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Is it good to make things easier? - #376

We're deep in ski season. March is usually the snowiest month and the snowpack usually lasts until early May. It's been a little iffy this year: too many days of melting temperatures and a lot of forecasted snow that fell as rain. But we're still skiing a lot of acreage at our home mountain. 

On the best spring skiing days, at the top of Sugarloaf, you slide off a summit lift and are confronted with some excellent signage. Off to the right, you can ski down some moderate terrain with views for miles. If you take a hard left, you can shuffle along towards some steeper, groomed terrain titled the "front face snowfields." These two sections are typically open from late December on. But straight ahead of the chairlift ramp is the best terrain, often only open for a few weeks in March and April: the backside snowfields.

The backside snowfields have eastern and southern exposures, which can mean they melt quickly, but more importantly, primarily means that the blizzards and prevailing winds blow them full of snow all winter. Once they soften in the spring, the skiing is legendary. Your atop 4 or 6 or 10 feet of snow, kicking your turns down very steep chutes. Every exit requires navigating a small cliff and then running out to the north, getting back to the lift-served terrain. A lap on the snowfields requires first taking 2-3 lift rides and then, to get to these snowfields, you have to hike. Depending on how high up the ridge the windblown snow is, you might have to hike a few hundred yards or maybe up to a quarter mile. The hike is entirely above the tree line, along a frozen or slushy or rocky set of paths.

When I first skied the snowfields, I thought it'd be cool to make the laps faster and easier: what if the chairlift when all the way to the top? What if they added a surface lift to bring you right back to the ridge? Instead of a set of goatpaths, what if the trail was smooth and slightly elevated, allowing you to shuffle on skis? Making it easier would make it faster which would make it more fun, right? No! Putting aside the fact the treacherous terrain likely couldn't support even a temporary surface lift, the hike is part of it. Whether its the short version or the most strenuous version, scrambling up and over the ridge is the experience. The snowfields would lose their magic if they're made just as easy as the ski-to terrain: making them easier would ruin them.

We tend to treasure things that are difficult.

I got to thinking about difficulty vs. ease while I tested some new AI tools this week. Software, especially with the new abilities to interact with it via text prompts, tends to make things easy. And that's on the whole good: people doing manual clicking for work seems pointless. It's like they are being paid to make up for a software shortcoming. I don't mind at all the portion of my job that helps people reduce manual button-pushing in HubSpot CRM.

On the other hand, shouldn't some things be a little tough to do? Take, for example, marketers whose jobs are to write engaging copy and produce other bits of digital creativity. AI can write copy and make images. It's easy for some marketers to use AI for their creativity. But does that make it good?

It seems to me that truly good writing and drawing, the kind that engages its readers and viewers, needs a je ne sais quoi of human brilliance. And that brilliance is found in the nth draft. It's hard work to be great. Making it easier makes it not great.

Guess which image is AI

snowfields 2

snowfields 1

realistic scenery of above treeline east coast snow skiing mountain top


The Slides at Whiteface

The Slides are 35 acres of in-bounds, off-piste, double black-diamond skiing accessible with a short but strenuous hike from the top of the Summit Quad. They provide a challenging experience for expert skiers and riders once Whiteface determines the natural snow cover is adequate and stable.



The Insiders Guide to Skiing Sugarloaf

A lifelong loafer on how to experience all of Maine’s highest ski mountain