?”
“Gonna take that line down Double Zero. Dip into the trees.”
“Wanna tag along?”
On the mountain, strangers become fast friends with baffling speed. I’ve lost count of the amount of riding buddies I’ve made from chance encounters.
So what the hell happens when we all go home?
Never Talk to Strangers; Barely Talk to Friends
Perhaps those thousands of friendly faces simply go to different grocery stores, gas stations, and restaurants; everyone seems to get real quiet once they get off the mountain. I don’t think my experience is unique either.
One study published in the National Library of Medicine estimates the average person has about 12 social interactions per day. 70% of those interactions are with family members or close friends. The rest are “tangential connections,” — think, friend-of-a-friend — with strangers accounting for a near-negligible amount of our meaningful socializing.
Compare this to even a slow day on the mountain, where I probably talk to around 301 total strangers. All of that is in addition to routine socializing with family, friends, and coworkers in the office.
But a lot of us don’t even have that last pool of people. Companies have just now hit the milestone of half of their workers back in person. That alone cuts out a huge chunk of social time.
Speaking of which: all of that data is pre-pandemic. We spent weeks, or months in isolation, which will probably wind up bringing long lasting, generational damage to the way we socialize; some will probably never return to the way they lived life before.
Is it Something in the Snow?
As much as I love fresh powder, I’m under no delusions that there’s something magical in those big puffy snowflakes that forces us to connect with one another. It’s just a great opportunity to socialize with likeminded people. Conversation feels natural because:
You know everyone around you has at least one thing in common: the love of the activity you’re doing
Because everyone is doing something they enjoy, they’re in a better mood and therefore more approachable
With some exception, people have their eyes and ears open. You’re less likely to be buried in your phone if you can drop it off the chairlift
Most outdoor activities tick these boxes. I’ve made some fantastic friends just chatting with strangers at the climbing gym too.
Unfortunately, our next generation of would-be adventurers seem disinterested in venturing outside. Maximum security inmates spend more time outdoors than the average child, and half of all kids prefer screen time alone, over socializing with others.
Good God, what a depressing thought.
I’ll probably expand on this one in a future article. But for now, I can’t stress how important it is that we all engage in our community. Talk to strangers on the chairlift. Welcome the newcomers at your gym. Help bring up that dismally low number of daily interactions.
Maybe our lives down here in the real world would feel a little bit more like the mountains on “one of those days.”
Either way, they’d certainly feel less lonely.
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This largely depends on what mountain I go to, and how long the lift lines are. Tall mountains with long lifts and long runs, generally mean fewer lift rides, and fewer opportunities to socialize.