This story originally ran in the December 2016 issue of POWDER (Vol. 45 Issue 4). PHOTO: Bruno Long
When weirdoes founded POWDER in 1972, the hedonism of powder skiing and freely shredding was a tiny glint of what we now take for granted. To remain upright and turning, let alone catching any air, was about as rad as you could get back then. In 1972, mere powder skiing was something elite, esoteric, ephemeral. Fast forward to 2016, and skiers—a lot of skiers—are doing mind-bending things, hurtling down huge mountains and spinning through the air as if the sport had been turbo-charged, nitrous-injected, and then snorted a huge rail of pure crystal meth.
And people are getting jaded about it. All the gnarly lines, the crazy tricks, the pillows-n-spines… it’s too much. The pursuit of radness just blurs together into one big sparkly smear of Stoke & Shred. For proof, look no further than the international mainstreaming of Gaper Day.
What used to be a low-profile Closing Day-only ritual of dressing in stupid clothes and skiing ironically on old gear has manifested itself midseason and within weekend warriors; it’s become so common that I can’t always tell if someone’s wearing that silly-ass one-piece seriously or not unless they are visibly drunk. And there’s no denying the freedom of setting aside the seriousness of modern skiing and just fucking around in a goofy-ass suit and a pair of sunglasses, at best only flirting with conventional radness and get-after-ititude in the form of the occasional daffy or backscratcher off the cat-track.
Today, there are companies that will rent you a Gaper Day suit, and others that are making 2017 Gaper Day-style suits because all the good ones are gone from every thrift store within 50 miles of a chairlift. Clearly skiing could use a break from—an alternative to, an inversion of—all the Radness. And the funerals. It would be nice if there were fewer funerals.
If the popularity of Gaper Day is a natural reaction to a sport that was getting Too Rad, the next inevitable step in the historical dialectic is a swing back in the other direction (yes, this is a semi-Marxist cultural analysis of skiing). When the molly and vodka wear off, hacking around the mountain with beater gear eventually gets old, and everyone will remember their new skis, which are a lot easier to use than a pair of 204s from the thrift store.
But what to do with skiing? Where do we go when we’re not getting super rad or making fun of skiing super rad by skiing ironically in an iridescent satin fartbag? That’s where Feeling Good comes in. Modern ski equipment is great for that—skiing for the sake of pleasurable sensations has never been so easy or accessible. Ski not for athletic accomplishment, summit-grasping, or media production—ski for feeling as good as possible.
Don’t get this confused with some crass Baby Boomer definition of pleasure—a 12-pack and a sleeping bag in the dirt can be more pleasurable than the finest luxury spa experience. And you don’t need carbon skis and a $1,000 airbag to lay into a turn that makes you go “Uuunnnhhh,” or “Hrrrnnnnn-aaaahhh.” Try it yourself: When you think about skiing, just replace “performance,” “adventure,” or “slaying it” with “pleasure.” Don’t slay it—give it a friendly fondle instead. Is that a high-performance all-mountain ski? No, it’s a Pleasure Ski.*
Skiing, at least on halfway decent snow, feels good. The sensation is undeniably one of unfettered freedom and flying, deflecting and directing gravity itself. It’s a drug, an indulgence, an ecstatic act of outdoor self-gratification. And you don’t need to push the sport to ecstatically gratify yourself.
That ecstatic act isn’t really about performance or athleticism or adventure. I love getting rad, and I also love Gaper Day, but it’s time for the level after the Next Level. It’s time for the age of Pleasure Skiing. Being in the right place at the right time. The spray in your face, the hissing roar of moving windbuff at your feet, the whole swooping aspect… It’s time for skiing to take a break from trying too hard and just collectively pleasure itself.
*Bobbie Burns, the pioneering hot-dogger and classic POWDER cover boy, had this figured out in the ’70s when he created his own freestyle-oriented fun boards. Written on the topsheet: Pleasure Ski.