It wasn't their fault. Tired from the shred-fest that is Jackson Hole's upper mountain on a powder day, the Rad Bros simply had no frame of reference for the happy idiot in the bandana and flower-patterned windshirt, solo in the backcountry with no pack, skiing on a pair of 150-something women's skis, and… was he snickering at them?
I should back up a little.
We've all had standout runs over the years that were defined by specific skis. The glorious moment when I somehow managed to grease a bump line on 223-centimeter Dynastar DH boards. The 6-foot-deep day in February of '98 when I borrowed a pair of 90-millimeter-underfoot "fat" skis for the first time and became a golden god swooping straight through the Meaning of Life and out the other side. And then there was that one run with Nate, laying the longest and most relaxing turns ever on a pair of 200cm Salomons down a vast glacier that started in France and ended in a tiny Swiss town where the wildflowers were just starting to bloom.
But that morning in Jackson I was tattered: surfing couches for a week, chasing locals up bootpacks and down long rocky couloirs, waking up in my ski clothes with the taste of carpet in my mouth. This particular floor was in a not-very-nice-smelling office building I had been poaching for a few nights, slipping in after the Mangy Moose shut down. There was a temperature inversion in the valley and while it was freezing and gray at the base, I could see the sun already warming the high peaks above the resort. All I wanted to do was get up there and lie on a warm rock. Just a couple of hours of lizard action and one mellow run down.
But the thought of shouldering a pack and giant heavy skis again was unbearable, and the last thing I needed was more beatdown, more adrenaline, more avalanche protocol. Day-drinking was looming when inspiration struck.
I strode into the nearest rental shop and offered a 12-pack to borrow "the shortest, lightest, softest ski you have." After some confusion and suppressed snickering among the staff, I was presented with a pair of baby-blue 156cm Rossignol Saphirs, 70mm-wide intermediate-advanced women's skis mounted with all-plastic bindings that went to 9. Pinning the bindings, I rationalized that I should be able to at least wedge and sidestep down most terrain.
After a quick change into the the aforementioned 1970s windshirt/bandana combo, I was wafting up the cable in a big red box, accompanied by a few locals and some slightly less-suppressed snickering. I suspect middle-aged men dressed like Wayne Wong and excitedly flexing really short women's skis are not a regular sight on that particular tram.
Once through the boundary gate, I shouldered the featherweight Rossi's and booted up a ridge into the sun. On a trackless sub-peak, I found my warm rock. On the surrounding faces and flanks above timberline, the Jackson pow-day program was in full effect as rad people teed off on rad terrain and (presumably) got rad footage. I laid on the rock and daydreamed about attractive women in jacuzzis until the sun faded.
The day of epic not-doing-anything-rad-in-Jackson had now reached the bit where I had to ski down thousands of feet of what was sure to include everything from cold boot-top pow to refrozen moguls.
Delicately clicking into the Barbie Dreamhouse bindings, I held my breath and dropped off the top of Four Pines into the 35-degree powder-covered unknown. Feet together for maximum float, I built up speed and gave a little nervous shimmy… and the tips porpoised like playful puppies. Channeling a powder skiing style not seen in those parts since 1988, I butt-wiggled about 300 tiny turns down the 600-foot pitch. After the first hundred, I was suppressing a smug snicker of my own.
Which is where the Rad Bros came in. I was standing at the bottom of the pitch, admiring all those scrumptious miniature wiggles, the delicate angel kisses of the Rossignol Saphir, when they skied up. Equipped for Maximum Send, with the biggest, burliest skis, full-face helmets, and airbag packs, they had no doubt been Killing It.
As they skied passed me toward the icy maze that drained back to the resort, one of them said, "Nice skis, dude." I let it go and went back to congratulating myself, and then followed them into the rutted-out traverse.
Teeth clenched for what would certainly be survival skiing, I came to another revelation: The tiny Rossi's were in their element. I could pick apart the intricate and icy banks through the forest with a kung fu barrage of little jibby moves that I had never done before because I had never skied on 156cm skis.
Halfway down I caught up to the Rad Bros, who were now soaked in sweat, hanging on for dear life, and no longer making snide remarks about my skis. I refrained from shrieking, "How do like my skis now?" but I did throw an exuberant daffy.
Back at the base village, I returned the rental skis with a bottle of champagne, which seemed more appropriate than a 12er in this particular ski-shop-hookup-etiquette scenario.
While I haven't skied on the Rossignol Saphir since, I have considerably broadened my scope ski-wise. It's psychologically tempting to try to find the best one, the burliest one, whatever, but just like all dogs are Good Dogs, almost all skis can be Good Skis. You just have to let them.
This story originally appeared in the September 2018 (47.1) issue of POWDER. To have more of The Jaded Local delivered right to your door, in print, subscribe here. Barbie Dreamhouse bindings not included.