Maslow's Hierarchy of Skis

By Xan Marshland, FOW

The author pursues self-actualization. Wasatch Range, UT. Photo: Ori Ramon (@oriramonphotos)

How into psychology are you? Me, not a whole lot. I took an AP Psych class in high school, and I’ve only held onto fragments of what I’ve learned. Freud’s ideas were mostly wack, but hidden amongst the sex, shame, and jealousy were some innovative new ideas around the existence of an “unconscious mind,” lurking beneath our every day, conscious thought. Carl Jung’s archetypes and collective unconscious were delightfully trippy, but hard to back up with data. Skinner and Milgram taught us some things about human nature that maybe we’d prefer not to know. Psych majors are probably tuning out at this point.

Other, more easily applicable takeaways lingered for longer. Many of these concepts are having a welcome rebirth in our culture’s awareness: You don’t have to be suicidal to benefit from a bit of therapy. Rest, recovery and self care are the necessary yin to the yang of mental health and physical performance. Mindfulness, presence, and gratitude are all practices that literally anyone can actively work on - for free - often to massive personal gain.

And then there’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I’m not sure why it’s stuck with me so well throughout the years. Maybe it’s just how simple and universally applicable it is. 

Not only does this hierarchy speak some universal truths, it also provides a compelling opportunity to look inward. What does love and belonging look like to you? What does it take for you to feel good about yourself?

Once you’ve pondered these questions for a minute, you might start feeling the urge to get a little more abstract. If you designed your own hierarchy from scratch, what would it look like? 

Everyone's needs are different.

When I entered the world of backcountry skiing as an overstoked and underprepared 18-year-old, a big part of my initiation was a crash course in all of the physical, mental, and external resources one needed to unlock the kind of holy experience that once appeared so deceptively effortless on the movie screen. 

I quickly learned that established in the mind of every seasoned backcountry traveler is an unwritten hierarchy of needs. As a heuristic, it effectively serves as a tool to answer the question, “What do we need to achieve today’s objective?” 

What needs to go in my pack? Who’s coming out with me? What do I need to know? Are conditions lining up for a swift and safe summit? As you fulfill these needs, you stack the odds in your favor. New achievements fall within reach. 

I’m not sure exactly what Paul Greenwood’s personal hierarchy of needs would look like, or whether he’s even the same species as me. But just like any of us, he’s stacking his odds via knowledge, planning, and equipment to set himself up for success. Rogers Pass, BC. 

Now let's take a moment to widen our perspective. What are the true goals of a backcountry skier or snowboarder throughout their entire lifetime? Rather than an impressive, yet emotionless list of elusive alpine objectives, I’d argue that it’s more about having the ability to consistently go out and squeeze the most joy, great memories, and most successful outcomes out of whatever is thrown at you. 

I present you with WNDR’s Hierarchy of Skis.

In ascending order from the base of the pyramid, let’s walk through what it takes. 


This is an easy one. Grassy hills or indoor skiing in Dubai doesn't count. Ideally this snow is improbably stable, deep, and fluffy.


Can also be defined as ambition, chutzpah, or FROTH in certain circles. You can’t give it the beans if you don’t have any beans to give. Stoke is the fiery ambition that fuels our minds to keep pushing onward, one step after the next. And while you can’t grow stoke in a lab, it is a 100% renewable resource. Recharge the battery by getting inspired by others and anticipating the joys to come. 


The capital, privilege, and social resources required to get out there. Our sport has numerous social and financial barriers. I wish it didn’t work this way, but unfortunately these barriers must somehow be overcome to allow you to access the goods.


At bare minimum, this is a requirement that will help you return home safe. But at its best, this knowledge is a tool that will help you extract the greatest amount of FUN out of any given set of conditions, whether you’re contending with a touchy storm slab or perfectly timing the corn cycle under blue skies. Now you’re approaching self actualization. 


The setup that will carry you to self actualization is as simple or as complex as you need it to be. For some of us, it’s about the tried and true, intuitive nature of your daily driver. For others, it’s about mindfully optimizing every parameter, from camber profile to binding choice to mount point. When it comes time to break out the perfect tool for the day’s needs, you have no doubts. You have full faith that your equipment will deliver.

Self Actualization through Backcountry Bliss

Everything works in harmony. Your touring partners, decision making, knowledge, and equipment choice stack up perfectly, allowing you to reap the rewards of your efforts. A self actualized skier or snowboarder exists on a plane of higher consciousness, simultaneously uplifted by those around them and the planks on their feet. 

Sounds pretty good, right?

The WNDR Why

In 2018, I joined a small collective of microbiologists, materials innovators, nature lovers, and backcountry athletes with a vision to launch an outdoor brand using our own biobased materials. I was smitten with the idea. The opportunity to create better performing equipment with a mission behind it lit a fire in all of us.

But along with the equipment came the opportunity to create a community around this mission, united by products that rip, and by a shared vision of a future no longer in the throes of a society-wide addiction to petroleum. 

We love materials innovation, but our calling is a human one. The need for immersion in Nature, community, love for ourselves, and care for our habitat is more pronounced than ever. Backcountry skiing and snowboarding in particular present a very special form of self actualization - one in which knowledge, responsibility, and intention are critical, but the potential reward is massive. The more we can help our own community self actualize, achieve bliss, and be stewards of their surroundings, the better. 

Control your own destiny and play out of bounds. Let’s climb that pyramid.

- Xan Marshland, FOW

There's something about Joey's pow face that screams self-actualization. Wasatch Range, UT. FOW: Joey Weamer // Photo: Pep Fujas @pepfujas)

We can’t mail you cash and we can’t make it snow, but we’re here to help out with literally everything else: