By Derek Taylor
"Amidst the popped-collar and pegged-pants of Reaganist Just-Say-No conservatism, Powder put a neon-clad Mohaked skier on the cover, ad the purists weren't happy. It was the October 1988 issue and the controversy was over Glen Plake's "shaved head". To be fair, only two-thirds of Playe's head was shorn, just as it still is today. The rest of his Mohawk flopped loose that day, barely revealing the letters F and U sunburned into the bald side of his head. That he had the most vulgar of George Carlin's "seven dirty words" branded into his dome went unnoticed during the hullabaloo over his hairstyle.
The ski establishment circa 1988, Glen points out, is best represented on the back of that issue, with an ad featuring US downhill champion Andy Mill. Mill, with his perfectly moussed hair, chiseled cheekbones and romantic connections to beauty queens and tennis stars, had the looks and swagger of the asshole antagonist from every ski-themed B-movie of the '90s. And though its not fair to attach this opinion to Andy Mill the person, it's easy to imagine such a slicked-haired, turtle-necked racer types taking issue with Plake's punk-rock styling. And with Powder putting him on the cover.
Most of this controversy went unnoticed to the ski world at large. In the pre-internet '80s, smack talk was largely private. These days, we're not so lucky. Snide comments once chuckled in private circles over keg beer (or maybe it was wine spritzers, depending on the circle) are now spewed out publicy on Internet bulletin boards. Sadly, there are no more sober or reasonable than they were 20 years ago.
Wile the open exchange of opinions is good in theory, in practice it's often counterproductive. Posts at tetongravity.com lambaste tall-T-wearing kids for their "thugger" and "douchebaggery". Threads on newschoolers.com refer to the "new sport of freeskiing", because there's no way what they're doing can be related to what those old dudes in the fleece vests and zipper-necked long underwear do. And the only thing accomplished is the maul of divisiveness slamming down harder on our sport, splintering it like firewood--just as it once split racers, freestylers and extreme skiers, and even skiers and snowboarders.
What is ironic is that most of the guys targeted by this criticism--Plake in the 80's and Tanner Hall today--are typically the ones doing the most to drop the dividers. Plake will bash gates all night with an Iowa race club and follows a ski-mountainerring descent with two minutes of ballet on the glacier. Tanner will slide rails, compete in halfpipe, ski deep tree lines or steep faces with all equal enthusiasm. Meanwhile, the guys calling them out as punks or thugs are usually only seen in one place--the Internet.
We need common ground, and you would think it would be easier to find. Park rats need to realize that freeskiing--even in the overly narrow definition of hitting jumps and doing tricks-- is not "20 years old or so" as one high profile pro announced recently. It's been around for many decades, if not centuries or millennia. And the cynical mountain bum should accept that hip-hop has been the music of white suburban kids since Run-DMC and LL Cool J, and takes solace in the knowledge that the tall-T will soon go the way of parachute pants.
That common ground of course, is skiing, and it has a long, glorious and diverse heritage of which we are all a part--jibbers, racers, telemarkers, snowboarders, gapers, instructors, bumpers, jumpers, guides, patrollers, bums, tourists and millions of others who have lived and loved skiing, but don't fit into any category. It's time we all embrace that, and leave the hate for the next B-movie."