February 2002
breakthroughonskis.com   
skiwriting
All snow,
all terrain

trying to define expert skiing...

Skiing is sliding, and mountains, and winter. And skiing is more than sliding, and mountains, and winter. Skiing is a summer-long dream and a winter-long reality that never seems 100 percent real. Skiing is freedom. Expert skiing is still more freedom. And skiing on the latest generation of super-sidecut, shaped skis is freedom squared.

Skiing is both a shared passion and a uniquely individual experience. Your mountain is not the same as mine; your perfect day on skis is probably quite different from mine. And your vision of expert skiing, I know, is different too. As skilled skiers, though, we have a lot in common. We can ski for hour after hour without really getting tired. When we see a new slope, the question is no longer: Can I ski that? but: How do I want to ski that? When we wake up to find a foot of new snow has reshaped the mountain, our reaction is one of pure unalloyed delight. Soon we’ll be flying. We can’t wait, but do anyway, and eventually the lifts start, and we enter a white planet where all the rules have been suspended, where we feel as light as the snow, where we move in a state of grace. Putting on skis is like coming home.

This is where we belong - on a tilted mountainside covered with snow.

Expert skiing resists easy definition. But surely that’s a big part of it: the sense of feeling at home on the mountain, anywhere on the mountain, of belonging here, no matter what the snow is like, no matter how steep the hill.

I got serious about skiing years ago in the small resort village of Leysin, in French-speaking western Switzerland. And there, during my first exciting season on skis I picked up a French definition of expert skiing, one that has stuck with me for a long time, one that still works. Toute neige, tout terrain. All snow, all terrain. By this yardstick, expert skiers are generalists, not specialists. We aren’t mogul skiers, at least not just mogul skiers. We aren’t racers, at least not just racers. We ski powder as easily as pack. At the top of any slope, every slope, our pulse speeds up. We can accept what the mountain offers us today and work with it, play with it. It doesn’t matter if it’s snowed all night or if hasn’t snowed for two weeks. It doesn’t matter if the temperature has dropped 50 degrees or climbed above freezing. Packed powder is great. Unpacked nonpowder is great too. All snow, all terrain.

Expert skiing is not, at least in my view, just about difficulty. An expert skier isn’t someone who only skis double-black slopes. On any slope - easy, moderate, challenging, or scary - a real expert can always do something creative with nothing more than skis and snow. Expert skiing is an adventure, an adventure in spontaneity and creativity - and great memories are one part of what we are creating. Days well lived, runs so exciting, so intense, so perfect that they stay with us for years and years and years to come.

Toute neige, tout terrain. All snow, all terrain.

This doesn’t mean that to the expert skier all snow is perfect. In a funny sense, all snow is less than perfect, but we transform it, make it virtually perfect by skiing it well. The experience approaches perfection turn by turn by turn.

And I should add that expert skiing is a never-ending project. One day, after a particularly challenging and pleasing run that you skied without any hesitation, without a lot of tension, either inner or outer, you have a kind of epiphany: Damn! I really am a good skier, I really am an expert - amazing! Has this happened to you yet? I hope so.

But this isn’t the end of the story. If anything, it’s only the beginning. Because once you’ve crossed that hard-to-define border into expert skiing, those epiphanies just keep coming. Every season, you discover new moves, new horizons; you push past old limits and find yourself making turns that you never even imagined were a possibility. I know this is true for me, for my skiing friends. It can be true for you. There’s simply no reason not to keep getting better and better and better...Let’s not stop now.

It’s all yours. Toute neige, tout terrain. All snow, all terrain.

[a short excerpt adapted from the Afterword of my latest book, Breakthrough on the New Skis]

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 February 2002
 BreakthroughOnSkis.com  
Photo above:
a master of all-snow, all-terrain skiing, Geoff Stump looks for snow that is steeper and deeper
© Linde Waidhofer
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© Lito Tejada-Flores unless otherwise credited.