When you are first learning to ski, part of the initial instruction typically includes “french fry to go, pizza to slow.” Those pizzas progress into slow turns, then soon you are linking parallel turns. Functionally you realize that turning is used to steer your direction and control your speed. Then, as you advance further, you become enlightened that the rhythm and pressure created from engaging your edges and flexing the length of your skis with the help of gravity is not only super fun but borderlines nirvana.
There is a neurological explanation as to why this is so enjoyable. This is explained by Dr. John Kitchin, a former neurologist, in his video documentary SLOMO. He explains that lateral acceleration stimulates a set of receptors within the inner ear that connects us to the center of the earth. The otolith, which is a piece of calcium, sits on the membrane of the ear. Any change in the relative position of gravity makes it roll. This gives the body a feeling that it is moving relative to the center of the Earth. This creates that feel-good state where your mind and body experience the ultimate in skiing.
The science of this might be over your head (like it is mine), but if you’ve experienced this state of perfect happiness, then you know it to be plausible. As you link turn after turn, the constant acceleration can have a compounding effect too. Because this feeling puts you “in the zone,” it can be used for meditation as well. So, when someone halfway jokes that skiing is their therapy, there is actually evidence to back it up.
I believe the apex of this sensation occurs in the best snow conditions. The coveted untracked powder line where you have the feeling of floating combined with lateral acceleration. Of course, the same feeling can be achieved on a hardpack day just carving groomers. So, the next time someone complains about there being no fresh powder, maybe it’s because they don’t understand the science of skiing.
This phenomenon translates to other activities as well. Certainly snowboarding, but also surfing, mountain biking, wakeboarding, or any activity that incorporates lateral acceleration. It’s also probably the reason my college roommate would take his motorcycle for a joy ride nearly every day.
It is true that some people like to just go straight and fast and there is nothing wrong with that. Pure speed has its thrill too. But why would you want something that could be so wonderful, to go by so fast? Now you have scientific evidence that although your partner might have beat you down the hill, enjoying those turns gave you the most satisfaction.