This week TheSkiDiva turns 14. This makes it positively ancient in internet terms, where sites generally have the life span of a mayfly (that’s 24 hours; look it up.). All too often, today’s big splash is tomorrow’s dim memory, so really, 14 years is quite an achievement.

Why have we lasted so long? To put it simply, I think it’s because we fill a need that other sites don’t. TheSkiDiva is for women only, which makes it unique in the ski world. Here, women can talk about skiing in a testosterone-free environment, without the misogyny, mansplaining, or sexualization you’ll find on other sites. At TheSkiDiva, we can just be ourselves: women who have a passion for skiing and want to talk about it in a way that we can relate to. Right now the site has 6,400 members, so clearly, we’re doing something right.

I’ve spent a lot of time hanging out on the forum, and I’ve learned quite a bit about forum culture. So on this momentous occasion, I thought I’d share some of it with you.

Lessons I’ve learned.

There are a lot of nice people out there. Seriously, with rare exceptions, the people on TheSkiDiva are just plain nice. We have a reputation as a supportive community where people treat one another with respect (crazy that that’s seen as exceptional). That doesn’t mean it’s all hearts and rainbows and sunshine. Sure, there are disagreements. But for the most part, our discussions are pretty civil. That’s a testament to the character of the women on the site, and to the high priority we put on respect.

The generosity of our members is overwhelming. Here’s one example: a few years ago a member of the forum moved to Colorado from New York City. Members from the site took her in, providing her with ready-made friendships and lots of great advice. In another case,  a member of the site went to Ireland on vacation, where a fellow Ski Diva met her and her family, invited them to dinner, and acted as a tour guide. I hear about things like this all the time, and they always make me feel warm inside.

You can actually be friends with people you’ve never met. Years ago, if someone told me I’d be friends with people I’d never seen, I’d have looked at them like they were crazy. But it’s true; you can really get to know someone virtually and think of them as a friend. These online relationships can blossom into friendships off the forum, too. We take trips together. We share one another’s joys and sorrows. In short, we’ve become a community in the real sense. And yes, that makes a difference.

Ski Divas at this year’s Diva East at Sunday River, Maine

All hail the hive mind. Ski Divas come from all different types of backgrounds, each with different experiences and fields of expertise. Whatever you want to know, there’s someone on TheSkiDiva who can help. I’ve found it a great resource for all sorts of information.

Proceed with caution. This almost contradicts what I’ve said above. No matter what information you’re given, the final decision is up to you. For example, a lot of people come on the forum looking for gear advice, and we’re only too happy to help. But everyone’s taste is different, and what appeals to me may not necessarily appeal to you. It’s a mistake to run out and buy something without investigating it on your own. Which is why we always tell people to demo, demo, demo before they pick out a ski.

Not everyone is what they seem. Another contradictory statement (see above: there are a lot of nice people out there). The internet is a great place to hold forth without backing it up with anything like proof. People can claim all sorts of expertise when in fact they have none. I’ve seen this time and time again on a lot of other ski forums, and TheSkiDiva is no exception. Occasionally you’ll find someone inflating their ski abilities, or conversely, talking them down (this, by the way, is a lot more common with women than it is with men). Truth is, you don’t really know for sure how someone skis, what they’re really like, or what they know until you’ve met them. Eventually, however, the truth will out. It always does.

Some people let it all hang out once they get behind a computer screen. No place is perfect, and world of TheSkiDiva isn’t, either. There are some people who use anonymity as a shield, saying things online that they’d never say in person. It happens — not too often on TheSkiDiva.com, but it does. That’s pretty much the nature of the internet, wherever you go.

There are lots of right answers.  Strange, but true. Different things work for different people. Take keeping your hands warm. I love my Chaval Super Nova mittens. They’re heated and they’re DA BOMB when it comes to cold hands. But some people prefer hand warmers. Or glove liners. Or a particular brand of mittens or gloves. The lesson: problems have lots of different solutions. We see this a lot on the forum, and it’s a good thing to keep in mind, whatever you do.

Before I close, I’d like to add one thing: Administering TheSkiDiva is an honor and a privilege. The caliber of the people, their tremendous spirit, and the friendly, supportive nature of the community makes it a truly remarkable place to hang out. A forum is only as good as its members, so it’s a tribute to the Divas that it’s so much fun.

Here’s to all the Ski Divas out there. You’re the best!