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Volunteerism on the Slopes

Updated: Jun 2

As a recently vocal libertarian (I am careful not to use the capital L), some of the most pushback I receive on our principles and ideas is that “people can’t be trusted to do the right thing.” Though I am not one that oozes faith in humanity, I do think it is vital for a free and cooperative society that we do, in fact, trust each other to do the right thing. Even though I am skeptical of almost every single person I come in contact with, that skepticism is tampered by my faith that people are still good, kind, and just at their core.

Despite all the evidence presented to me daily that humans are everything but wonderful and kind to each other, that data tends to be external - not personal in the experience is another way to state it. And despite that evidence, I still hold a personal truth that people are able to freely organize without coercion for that damned “greater good”

My most recent experience that reinforces that volunteerism is a feasible idea came from my ski trip up north. Since my home mountains are experiencing low-tide conditions, I decided to venture up north to uncharted territory. Now I will say that skiers (and snowboarders, because no reason to discriminate on how we get down the mountain) are a special breed of people. Or rather, two specific groups of people. Snow-sporters (is that the correct inclusive term?) typically fall into one of two categories: Well-to-do individuals who can afford the expensive gear, high-priced lift tickets, and can afford either the vacation or have a second home at these resorts OR they are ski bums who work the resorts and the service industry; the locals. But regardless of which group anyone falls in, we are united by our love for the mountain, the sport, and adventure that comes from hurling yourself down a hill. Controlled falling is another way to put it, and it’s intoxicating. But it’s from that mutual point of love for the outdoors that we are able to build something special.

Where I have seen the idea of volunteerism shine the most is - hear me out - in the lift lines.

Even though economically there is a pretty big gap between these two groups, overwhelming, the mountain is orderly, peaceful, and runs quite smoothly, especially when in the bottleneck of any resort - the base of the lift. And what creates that cohesive and cooperative mechanism is respect. There will always be bad apples, as with any sample size of any demographic of any group; that is unavoidable. However, pretty much every single time I’ve stood in a lift line the idea of alternating, mutual respect, and awareness of those around dominates the narratives.

Depending on what resort you are at there might be a lift-operator running crowd control. Sometimes though, there is not a single person to enforce who goes when, and the line steady moves forward without a single complaint or misdeed from anyone standing in the line. Example: the Sublette lift at Jackson Hole which services some amazing terrain, has 8 main gates that filter down to 4, then to 2, then to the main gate that is the immediate lift line. There are signs that say “alternate” and that’s all it takes. No top-down orders, no authority figure screaming “alternate or lose your pass”, not even an an attendant. Hundreds of people, every hour, hour after hour, willingly playing by the idea of fairness, and that when it is my turn to go I will go, but not a moment sooner.

But that is the beauty of it all: that the order we experience in a lift line is a spontaneous order, derived by those who participate in it, for the betterment of everyone there. What creates that order is respect for the rules, and respect for the person opposite the lift line. Anyone standing in that line knows what it’s like to have your spot cut in front of, and knows its not a cool feeling. Therefore, we respect that just as we wouldn’t want to be cut, we don’t cut others. See the golden rule.

And it’s that simple. The lines alternate, people shuffle, ski, have a good time, and not a single order has to be barked down from the lift attendant who isn’t paid enough to deal with our squabbles. A perfect real-world example that highlights that regardless of what the legacy media wants to portray, that people are still capable of being respectful and courteous. The best part about it all though, is that 1000’s of strangers who don’t even want to know your name, where you came from, and whether you’re a local or not, can come together in an orderly fashion to keep the line moving as quickly as it can so we can all go get one more lap. The common and shared goal tells us that order can come from the bottom up, and it is that order that is most powerful. No group that I know of is quicker to call out line-cutters and publicly shame those who want to break the agreed-upon standard of movement. For that reason, among many other, snow-sporters are some of my favorite people on the planet.

To take that to its broader implication: when presented with a clear and definable goal that benefits all that participate, the incentive for cooperation is much stronger than the temptation of non-cooperation. When everyone can understand that by freely engaging in this order - created of the people, for the people, and by the people - moves us closer to shared goals, we make meaningful moves forward. If a bunch of strangers can behave in a lift line, then I believe strangers can behave in society. And when we all behave willingly, then I’m guessing we can have many more examples of real world “lift lines.”

Matt Billingsley - Co-host of “Against the Mob” Podcast.


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