Maxed Out 

Skiing from an alien-nation perspective

Imagine an anthropologist from, say, the planet Marengue, secretly visiting Whistler to observe the habits and rituals of the indigenous society. Being a relatively featureless world with no mountains to speak of but with a climate, thanks to its sun star Bokum, not unlike Earth’s, Marengue knows diddly about downhill skiing.

What’s an alien to think?

Surrounded by outsiders that far outnumber natives, the indigenous population appears servile, occasionally obsequious. They labour hard to cater to the whims and wishes of the outsiders who themselves engage in inexplicable rituals. To begin with, many have travelled great distances, some from the other side of the globe. Once here, they seem, as if on cue, to all line up at the base of two mammoth mountains. They carry strange sticks and boards, some more gracefully than others.

After what can be a considerable wait, they enter or sit on a spindly-looking conveyance that takes them far above where they started, into an environment that bears little resemblance to the one they left. Up above, it is often cold, windy, foggy, and snowy. When it’s not, the sun may be burning with an intensity several times greater than it is below. Their day seems to yo-yo between being too cold and being too hot.

At the desired level, the sticks and boards are attached to these bipeds’ feet and gravity – a concept well understood on Marengue – takes over. Some people move downhill slowly and tentatively, unsure of their balance, often falling. Others go like greased lightning, dodging obstacles, seeking out features that force their feet from the ground and send them flying through the air. Sometimes they also fall. Sometimes they have trouble getting up. Sometimes they’re brought down the hill in an uncomfortable-looking, horizontal position.

Then, at what appears to be a predetermined hour, they all line up for sustenance. Some few of them come back outside to find their sticks and boards missing, a case of misidentification or theft. The rest of their day, like the morning, is punctuated by repeated standing in line rituals. Over and over again, they slide downhill separately only to come together at certain transshipment points to join in collective waiting.

And for this, they pay through the nose.

Weird, eh?

You wouldn’t have to be from Marengue to think so. The featureless world of imagination isn’t so different from Saskatchewan, Iowa or much of the rest of the world. What happens here, seen on a National Geographic special, would seem foreign and other-worldly to significant parts of this world’s population.

More’s the pity.

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