The Joy of Tolerance or Do Skiers Eat Their Young?

Greg Stump on Skiing
This story was originally featured in the September 1996 issue of POWDER Magazine.

By Greg Stump

February 28, 1995
Ski Industry Trade Show
Las Vegas, NV
5:00 p.m. – first meeting of the day

We asked irrelevant filmmaker Greg Stump to veer from the soft-focus philosophy and dream imagery of his cult-followed film narratives and give us his take on the smoldering issues of skiing in the ’90s. The smudgey, hand-written version spooled off the fax from Maui only days before deadline. The Stump called from an outdoor Beastie Boys show on the north shore of Oahu, with bass thumping and kids screaming in the static-filled background, and left a garbled message about how sorry he was that it sucked and was late ’cause the surfing had been so good…We’re publishing it anyway. Here’s a glimpse of what’s burning down Stumpy-san’s wick. And in these days of confused glisse identities, it couldn’t be more relevant.

As we emerge from the massive warehouse structure of the convention center into the warm desert sun, my Japanese operative, Azusa Degawa, explains the reason for his overnight flight from Tokyo to Vegas.

“Ahhh…yes…I want to make video for Japanese people to…ahhh…to help them understand beauty and freedom in the mountains…by showing Scot Schmidt and Craig Kelly heliskiing and heli-riding together in Siberia, Russia…and I want you and your team to film it.”

My mind reels off images of gulags along the trans-Siberia railway. The vision becomes more complicated when I see myself dragging several suitcases of photographic and electronic equipment through a cold Siberian train station. Now I see myself climbing into a beat-up Russian military helicopter. Looking into the cockpit I see old Uncle Joe Stalin himself at the controls. Yaaaaarggg!

Stifling this hallucination to keep my composure, I say, “Where in Siberia do you want to film Degawa-san?” Azusa smiles and bows his head slightly. “In the Badza-Iange [Badzal Range]. Ahhh…yes…ahhh…north of Khaborovsk… then take miritaly hericopter for two-hour fright to camp in mountains…ahhh…very cold there…yes.”

“Wow,” I mumble, with fake excitement and genuine fear. You see, shooting ski action is a lesson in paranoid trouble-shooting in the best of conditions. Filming heli-skiing in the Siberian taiga could only mean serious angst for my delusional, highly disorganized cranium. Besides, after finishing my last ski film, P-Tex, Lies, and Duct Tape, I vowed no more ski movies—for at least a year. I didn’t want to film skiing anymore; I wanted to do it. I’ve already been on Whistler 50 days this year and 35 of them were on good powder. I don’t want to go to Russia and I sure as hell don’t want to get in any Russian aircraft, particularly an old military helicopter! Forget it! I’m already scared of this trip—and I’m still in Vegas.

Degawa-san is a kind and powerful player in the Japanese ski industry. He represents the Miura Dolphin company, whose owner, Mr. Miura, is the “Man Who Skied Down Everest” (or the man who cartwheeled down Everest, depending on your point of view). Degawa-san is subtle and wise. He has traveled many miles to meet with me and isn’t about to return to Tokyo empty-handed; he has brought a moral snare he knows will snag me. I’m about to say no thanks when Azusa makes his play.

“In Japan, skiers still regard snowboarders as a threat. Snowboarders are banned from many slopes…” Degawa-san’s smile mellows slightly as he goes on, “and skiers in Japanese ski areas are only allowed to ski machine groomed part of ski run.”

I remember cameraman David Frazee has told me many tales of poaching the epic, untracked, waist-deep powder lying along the edges of every run in Japan. And because he was a gaijin (dumb white male foreigner), Frazee was never arrested for violating the rule of the groomed run.

Azusa continues his pitch. “Ahhh…yes…Japan is not yet like North America where skiers and snowboarders get along enjoying all parts of mountain…ahhh, together. And where they can…ahhh, ski off groomed runs.”

More visions percolate to mind. I recall a patrolman a few days earlier, all but foaming at the mounth as he prepared to bust a skier poaching a newly closed line at Whistler, a chute people skied for years and that many felt should not have been closed. Of course, this was nothing compared to getting arrested in Japan for skiing, not outside the ski area boundary, but merely off the groomed part of the run…especially when there were waist-deep freshies calling you name! Something needed to be done to help these people, and Asuza was trying to do it. And I could help! I needed to drop my preconceived notions about Russia and have an open mind. I could feel the snare both tightening and releasing at one and the same moment.

“Let me get this straight, Degawa-san. Your goal is to portray peace, harmony, and respect for both other humans and the mountains by showing Scot and Craig together, having a blast, skiing and snowboarding freely in Russia, the world’s former foremost totalitarian state, which is being transformed, even as we speak, to a land blossoming with new-found personal freedom.”


“it’s a deal…we’d love to do it!”


