My wife Elaine was recently reading Lou Dawson's book "Wild Snow," which talks about classic ski runs in North America. An interesting read she said, but she had to laugh out loud at a certain pretentiousness over…well, everything. Whether it's laying down too steep a skin track, or not skiing in line to preserve powder or, for that matter, basically anything that doesn't fit into a criteria for "the right way to do things," the opinions written in the book border on doctrine. It's not that she didn't enjoy the read – the history alone is amazing and Mr. Dawson certainly has accomplished a lot – and once she figured out his general tone she was able to take it with a hefty grain of salt.
One thing that Mr. Dawson wrote in the book was that the "only real skiing is that done off major peaks, in an alpine setting, requiring mountaineering skills." Or something to that effect. Well, OK. Now I'll admit, there is nothing quite like a spring time descent off a big mountain. It's an adrenaline rush and it makes you feel small compared to grandeur of the hills. But to call this the only type of skiing seems a bit pretentious.
Skiing's major flaw is it's hoity toity nature. When I was growing up, I used to race. If there is a sport more retentive and tradition laced than ski racing, well, they are likely prancing around on horses wearing white clothes and sipping champagne. Skiings background parallels this extreme adherence to tradition. Austere Europeans, mostly Germanic, who moved to the United States and became, or gave birth to, austere Americans. It has long been dominated by the rich – or at least the media aspect of it – and it is, in many ways, country clubish in nature. In my late teens I grew weary of the seriousness of it all, and took up snowboarding, which at the time was the punk rock kid on the block, the big F.U. to the Obermeyer wearing stuffy ski world. Not until many years later, when I started venturing into the backcountry, did I dive back into skiing whole heartedly. The backcountry was a freedom that the skiing I was exposed to lacked. You could do what you want, ski the line you choose, and the rules you made, including staying alive, were yours.
Mr. Dawson's attitude – baded on his words – is predictable yet, I think, a trend backwards for the sport of skiing. While I appreciate his accomplishments, the last thing this sport needs is more rules, more ego, and more tradition based on conservative backgrounds. As an employee in a ski shop, I see this attitude from certain companies as well. I'm not going to name names, but there are distributors out there who think their shit doesn't stink and that the way they do things is the ONLY way to do it.
Thank goodness for the rebel movement. Thank goodness for the soul. For the kid who is building kickers up the mountain, creating new tricks, pushing their own limits far from the world of trade shows and the Wild Snow website. Thank goodness for the person tooling around in the woods on something that makes no sense – skis too wide, boots too old, bindings too uncool. Here's to the kid in Iowa, who finds a hill near her home and decides to slide down it. And here's to the garage movement – the ski builders who are pushing our sport in new directions while the establishment grips onto the old ways even tighter – the RMU's, the Icelantics, the Voile's, or the kid hanging out on Ski Builders dot com who is going to make the next creative thing. Mr. Dawson claims skiing big mountains is the only real skiing. Maybe, maybe not. But I can say this definitively. It's not the soul of skiing. Not even close. The soul of skiing is something much more accessible, much more creative, much more free.
An expression of freedom today by my wife and me. A little ski before dark. Why the hell not? It's dumping snow here in the little hippy enclave of Nederland, Colorado, and that's what we do. A skin up, a ski down. I'm not going to tell where, because the best places to ski, the places that touch the heart and soul, are kept secret because we need the salvation – and solitude – of the place to go to find peace.
My wife and I are both on 156 cm Icelantic Nomads. The traditionalists will laugh, but I love the concept of this small ski company – not longer, but fatter. Taking after snowboarding in a sense. The skis are old, dinged up, but the graphics – real ART, not some crap devised by another fucking engineer in Europe – scream soul. Mine are four years old and have an owl crawling out on the ice. My wife's are three years old, with a nomadic woman riding a mammoth. They take a beating a keep on ticking. They are our tools to find the soul of skiing.
Lou Dawson might hate our boring little ski. Who knows. But we love it. Deep, dark, dense woods. There are no couloirs or seracs in sight, but there are some wicked mine shafts that you don't want to fall into. A few drops here and there, and lots and lots of trees. When the light is low, like it was tonight, it's a desperate and ecstatic act of faith. And when were done, we feel alive, we smile, we fall even more in love.
That's my soul of skiing. No rules in sight. We never use the word "glisse." We cross tracks. We bring a dog, and yes, she pees on the skin track. That's just the way we do things around here, establishment be damned. It may lack tradition, but we sure do smile a lot.