Skiing in Colorado is a treat compared to in the Midwest. After two feet of powder drops at Winter Park, everyone from tourists to locals head to the mountains to get a taste of the fresh fluff. Lines stretch out of the chair lift, looking like a popular ride at an amusement park, as skiers wait to be transported up the mountain to fly back down.
You can get through the lift lines must faster riding alone. There are two routes you can take as a single rider: you can be the stranger at the end of the chair sitting in silence, or you can engage in conversation with your chair-mates to gain a little insight into their lives for the five minutes you are gliding through the treetops.
I never had the courage to interact with the strangers next to me until this past year. Finally feeling confident enough to contribute to conversation, I feel empowered from the conversations I had with the strangers I’ll never meet again. It may seem bizarre to feel so strongly about such a short, common interaction, but these brief moments can reveal so much about someone’s life. I was treated on a level playing field, like an actual adult rather than a young college student.
One ride I recall on this past trip to Winter Park, I shared the lift with three moms. I was originally sitting on the end of the chair, just catching my breath from my last run. My ears perked up when these women began talking about college, something I can very much relate to. As they were classically talking about their kids, they were empathizing with one of the women. She seemed to be the closest to having to face the brutal reality of paying for college tuition. As a Wisconsinite attending UW, I was screaming in my head, “In-state tuition!”
They continued their worried conversation about tackling applications and high school preparation when they get onto the topic of AP classes. As I was actively listening to their conversation, I was understanding they were thinking that AP classes did not actually count for as much as they seemed, and that colleges would take a student with an A in a regular class over a kid who got a B in an AP class.
This is where I came in. Knowing their conversation was inaccurate, I politely interrupted and asked if I could say something. I confessed to my eavesdropping and went on a brief tangent on how I, as a current college student, know that colleges do take into consideration the accelerated nature of an AP course. I basically fact checked them, which broke the ice for the rest of the ride. It opened up conversation between the three women and me, continuing on the topic of college. They asked for advice and insight, which I gladly shared.
I learned a brief snapshot of their lives, which I would have otherwise never have known if I had not spoken up. I related to them as they shared how their young daughters were going through puberty and hated showering and smelled like onions. As I laughed out loud at their blunt commentary, they were concerned I was offended when really I was laughing at how much I can relate to that looking back on my own life.
As the end of the of ride was quickly approaching, I felt a sentimental connection to these women after our three-and-a-half minute interaction. We verbalized our appreciation for one another’s insight throughout the conversation, lifted the safety bar preparing for the unload. Keeping our ski tips up, we all said our goodbyes and the three of them skied off in another direction as I waited for my ski partner from another chair.
Watching them ride away, I did not understand why I felt so elated. I did not realize what a simple interaction like that could do for my mood. I was so proud to have spoken up about something I believed in, even just about the technicalities of school.
I took it as a social practice: practice contributing and furthering conversation, practice interacting with any type of person, practice feeling confident in your opinion and knowledge you share.
This got me thinking about the concept of practicing. Practicing any skill, including socializing improves the quality of how you conduct yourself. Like any activity, once those skills go untouched for a while, they get rusty. Winter makes going out and socializing in the cold undesirable, especially in the Midwest. We go into a seasonal hiatus, a brief hermit state. Once spring comes around, it feels like a hassle talking to new people.
Although practicing usually does not seem to apply to socializing or interacting, I have found my social skills to be more refined as I utilize them more frequently, even in the most random of places – like on the way up a mountain. Although those three women may not have taken much out of our brief interaction, I learned the empowerment and importance of socializing with strangers.
Photo by Sophia Dramm