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Dodging roots and rocks is par for the course, but I don’t expect to contend with flying limbs and uncontrolled metal to boot. I grew up in Montana, where there’s only seven people per square mile. Learning to ski in big sky country meant lots of open space to slide free from objective hazards. Here, at Crystal Mountain on opening weekend, hazards abound. My ski buddies and I are in a battle against flailing poles, out of control snowboarders, and over-stuffed slopes. In short, we have a skill to send ratio problem.

 

The Skill to Send Ratio

The Skill to Send Ratio* (or skill:send) is a value reflecting the collective success of a group as it relates to completing a given task (send) relative to the skills of those individuals (skill). The ratio has a positive correlation wherein generally the more skilled people you have in a group the higher the send probability, however, if at some point the volume of people grows too large, then, no matter how much skills some individuals possess, the send rate goes down. Honestly, I find it easiest not to think about “the math” and go with your intuitive understanding of what this means. And today it translates to the amount of people who can successfully send (aka: ski down) Lucky Shot relative to those who will hit a rock, tree, or other human being.

I take in the scene from the top of the hill, and it does not look good.

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Skiers and snowboarders litter the slope in all states of send. We have little Billy, dutifully leading his pack of ski-school 7-year olds in wide arcs from one side of the hill to the other, while the ski instructor picks up downed children from the back of the line. We have Elise and Colin in a relationship kerfuffle because they thought it would totally work out to have her teach him how to snowboard even though everyone knows that’s not at good idea. Samar just went over the handlebars and is too bewildered to locate his missing ski, Lois hit a rock but continues to make her way down the slope muttering obscenities at anything and everything, and Quinn has taken a seat halfway down to rest because their legs are too tired from all of the turning to avoid hitting Billy and Colin and Stuart.

Then there’s us. Four reasonably-skilled skiers looking at a slope that, frankly, doesn’t have enough snow to be open yet. It’s time to pick our way through the chaos.

I get down by turning on top of the recently-formed moguls to avoid the low spots where everyone else has liberated the snow from the hill. I hit one rock, or rather a series of rocks that scatter under my skis like shrapnel. Theresa and Cory fare about the same. Nikki manages a narrow escape between a surprise tree branch and Billy the Kid, skillfully threading all of the needles for a hazard-free send.

Safely at the bottom, we stop to take stock of our situation. Three rocks hit (but no core shots!) and all humans and branches successfully avoided. Out of four people, we have what can be considered a only single successful send despite our high skill quotient – a success ratio of only 25%. I’d feel shame if the conditions weren’t so abysmal, and I make a mental note to calculate a skill:send handicap for when the ski slope has more brown than white.

We observe the remaining uphill ratio-busters as Billy and his friends slowly pass by. Samar has found his ski but is on the struggle bus trying to get his boot to click into it, Quinn has restored blood flow to their legs and resumed a slow descent, and Colin has removed his board and is walking down the hill despite the protestations of Elise (who, by the way, clearly knows what she’s doing). Lois, our foul-mouthed friend, is long gone. A new batch of contenders is on their way, and this time there’s a full yard sale mid-slope to navigate.

You never know what you’ll ski into on any given day, but we know we’ve had enough of this nonsense. We ride the chairlift in the quest towards a secret stash of pow. We duck the ropes to our out of bounds oasis where we know our skill:send success will be 100%! Sure, we’ll have to ski uphill to earn these turns, but it’s well worth the effort to avoid the crowds.
In Alaska, every resident has a whole square mile of space to call their own. It might be time for a trip to the great white north, I suggest to my friends. Fewer people to mess with our odds, and when it comes to skiing, you always play to win.

*I cannot take credit for coining this term. We skied into a group of friends and discussed the current inbounds situation. While chatting, Chelsea Stevens said “there’s a real skill to send ratio problem going on right now.” Kudos to Chelsea for her genius!

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Read more from the author at Occasionally Epic.

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