As humans, we are constantly bound by the rules of gravity, constraining us to a terrestrial existence. But as skiers, we can manipulate this force, bending the laws of physics to achieve human flight. Skiing allows us to connect with the moment and tune everything else out. Catching air on skis takes this escape from "reality" to another level.


The first air, by Madison Teifer, age 9. Kicking Horse, British Columbia. PHOTO: Reuben Krabbe

Once a skier leaves the ground, the mind becomes hyperaware and free from distractions, processing complex split-second calculations regarding speed, trajectory, and hangtime, while simultaneously managing fear, confidence, technique, and the elements. This singular focus allows the sender to tap into a state of mind that is difficult to achieve otherwise. As a soaring skier hits the apex of their jump, a sensation of weightlessness takes over. At this moment, the skier floats in a sweet spot that is neither influenced by the launch away from the ground, nor the inevitable pull of gravity back to it. Upon speeding away from a successful stomp, a surge of adrenaline floods the body. There is no better feeling.


The cliff huck, by Owen Leeper. Caribou-Targhee National Forest, Wyoming. PHOTO: Greg Von Doersten

Throughout time, humans of all ages have sought ways to leave the ground, and skiing plays into this primal desire perfectly.

From the grom searching out the smallest jumps to the calculated cliff-hucker sending it from impossible heights, catching air has always been an inherent part of skiing. In the 1860s, Norwegian Sondre Norheim was the first documented skier to stomp a 100-foot air, and as ski jumping made its way to North America, the sport literally took off. By the time the freestyle heyday of the early 1970s rolled around, style and tricks became standard, and the foundation was laid for what we see on the slopes today.

PHOTO: Josh Bishop/Level 1

PHOTO: Josh Bishop/Level 1

With improvements in ski technology and the nature of humans pushing their limits, going big on skis has never been more impressive. Witness the latest X Games big air wizardry, lawn darts from cliffs the size of 20-story buildings, or high-speed 50-footers over deadly exposure, and you can see just how far the concept of air has come.

Legit airtime is not just about dizzying tricks and huge cliffs, however.


The 1080 Cuban, by Dale Talkington. Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. PHOTO: Nate Abbott

Some of the most fun airs happen in the middle of a run, launching moguls and matching up transitions while speeding down the hill. For many, this is the best part of catching air—seamlessly linking up jumps and turns into one sweeping and fluid motion. No stopping to scout the landing, no stepping down the takeoff, just continuing a silky rhythm while incorporating air whenever possible. Despite the brain's undivided attention on the act of skiing, it's as if we have a separate set of eyes that scan the terrain for any lump of snow that will send us airborne. Like a dog playing with a ball that suddenly sees a squirrel, we can automatically shift our focus from our favorite thing to our really favorite thing, instantly adjusting our course to sail off the next precipice.

Whether it is a mogul, side hit, wind-lip, cornice, cliff, catwalk, or booter, there are unlimited opportunities for us to send it and enjoy the ultimate skiing experience. The beauty of sliding down snow takes on many forms, but the ability to effortlessly leave the ground, achieve flight, and land smoothly is surely one of the most dynamic and superhuman feats in all of sports. Lederhosentag at Nordkette, Innsbruck

The party air, by Marinus Höflinger, Georg Stückler, Ambros Fürstaller, and Sebastian Färber. Innsbruck, Austria. PHOTO: Florian Breitenberger

This story originally appeared in the November 2018 (47.3) issue of POWDER. To have great stories like this delivered right to your door, in print, subscribe here.