ski writing
winter 2008


re-imagining skiing—
one sport, or many?...

an essay about different ways of thinking about skiing

Those of your who have been reading my columns, my essays and my web site for a while, can probably guess the answer I am going to propose for the rhetorical question above: Is skiing one sport or many? Skiing is...take you choice. Multidimensional, multifaceted, an endlessly rich and varied experience. The sport of skiing I dream about during those long warm summer months, is surely different than the sport you daydream about. So yes, skiing is many sports, all different, all satisfying.

This is interesting, but is it important? Perhaps. Because what we imagine when we think about skiing is probably very close to what we experience when we actually get to the slopes, buy a lift ticket, and find ourselves once more on top of a white world.

Skiing for an excited athletic teenager is probably all about rivalry, competition, testing one’s limits and pushing them a bit further. A sport where peer pressure is as real as the snow we ski on.

For an alpine racer, skiing is a sport that involves as much discipline as exuberance. As much training off snow as on snow. A sport that demands focus and dedication, just as much a natural physical talent.

For a working pro at a ski area, a ski patroller or an instructor, skiing comes perilously close to a routine. It’s what you do to get to the office. It’s what you do at the office. Of course, even for the most jaded pro, there are moments of extreme beauty, memorable runs on memorable powder mornings. But mostly for these pros, skiing is what you do to earn a living, to get the job done.

This year I have been working hard on a new ski book, tentatively titled Soft Skiing Down Hard Slopes, the Secrets of Effortless, Low-impact Skiing for Older Skiers. And I realize that I have been re-imagining a very particular sort of skiing. Not just re-magining, but describing, and, in the pages of this new book, trying to teach one particular kind of skiing. My own style of skiing to be sure, but also a sport that I imagine to be an obvious natural fit with older, non-aggressive, non-competitive skiers… Let me explain.

The skiing that I am imagining as I write this (and the style of skiing that, nowadays, I enjoy the most) is graceful and effortless, rhythmic and relaxing. It is not a sport of muscular effort. Not a grunt sport for sure. Not an endurance sport either. The skiing I personally am in love with, and that I love to share, is a sport of balance and coordination. The mountain (a big white inclined plane) and gravity provide all the force needed. My role in this kind of skiing is to stay centered and aware, to feel my skis interacting with the mountain, to make gentle adjustments that result in a graceful fluid line down the mountain, and above all to smile in delight at what seems like — and is — a free ride, a free ride down a beautiful winter playground.

In this style of skiing I am not fighting the mountain, not wrestling with the mountain, or with my skis. This is skiing with no winners, no losers, no first place — but sometimes, on a good day, first tracks — no last place — but sometimes, at the end of a perfect day a great last run in evening light, feeling more exhilarated than exhausted by a full day on skis, no stress, no cramped muscles, no second thoughts. Sometimes no thoughts at all, just fluid motion, poetry in motion for sure.

This is the sort of skiing that I have been trying to teach for years. But I’m the first to say: This is not the right way to ski, this is not the best way to ski. This is only my way. Because there is no right way to ski. There is no best way. If you are comfortable, efficient, at home on your skis and on the mountain, then you are skiing right. And there are so many ways to do this. There is no rule that says that this year’s trendy move, this year’s latest technique is so important that you need to change your style of skiing to catch up and be modern. Even if your ski pro tells you that you do.

As long as I have been skiing, I have always been able to spot those special skiers who seem totally at home on their skis. Who look like they grew up on skis. Who always have a good time on skis, no matter what the snow is like, not matter how steep, or how flat, how moguled or how smooth the slope. Their technique never appears new or trendy, but almost always effortless. And that’s exactly the skiing that I try to imagine and re-imagine when I think about skiing, when I wonder why I love this sport so. That’s the sport (or should I say the particular branch or flavor of our skiing) that I am trying to share in my new book.

How about you? Skiing — one sport or many? — many of course. But which one. Which of these many sports called “skiing” do you imagine and re-imagine when you close your eyes?

Got it?… Now go out and do it.

illustration above: Cruising, effortless skiing, adapted from my video, The New Skis.


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