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The Rebirth of Skiing

“Skiing is dying.” “Skiing isn’t cool anymore.” “There are no ski bums.” “Snowboarding rules.”

Hearing that is like fingernails clawing the world’s biggest blackboard. Like a core shot on your first day with new sticks. It drives me nuts hearing people say that. It makes me cringe.

But not because they’re right. Not because they’re right and I’m riding a brontosaurus straight toward the tar pits. No, I get upset when I hear people saying skiing is dying because they’re wrong. Because they couldn’t be more wrong.

You see, skiing is not only not dead, it’s undergoing a renaissance, a rebirth, a reinvention. It’s expanding, mutating, transmogrifying—going off in alien, unpredictable, and uncontrollable ways. I’m so excited by where skiing’s going, I can barely sit still. In equipment, technique, clothing, and—most important—attitude, all the old dogmas are being blown apart, and new, enthusiastic, and completely core ways of thinking are prevailing. I’m neither a historian nor a psychic, but when I look at the sport it’s clear to me that skiing is entering a golden age—the golden age of radical free-skiing. To wit:

Equipment—Never in skiing’s history have their been so many cool, fun, unconventional, and legitimate variations on gear. In alpine skis, you’ve got traditional rectangular race skis, cap race skis, deep sidecut GS skis, fat powder skis, hourglass carving skis, and even, silly as they are, Bigfoot and Sled Dogs. The cap and wide ski evolutions are hitting telemarking, and plastic tele boots are making descents possible that were once unimaginable. And bindings, who would have ever thought bindings could improve your skiing?

Technique—It’s faster, more alpine, more powerful, more creative, and more direct. Throw a bone to snowboarding, give a standing O to ski-mountaineers like Doug Coombs, Andrew Sawyer, Eric Pehota, and Trevor Petersen, and tip your hat to extreme contests.

Clothing—Each night before I go to sleep, I pray that the Japanese star commander look made popular by Descente dies a fiery and painful death. I don’t know if my prayers are being answered, but at least clothing manufacturers like Chiemsee, new to the States this year, are finally making stylish, comfortable, and technical clothes that are neither juvenile delinquent snowboard grunge nor Clarence the Clown Euro-flash.

Attitude—As surely as the revolutionaries of the ’60s and ’70s blew away the Stepford death march of the Eisenhower ’50s, so, too, are the kids of today destroying the slick plastic face of ’80s affluence. Indeed, the ’70s are back in a big way, and you don’t have to live in the Haight to see it. It’s a cultural wave that’s smashing into skiing, bringing equal parts tribal love and Black Flag to the ragged edges of the sport.

It’s not all because of snowboarding. The free-love, peace-bruddah neo-hippy attitude is everywhere, not just skiing. And equipment advances owe a little, but not a lot, to snowboarding. Nevertheless, thank God for snowboarding. If snowboarding hadn’t come along, we might never have realized how stagnant and constipated parts of skiing were getting.

I wonder what happened to all those people who say skiing’s dead—what changed about their skiing that they lost the thrill of a cold powder morning? That they could hold a turn at 50 mph on one leg and say, with a straight face, that skiing isn’t cool? That they could really believe that snowboarding is so imminently swank that we skiers may as well hang up the boards and join a bridge league? What died in them?

It doesn’t matter. With or without them, skiing is rad. Skiing rocks. Now more than ever

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 24.1, September 1995. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

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