Roger Marolt: Pursuit of the skiing masterpiece
There are three kinds of alpine skiing: There is competitive skiing, recreational skiing and free skiing. It is easy to be passionate over any of them.
Competitive skiing is self-explanatory. You go as fast as you can through a pre-determined course marked by “gates,” or get judged in an organized event according to established criteria in a rule book. Clocks and scorecards tell the stories. Endings are on podiums. Winners leave with medals.
Recreational skiing is the easiest to figure out. Practically nothing matters besides having fun. Neither the clock nor your skiing prowess count for much. If you finish the day with your feet not sore and believing you got your money’s worth, you win. You leave with a smile.
It is the third type of skiing that is most interesting to me — “free skiing.” It is a moniker from our youth. It’s what we did when not racing. It is what our coaches turned us loose to do after training. This was always the most enjoyable kind of skiing. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t intense, competitive or exhausting. Oftentimes it felt like more of all of that than what we experienced on race days.
There is something about free skiing’s objective — there doesn’t appear to be one. And still, you know there is one. You know this because it consumes time, attention and money. We don’t invest in it for nothing.
The object is clear, if we admit it. It is the desire to look beautiful enough to provoke a thunderous “Wow!” from the voice inside us. When an aficionado performs skiing well, they know it. And, how do you know you are an aficionado? It’s simple: you don’t think you do it well enough often enough. An ardent free skier rarely leaves satisfied.
Being obsessed with how you look while skiing sounds vain, but it’s not, at least not entirely. It’s about looking good only in as much as that proves skill. That’s what matters. While free skiing demands conditioning, practice, coordination, stamina and competitiveness — all the essential aspects of true sport — it is more art than athletics.
Some describe it like painting. The slope is the canvas and the turns are the brush strokes. Individual style is dabbed and mixed from the color palate. In as much, the turns must be precise and masterfully executed, but there also is the call for creativity.
The skiing masses love fresh corduroy snow. Do they realize it is a blank canvas revealing every flaw or masterstroke in a skier’s arc? Many study other skiers and their tracks from the lifts. It’s not like a constant critique. You can do it while carrying on a conversation about something else. It’s visual stimulation, something you see and your brain translates into something to mimic or not.
I view skiing like music. Every line is like a staff, each turn a note. Transitions in terrain mark the measures. You can follow a line from top to bottom when you like the rhythm and tune or shift out and improvise. Skis are your instrument, sometimes plucked cleanly and other times missed, leading to a quick recovery. At the end you hope it was a true and clean expression of reactional deliberation.
To see free skiing as art is to provide an avenue to get better at it. I’m not sure many see it this way soon enough. They mistake it for racing and believe simply going faster indicates improvement. It does and it doesn’t. Speed without gates doesn’t prove much. Granted, you have to be more comfortable on skis to go faster, but at the end of the day you are only more comfortable, not necessarily more proficient. If you play the speed game, running gates is the sole means to prove progress.
In skiing as art, speed is part of the product and not an ingredient. You concentrate on being smooth. You think about being precise, hitting the points you aim for. You place high priority on creating a seamless flow from top to bottom. Rhythm is good. Fluidity is divine. Tempo is essential. Poise ties it together. You don’t fight the fall line but always know where you want to be. It’s making deals with gravity rather than being governed by it. Speed ends up being what it must be to make skiing beautiful, no more, no less. It needs to be as accurately measured into this artistic formula as everything else. A note of caution, though: pursuing aesthetic perfection converts hobby into obsession.
Roger Marolt knows great free skiing is hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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