Do you ride steeper lines to keep up with others?

Do you ride steeper lines to keep up with others?

A few weeks ago I visited the International Snow Science Workshop (ISSW) in Innsbruck for wePowder. Visiting an international conference full of scientists felt like coming home for me – the line at the coffee machine during the breaks was always too long. Before I traveled to Innsbruck, I was triggered by the title of one of the talks: “Keeping up with Jeremy Jones” by Andrea Mannberg. (Check the links below for the complete publication)
Using the name of a legendary snowboarder to reach more people seems quite obvious, so I did not need much persuasion to go here.

Based on the two pictures of Instagram posts from Jeremy Jones and me, you might think that I am also influenced/inspired by Jeremy. And exactly this is what this lecture was about.

Andrea Mannberg has done research into our preferences when selecting terrain for off-piste descents, and has found that many people are being influenced by what others are riding.

Epic day

Example: if you have had an epic day, but later on Instagram you notice that your buddies rode even steeper lines somewhere else, this might affect the satisfaction you get from your own day. The feeling you have about your own day may not be that special anymore.

However, your contentment about your own day could also increase if you find out your buddies rode less steep terrain. If your contentment is influenced in such a way, then you are a so-called positional rider. I must admit I sometimes feel these effects in my private riding, too. Just look at the almost identical Instagram posts from Jeremy and me, with a clear difference in the number of likes. I get the feeling I have to ride more and steeper, more exposed lines to keep up with Jeremy, and this feeling might well influence my terrain choice and so the risk that I face.

Terrain selection

The latter is actually what might happen! Mannberg and her colleagues have demonstrated that the terrain selection of a positional rider is actually linked to accepting a riskier descent (in this research there are two hypothetical descents, one with significantly more risk and the other with less) and the willingness to accept more risk. It is good to be aware of this, because your contentment might be affected by all sorts of posts on social media and other channels, so that you will eventually run into more risk yourself.

The research also shows that this effect is present for people who have attended avalanche courses. Of course I want to shout out this is not true, because it is the last thing I want to hear. People who take avalanche courses should make better decisions. Fortunately, her research also shows that people who have attended an avalanche course are less likely to accept riskier terrain. But in avalanche courses it would be useful to talk about positional preferences and create more awareness about this. This is something I definitely intend to take with me next season during the courses I give as a guide.


But now my question: be honest, have you ever felt bad after a picture prefect powder day because on the social media posts of friends the powder was deeper and the lines steeper. Be honest huh ;)!

Further reading/helpful websites:



Chester_TartsnatcherAuthor4 December 2018 · 15:10

No. And it’s stupid compare your own experience in anything to others like that and especially so in skiing. This is one of the ways we abuse social media.
I do get depressed when I see others that have skied together and I’m tired of being the only one who calls others.

EuroBBI2024 Rueras, CH March 1-9, 2024
ErwinAuthor4 December 2018 · 19:27

@@chester_tartsnatcher why call it stupid? It seems people do behave in this way, they might not even realize it themselves. Can you blame them then?

Chester_TartsnatcherAuthor4 December 2018 · 19:41

I think it is stupid to evaluate one’s own life by comparing it to others.

What better recipe for feelings of failure, inadequacy and negativity.

I try to live my life in the moment as much as possible. Do your own thing and try to find your own satisfaction. To compare ones efforts and achievements to others is just trying to keep up with the Joneses. I focus on finding joy in the little things.

I’m not blaming them so much since I don’t really worry about what other people do. It’s not like I’m dwelling on their faults. But you asked and I answered.

EuroBBI2024 Rueras, CH March 1-9, 2024
lcdiezAuthor5 December 2018 · 11:10

To think that everyone else is stupid is stupid and what a scientific article exposes is a fact unless you have a scientific study that exposes the opposite. Maybe what it is exposed in the article is not your case but in the general population, it is.

I think there is also a point of inspiration, you don´t how that line is but you see someone doing it and you think that it is doable or directly you didn´t know line until you saw it in Instagram. In addition, I think that when you choose something (ski resort, line, touring or not, etc) and you see that the ones that choose something different got better conditions than you, you always think “damn it! I should have done that”.

Chester_TartsnatcherAuthor5 December 2018 · 14:48

I did not say that everyone else is stupid, only to base one’s satisfaction on what others are doing is stupid.

Plus, science is based on scientific theory which allows for changes and mutations from polemic to paradigm depending on interpretation of the data and the validity of the data. Science is not religion.

Part of the reason I love skiing is because it allows for personal freedom and for me flies in the face of the herd mentality, the football crowds and the shopping masses.

To be inspired by what others are doing is quite a different point than what the article focuses on.

EuroBBI2024 Rueras, CH March 1-9, 2024
ErwinAuthor6 December 2018 · 08:40

@@Chester_Tartsnatcher then you might not be a positional rider. :)

Of course science could be wrong - have been doing science for many many years myself. But also I say: please show me. The argument “science is not religion” doesn’t do it for me. The way you describe skiing and personal freedom is absolutely beautiful, but I dare to say it is not always like that.

It is not only about your own personal freedom and not copying someone else’s line. In the research a positional person is defined by the contentment they have after riding, is being increased or decreased by what other people have been riding.

Of course it is not nice if you recognize your feelings behave like this. I can imagine people would not easily admit this.

There are several effects Mannberg describes, one of them that people could accept to ski a riskier line, when someone else in their group wants to ride it, although it is not their own preferred line. Does this sounds like something someone ever mentioned to you discussing a day of riding?

Chester_TartsnatcherAuthor6 December 2018 · 14:33

Show you that it’s stupid? For me it’s obvious, like worrying about not having snazzy stuff like your neighbor, a fast car, a big house, lots of money. Those kinds of comparisons will certainly lead to dissatisfaction.

