Season of Grace

Why this season should be about fighting the ugly

Candide Thovex passing The Silhouette Test. PHOTO: COURTESY QUIKSILVER

Opening weekend at your favorite resort makes you realize that skiers are a bunch of kooks. Ninety percent of us are straight-lining down the hill thinking we're all badasses, while from the chairlift we look like a bunch of back-seatin' morons carrying poles for the sole purpose of dragging them behind our asses so we can more effectively broadcast the hideous color combinations we're sporting to the entire lift line--mostly hues that never existed before an American ink company developed a palate of fluorescents to help students take better notes on their textbooks. And why do teenagers prioritize hucking violent 900s onto boxes over anything that contains a modicum of style?

I've had enough of being embarrassed for my favorite hobby because the majority of its practitioners can't find the front of their boots. With today's parabolic shapes, Intuition liners, and steel edges, making a fluid turn should be easier than filming yourself with a GoPro, and everyone seems to be able to do that nowadays. This is inexcusable. That's why this winter I'm employing Candide Thovex, Ingrid Backstrom, and Barack Obama's grassroots organizing team to launch a massive "get out of the back seat" campaign.

Graceful skiing is the one universally achievable tenet of the sport. Style and grace don't need a big air contest, a slalom course, or a cannon box to compete. You don't need bigger nuts, fewer brains, or Red Bull to build you a halfpipe in the backcountry to achieve it. It's a battle fought on every pole plant, every chance to drop your hands, not transfer the weight to the downhill ski, or keep your legs pencil-straight in the air when you know you should suck them up. Your knees can hurt, you can be fat, you can be slow, it can be icy, and yet there's nothing stopping you from skiing better, smoother, and cleaner than your fearless adolescent children or all the other hacks who think it's time to pole-mount a P.O.V. camera even though they can't link four turns down Outer Limits without rocking back and sliding out every turn.

How do you know you're doing a good job? It's a process I'm calling The Silhouette Test™. Looking sideways at your shadow as you ski, you are devoid of all the flashy distractions that keep you from skiing smoothly--your fluoro outerwear, the topsheets on those sick new rockered skis, your awesome job tucking your neck gaiter into your hat and under your goggles just so. You're left only with the monochromatic shadow of your movement, a cruel, simple reflection of your calm, collected movements and quiet athletic stance. Or your spasmodic air failings, upright posture, and rhythm-less turns. Try it on for size this winter and see what you see.

Now you've got a goal. Every four-hour Friday night drive to the condo through weekend traffic with the kids watching Cool Runnings [or insert current popular kid's movie] at full blast, every $2,000 outing at Surefoot, and every minute spent watching yourself get slower and older and hurt more can be justified for one singular end: embodying the lost cause, the ancient art, of grace on snow. I imagine this group of style soldiers marching out of the base lodge, skis in hand, proclaiming, "We're proud (of skiing)! We're loud (after a few lunch beers at the Bunyan Room)! And we're going to make skiing look good again!"