Long Live the Daffy

Where would we be without this quintessential, stylish trick?

Editor’s Note: This story originally ran in POWDER’s December 2015 issue (44.4). PHOTO: Mark Shapiro

I’m sure I won’t be stepping into the confessional if I admit that as a hormone-addled teen, my bedroom walls were adorned with posters of female celebrities posing with legs tantalizingly apart. This was not, however, part of any obsession due to the chemistry cooking my brain at the time. Rather, it was because what I truly lusted for was snow and skiing and general mountain radness, and the women papering my room—Genia Fuller, Suzy Chaffee, Penelope Street—were all top freestyle skiing stars of the day, each executing the era’s most stylish move: the daffy.

My preferential interest in these particular depictions of the iconic trick over those of male contemporaries was because this cadre’s versions were simply better: They were naturally more limber and gymnastically inclined than the men on the circuit, and a good daffy—referred to by one ski wag as “the sport’s crotch-ripping bag of courage”—benefited supremely from such ability. Being able to throw one in its daffiest glory, as these girls all did, was hot, and that spoke to the freestyle-addicted heart of any teenage skier.

For me, the unacknowledged appeal of the daffy resided in the fact that it wasn’t so much one trick as several. To begin, it had the simple joyousness of a spread eagle, but didn’t require a ball-grab or other add-on to make a grander statement. While a spontaneous spread eagle might transmit little more complex to an onlooker than Woohoo!—or Look at me I’m in the air!—even a half-assed daffy channels notions as diverse as a gymnastic routine without a mat, a ballerina leaping across nature’s stage, and an enviable lower-limb yin yang with some serious potential consequences.

Furthermore, in the annals of progression, the daffy stands alone (the screamin’ semen notwithstanding, according to some, though I would argue against). Even in this day and age of unbridled aerial experimentation, the daffy remains the only ski trick that involves a natural human motion—i.e., putting one foot in front of the other—to achieve an unnatural mien. Double and triple daffies remain the closest thing to a spacewalk without leaving the Earth.

Like many other ski tricks through the ages, there were people for whom the daffy came naturally and others for whom it held true terror. I was one of the latter. As a defining upright aerial that appeared early on in the freestyle milieu, it was soon both more prevalent and easier to execute as shorter, lighter skis became the norm. This was the juncture at which my friends and I arrived at the daffy crossroads I can only assume all core skiers must face.

Though it looked to be easy, we all knew it wasn’t. In fact, of all the stupid things we did on snow, the daffy was up there with the tip drop and mule kick in requiring a jump of precisely the right height and distance to execute without embedding the tip or tail of your skis in the snow. This also showed the daffy to harbor an interesting physics problem not shared with the spread eagle: kicking off a ski on the jump, slicing yourself across the face (front ski tip), smashing the back of your head (rear ski tail), getting off-axis without knowing it, or not quite getting both feet back under you in the right order. Given these varied travails, we all learned 360s—a de facto rite-of-passage—and even the frontflip and backflip before we dared to attempt a daffy.

In perfect execution, both of the skis as well as the body were held still in a fully vertical plane (arm-position options included crucifix or fore-aft stride); this was known as “getting your daffy square,” or “squaring up.” If the transition from stepping into a daffy to pulling back to a two-footed landing stance didn’t cease for a discernible second at some point, then it couldn’t be called a daffy, but only daffy-ish. Get it right, though, and, as one scribe has opined, it was “pure Picasso”; get it wrong and it was mere aerial flailing; get it very wrong—unintentionally crossing skis while your legs were moving past each other in either direction—and you’d be praying you remembered to turn down the DIN on your bindings. Badass in any respect, the quality of a daffy lay in how emphatic it was, which in turn relied on how big of a step you could create, how convincing your splits are.

Which brings me back to those wall posters. Not only were they convincing, but as someone who has never even been able to touch his toes or sit cross-legged, they convinced me out of even trying to emulate their perfection.

Not only did the ladies show that the square daffy ruled aesthetically, and that the pause was key from a technical standpoint, but also that these were both required in order for other elements of a photo—fashion, for instance, and here I would cite stretch pants, a rainbow-striped sweater, or a hat with a massive pom-pom—to come into sharp, indelible, poster-worthy focus.

Sure, the spread-eagle-ball-grab-peace-sign might be the most complete statement of the skier ethos possible, and the classic mute grab à la JP Auclair more stylish, but the daffy, by dint of sheer radical silliness, remains the coolest freestyle trick.

Leslie Anthony, POWDER’s managing editor from 1995 to 1997, lives and writes about skiing—and snakes—in Whistler, BC.