I do think that social media has many failings in the way that we use it; this is one.

Regarding the “science”, I object to “science” leading to “facts”. That misses completely what science means for me.

I’m not sure how my claim of stupidity flies in the face of the study. Lots of people do stupid stuff. Is Trump the consequence of intelligent, rational evaluations? Yes he’s President of the USA, but voting for him was stupid.

Look, you asked for honesty and I gave it to you. You don’t have to like it, but at least respect the position and give it some thought. Again, I’m not saying that the study’s conclusion was incorrect, only that it displays a collective stupidity.

As far skiing something others in my group wanted to ride and I didn’t, I have first hand experience of digging a pit in a couloir that showed a meter of consolidation above 20 cm of ground facets. I backed off the line. My partner skied it. I never toured with him again.

Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe. - Frank Zappa

EuroBBI2024 Rueras, CH March 1-9, 2024
gdkp Author10 December 2018 · 20:19

Simply, it’s the social media paradox of our time. Everyone else’s life always ‘looks’ better, wether it’s riding or anything else. We only see the beautifully manicured meal on a plate, never the dirty dishes it took to make it…

thomaswellerAuthor18 December 2018 · 13:50

I thought this was a satirical article at first.
Dude, first…good on you for the incredible lines you take…I´m not worthy of them.
Second, get your priorities straight!
Ride for your OWN pleasure…be in the here and now and for God´s sake…only compare yourself to yourself. Ask yourself…what kinda skiing woulda made you happy before Insta and FB?
Social media is plague…to the point it´s literally gonna start people killing themselves doing stupid things…
Happy riding! T.

ErwinAuthor18 December 2018 · 15:31

Hi @@thomasweller, I just hoped to achieve some kind of dialogue with this article on this forum and to make people start to think about their own decision taking. Apparently that did not really work out. The Instagram posts were most of all a way of illustrating the title of Andrea Mannberg’s talk “Keeping up with Jeremy Jones”. I have been riding steep terrain already before I came to know (about) Jeremy Jones. I ride it because I can do it - I like to challenge myself. When I ride steeps, I also want to minimize risks as I already observed someone losing his life on a slope I just descended (this was before my facebook time).

The subject of positional riders and terrain selection is not only about social media, although I illustrated this article with the Instagram posts.

Some people are also being influenced in their terrain selection and accept to ride certain terrain if someone else in their group wants to ride it, terrain that they did not prefer to ride themselves. So they do not prefer it, but accept to ride it. I think this is something that happens many many many times if people are in a group of more “experienced” riders and do not want to be the ones that keep the more “experienced” ones from doing “cool” runs.

Maybe you experienced this happening while riding with your buddies? Maybe not for you, but for someone else in your group. Anyway, I hoped to make people aware of such effects and will discuss about it during the avalanche courses I will be guiding and instructing this season. One of the things that amaze me is that there are participants who immediately want to go for the biggest, steepest lines in a resort they have never been to. And they can get the whole group to be willing to ride this terrain.

Happy riding to you, too!

Split4PowAuthor18 December 2018 · 17:50

I think there is another issue in trying to “keep up with Jeremy”. It’s that in backcountry skiing/snowboard, we don’t realize there are professionals and mortals. We all can do some tricks, but have you ever seen how big pros go? Try to draft a pro cyclist, or follow a pro DH mtb racer. A pro basketball player on the street-ball court? I have seen these things, and can assure you that while i am pretty competent at all these things, what they are doing is something entirely different.
In backcountry snowboarding, I think we are not considering the huge difference that exists between someone who performs at a professional, and amateur level. These people have been entirely concentrated in fine-tuning their craft for years, have perfect equipment, support teams, etc. They are doing avy training each year, because they don’t have a desk job. What’s cool is we can watch deeper/further/higher and be inspired/motivated for our on goals- that peak, line, etc. I’d love more than anything to go out touring for a day WITH Jeremy, but for sure not when he’s riding his most gnarly lines.

Chester_TartsnatcherAuthor19 December 2018 · 14:41

Don’t sell yourself short Erwin, I do think this has brought about some thought despite the disagreement that everyone has this kind of social awareness and it’s value.
Some people are just more herd aware, some people aren’t. Some people are more easily influenced by comparison and competition, which can in some circumstances be a good thing. But not always.
I guess calling a behavior stupid is not a good way to get people to think about this kind of herd mentality or “positional” attitude.
Do you think it’s a good thing? Does being negatively influenced by others experience help you be a better or bitter person?

EuroBBI2024 Rueras, CH March 1-9, 2024
thomaswellerAuthor22 December 2018 · 02:42

Hey @@Erwin
¨Maybe you experienced this happening while riding with your buddies? Maybe not for you, but for someone else in your group¨

Oh definitely! I guess I misunderstood the premise of your argument at the beginning, my apologies. I do stand by my earlier response to what I did thought I was replying to. But turning to the above I guess I’m cool if it´s me following in a group of skiers beyond my skills and/or someone following ours. I believe there is a responsibility on the ´leader´ of the group to properly assess that everyone is able to do the terrain they are about to tackle so that everyone can enjoy themselves even if it means pushing the less experienced of the pack…that´s always been the case. I´m cool with that because you are physically next to that person.

What worries me are those who will do a line because someone had just Insta´d it. But really, what’s the difference in someone who posts to the internet compared to someone reading about it in a book…? I guess I´m just really hyper-sensitive to everything ´social´ just cuz in my opinion it´s everything but social, and we’ve had the wool pulled over our eyes…I´ll stop rambling! Thanks for provoking thought…THAT is social in a good way :-) T

Never miss a PowderAlert!

Get updates on the latest news, PowderAlerts and more!