Season of Grace

Why this season should be about fighting the ugly

Candide Thovex passing The Silhouette Test. PHOTO: COURTESY QUIKSILVER

Opening weekend at your favorite resort makes you realize that skiers are a bunch of kooks. Ninety percent of us are straight-lining down the hill thinking we’re all badasses, while from the chairlift we look like a bunch of back-seatin’ morons carrying poles for the sole purpose of dragging them behind our asses so we can more effectively broadcast the hideous color combinations we’re sporting to the entire lift line—mostly hues that never existed before an American ink company developed a palate of fluorescents to help students take better notes on their textbooks. And why do teenagers prioritize hucking violent 900s onto boxes over anything that contains a modicum of style?

I’ve had enough of being embarrassed for my favorite hobby because the majority of its practitioners can’t find the front of their boots. With today’s parabolic shapes, Intuition liners, and steel edges, making a fluid turn should be easier than filming yourself with a GoPro, and everyone seems to be able to do that nowadays. This is inexcusable. That’s why this winter I’m employing Candide Thovex, Ingrid Backstrom, and Barack Obama’s grassroots organizing team to launch a massive “get out of the back seat” campaign.

Graceful skiing is the one universally achievable tenet of the sport. Style and grace don’t need a big air contest, a slalom course, or a cannon box to compete. You don’t need bigger nuts, fewer brains, or Red Bull to build you a halfpipe in the backcountry to achieve it. It’s a battle fought on every pole plant, every chance to drop your hands, not transfer the weight to the downhill ski, or keep your legs pencil-straight in the air when you know you should suck them up. Your knees can hurt, you can be fat, you can be slow, it can be icy, and yet there’s nothing stopping you from skiing better, smoother, and cleaner than your fearless adolescent children or all the other hacks who think it’s time to pole-mount a P.O.V. camera even though they can’t link four turns down Outer Limits without rocking back and sliding out every turn.

How do you know you’re doing a good job? It’s a process I’m calling The Silhouette Test™. Looking sideways at your shadow as you ski, you are devoid of all the flashy distractions that keep you from skiing smoothly—your fluoro outerwear, the topsheets on those sick new rockered skis, your awesome job tucking your neck gaiter into your hat and under your goggles just so. You’re left only with the monochromatic shadow of your movement, a cruel, simple reflection of your calm, collected movements and quiet athletic stance. Or your spasmodic air failings, upright posture, and rhythm-less turns. Try it on for size this winter and see what you see.

Now you’ve got a goal. Every four-hour Friday night drive to the condo through weekend traffic with the kids watching Cool Runnings [or insert current popular kid’s movie] at full blast, every $2,000 outing at Surefoot, and every minute spent watching yourself get slower and older and hurt more can be justified for one singular end: embodying the lost cause, the ancient art, of grace on snow. I imagine this group of style soldiers marching out of the base lodge, skis in hand, proclaiming, “We’re proud (of skiing)! We’re loud (after a few lunch beers at the Bunyan Room)! And we’re going to make skiing look good again!”

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  • Jeff

    Last sentence, first paragraph. There shouldn’t be a comma after ‘teenagers.’ Boom. :)

  • Sterrance

    Unimpressed. Holier than thou drips from this piece. I suppose you are the source when I’m judging how stylish my monochromatic self looks on the snow? One day of poor snow, a few pesky whipper-snappers and maybe a bs session with the good old boys could produce an article like this. We all have those days, so I’ll chalk it up to that.

  • Hami

    Give us all a break. Skiing is about having fun on the snow regardless of ones ability to link turns with near mechanical precision. Perhaps you and your silhouette should put on your ballet skis, find a nice quiet run, and practice perfecting your monochromatic self. That would be far more productive than ragging on the general public who may miss the odd pole plant, but simply love skiing for what it is. Where do you get off, grandpa?

    • Tatsuno

      ‘miss the odd pole plant’? From what I’ve seen on ski slopes dotted along the I-70 corridor is that most skiers didn’t even know that might be what those poles are actually for!

  • http://www.facebook.com/abmayer Alex B Mayer

    Thank god somebody said it! Viva La Revolucion!
    And if all else fails, take a lesson.

  • Uncle Hud

    Amen, brother!

    Granted, it takes skill to huck and hop and hooptie, but it also takes skill to stem and christie. Nothing more impressive in my book than a skier/boarder making artistically sliced esses down a steep run. I’ll be doing my part!

    By the way, when’s the last time someone got killed or severely injured from carving beautiful turns?

  • the wave

    Vivá Doug Coombs!

  • http://twitter.com/TreeFighter Treefight

    Remember the old SKI magazine cover that said in giant type, “It’s Okay to Skid!” Such blatant pandering was a turning point for gapers, ducks, and kooks everywhere. I remember that Powder’s response, a series of SKI style instructional pics, was one of the best things ever published in the mag, or so I thought at the time.

    • JulianFranciscoCalderon.

      Oddly enough, I DO remember that article. I also remember hurling my Ski magazine at the wall and shouting Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! It was the moment I lost all respect for Ski magazine.

  • Freeheelin’ NC

    A funny and enjoyable article with good writing. Style matters! It is hilarious watching the folks beeline it down the mountain thinking they’re badass. Ha, ha.

  • Sanka Mon

    For you, skiing is a hobby and for many it’s their life. Especially for the LOCALS along that I-70 corridor. Let them ski the way they want to. After you get bored looking at your lonely shadow, go try one of those boxes (if you can handle not looking SO pretty) and you might like something new. Stop taking the fun out of it and have respect for the people who spend their day practicing things you are too stubborn to try. Cool Runnings could teach you something… Quit judging!

  • billy

    I totally agree, skiing should be stylish. But are you really suggesting the way to achieve this is by looking at your shadow? What if it’s noon and your shadow is right under you? What if it’s behind you? What if you like looking where you’re going and not running into stuff? What if its cloudy? And who chose that picture? He’s leaning in, his skis are diverging, his shoulders are rotated in and worst of all, he’s not looking at his shadow!

  • Matt

    As a skier I found this article embarrassing.
    Stick to your ‘Silhouette Testing’ and working on your fore/aft. I’ll happily shred the pow with my short poles or wave the windows down off some booter. I guarantee i’ll be the guy and the bottom with the bigger grin. (maybe a bright jacket too)

  • hectorjuliogomez

    I don’t think this is fair. I am ashamed to say that I am a relentlessly judgmental skier, and spend most of my time on the lift observing and silently critiquing others’ technique.

    The first reservation I have about this article is the implication that the dearth of good skiing technique is a recent thing, harkening back to a halcyon age when everyone could carve graceful arcs down any icy precipice. Frankly the vast majority of skiers have always been poor technical skiers.

    Secondly, skiwear fashion trends, as abhorrent as they can be, are independent of graceful and beautiful skiing. In the 1980s all the most skilled and fluid skiers were decked out in day-glo spandex.

    Finally, I don’t think it’s fair to blame the lack of graceful skiing on the park culture. As I said, I spend far too much time judging others, and I have observed that some of the cleanest, technically proficient and most graceful turns are executed by kids decked out in whatever the kids are wearing these days riding some kind of strangely-painted twin-tipped skis on their way to the park.

  • Beetman

    Get off my lawn you damn kids!!

  • Slider55

    The comments are almost better than the article. Keep it up!

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