“But I have one question Degawa-san.”


“When O.J. Simpson goes to Japan, do people call him O.J. Simpson-san?”

“Oh…ahhh…yes…ahhhh…ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.”

Tolerance. Joy. Open minds. Dreams. All good stuff, mon, and a heady mixture too hard to ignore. And it that was how Asuza saw the North American scene, I was all for getting along here. Most pockets of real resistance were long gone in North America (and never existed in Europe—go figure). The ride on a board is just too dine to knock and the few remaining ski areas that don’t allow snowboarding are hard-pressed to even talk about it. (I’ve met marketing guys from hold-out ski areas who discussed their snowboard ban like embarrassed Afrikaaners from pre-Mandela South Afica!) My partner, Ace, has a theory that snowboarding will become so huge, so mainstream as the snowboard generation grows up, that skiing will eventually become the counterpart activity. There is evidence to support this theory: Long-time pro-snowboarders like Ken Achenbach and Craig Kelly have been skiing lately just for a change of pace (I also have footage of six-time world snowboard champion Shaun Palmer skiing Squaw Valley steeps with more style and aggression than many of today’s “extreme” skiers). But this also speaks to the eventual integration of snowboarding and skiing—both sports will survive because they are both fun.

As for the attitude and anarchy that many skiers perceive with snowboarding, don’t they remember being young? Fortunately, my own mental growth was stunted at puberty, and so youth culture-shock has never been and issue. Maybe most skiers don’t want to act like children their whole lives, but should they eat their young?

Regardless of who ends up ruling the industry roost, doing both sports well only makes you a more rounded athlete. Most of my friends ski and snowboard—depending on snow conditions…or their state of mind at breakfast! I’m convinced I ski better now that I’ve learned to snowboard. When skiing, I really appreciate and concentrate on independent leg action. I love skiing’s beautiful balanced, equal, forward facing stance and, of course, the bug payoff to skiing… in deep, digging, frontal face shots in powder! Snowboarding also modifies the way you look at the fall-line. Because taking your foot out of the binding to push or walk across flats or traverses is bogus and to be avoided at all cost, you keep speed up and read every nuance of the fall-line—always. Because of this experience, I now ski a much faster, wide-open, planing turn…especially in powder above the tree line.

Ski experience also makes learning to snowboard much easier, not so much in technique or balance, but in reading the texture of the snow (you know, make your turn in the sweet spot—the soft snow not the ice). More importantly, a good skier already understands a carved turn (how many beginner snowboarders have you seen skidding sideways on their plank? Lots!). But, my biggest snowboard joy is that it really helps your surfing! Yes mon, it’s all connected! Skiing, snowboarding, surfing, water-skiing, in-line skating, running, fornication…do it all! The joy of accomplishment of learning something new is the ultimate point of this drivel.

Whether it’s creating a video for a Japanese guy to help people open themselves to a new perspective or creating a new perspective for yourself by learning something new, the starting point is tolerance…tolerance for a new idea. It doesn’t matter whether you ski, snowboard, telemark, mono, fat ski, or ride a beat-up plastic sled from K-Mart, you can still have a great time playing in the snow.

The trip to Russia with Azusa and his crew turned out to be the most frightening mind blower of my life (hopefully the video will portray this!). But my life is actually better for it. Just as snowboarding has enriched my skiing experience, Russia has enriched my appreciation for North America. So the moral of this diatribe is simply this: The next time a new idea presents itself—jump on it! Put some meat on it…ahhh, the bones of life…ahhh, rock out with your clock out…ahhh, laughter over dogma! Faceshots in the powder 4 everyone! Yaaaaarggg!

Name: Gregory Stump, Stumpy to you
Age: 34ish
Sign: Virgo—practical, level-headed, short
Born: San Diego, California,
Current residence: Citizen of the world, but lives in Whistler, BC
1st ski experience: Kiwanis Club rope-tow in Gorham, Maine
Childhood Hill: Pleasant Mountain, Gorham, Maine
Sitzmarks: U.S. National Junior Freestyle Champion, 1978; North American Junior Freestyle Champion, 1979; skied for Dick Barrymore in “Vegabond skiers,” 1979; skied for Warren Miller in “Ski Time,” 1982.

1984—The Droids (only available through his mom)
1985—Times Waits for Snowman
1986—Maltese Flamingo
1987—The Good, The Rad, and The Gnarly
1988—Blizzard of Aahhh’s
1989—License to Thrill
1990—Dr. Strange Glove
1991—Groove Requiem in the Key of Ski
1992—Skiers Guide to the Galaxy
1994—P-Tex, Lies, and Duct Tape

Music Videos
1986—”Wipeout” Beach Boys and The Fat Boys
1993—”Out There” Dinosaur Jr.
1994—”I Don’t Think So…” Dinosaur Jr.