So you’re on a budget ski vacation and couldn’t splurge for the 4WD rental car? Or maybe you just started your first of many glorious seasons working at a mountain resort and can’t afford gas to get up the mountain every day. You’re in luck! Hitchhiking is a common mode of transportation in ski communities and tends to be considerably safer here than, say, the side of a major highway. Most ski resorts are at the end a long canyon road without a throughway, so… almost everyone driving up the mountain is going to the resort and shares your enthusiasm for snow sports.
Back at my home mountain, I live walking distance to the slopes so I haven’t needed a car. Here in New Zealand, I continue this car-free lifestyle by hitchhiking. I found the perfect studio just across from the ski resort access road. I hitch up and down nearly every time I go. Here are my thoughts on how to be a successful hitchhiker:
Wear all your gear: This makes you more compact; i.e. you won’t take up as much space. You’d be surprised by how many people live in their car down here, or just look like they do because their car is packed with skis gear, speakers, and a mattress. These people often want to help you, but might not have enough room for you, your skis, poles, helmet, boots, backpack, laptop, and lunchbox. Stash your pass and a snack in your pockets. I wear my helmet and ski boots (and stand safely away from slippery surfaces!) and don’t carry a pack of any sort. Just watch your head when you climb in… your helmet adds a few extra inches.
Be strategic with your timing: If you head up at the same time that the local bus drops off all the other skiers without a car, you’ll be waiting in line and competing for room in someone’s car. This usually isn’t a problem. Drivers tend to pull over and announce how many passengers they can take. However, I think there are plenty of other drivers that would be willing to give a ride to one person but the presence of multiple hitchhikers overwhelms them. Instead, head up when you think you may be the only one waiting. That said, you also want to remember that most people will head up in the morning and the later your start, the fewer opportunities you may have to hitch up.
Where you stand is REALLY important. When people get into their car, they are likely not thinking “Oh I wonder if someone is going to be hitchhiking?” or “I can’t wait to stop and offer a ride to a stranger.” Instead, they’re gassing it up the hill, slurping coffee and aiming for as much time on the snow as possible. When they see a thumb on the side of the road, the idea of stopping registers after they see you. Therefore, YOU NEED TO STAND WITH ROOM FOR CARS TO STOP AFTER YOU! I am writing this post because I have arrived at my hitching post several times to find another hitchhiker thumbing just before a slipper turn. With a blindspot. And no shoulder.
When I tried hinting that perhaps it wasn’t the best spot, she gushed about how she thought it was. I really don’t see how. If a gentle soul is going to stop they would have to: 1) see her early and register her attempt to hitch 2) stop early and hope the packed snow in front of this girl isn’t slippery and 3) know that their breaks won’t lock up causing them to crash into the guardrail, her snowboard, and ultimately her.
Look at this picture: Here in New Zealand, traffic is going in the direction of the green arrow. She stands at the purple arrow. Any of the green circles would be a much easier place to stand that will give you plenty of visibility and the driver plenty of decision time to pull over. Since it would be rude to arrive after her and try to hitch before her (like cutting the lunch line in middle school), I just walk past her to the next parking lot exit and stand BEFORE the pull out area. I usually get picked up before this other girl. Probably because the people who would have offered her a ride feel bad that they couldn’t figure out a way to safely pull over for her and therefore pick me up instead. It’s happened enough that hopefully she will learn, but YOU are a smart ski bum and now know to stand so your awesome ride can stop AFTER your outstretch thumb.
Be clear about your desire to hitch. The same girl above also has a glove with black mitts and a white thumb. When cars are approaching it is not clear that her thumb is up. I know because as I was walking towards her, I couldn’t tell that her thumb was up until I was nearly next to her. If you have white thumbed gloves, take them off. I also take this into consideration in determining what I stand in front of. With my black gloves, I like to stand in front of a white vehicle.
Smile and look at the driver: Your smile will make you seem like a pleasant addition to their drive. Perhaps you’ll even be able to get little Joey in the passenger seat to look up from his cellphone. If you look them in the eye as they approach, it also adds just a little pressure to pick you up.
That’s it. Ask your driver some questions, share a bit about your own experience, and enjoy meeting another mountain enthusiast. You can also feel good about not adding more exhaust to our pristine mountain air.
I’m also going to state for the record, that I am not promoting hitchhiking as a safe mode of transportation for everyone. You should always use your best judgement when choosing whether or not to get into a stranger’s car.