I spend a lot of time staring at my skis. On the chairlift they’re always in the periphery, kicking slowly as I chat and heckle skiers under the lift. On the skin track I’ve spent countless hours lost in my topsheets, only looking up for kick turns. To a casual onlooker, they’re pretty simple, some graphic art on top of a sandwich of wood, fiberglass and plastic. A little steel, maybe some carbon, and a bunch of epoxy. Just inanimate objects. But they all carry a history, and it’s hard to separate the baggage from the physical manifestation.
Good skis are an expression of art. We all know the classics, the Pollard skis (green tree SFB will always be my favorite), the Bentchetlers, evolving and maturing in style, Schmies, weaving his mad tales across scores of classic skis, and of course, the Moment Bibby saga. But topsheet art is just the obvious tip of the much larger iceberg.
Every tiny aspect of a ski’s design and construction adds up to the sum whole of the experience it delivers. A well-designed ski delivers that experience through every turn. I’m a little burnt out on slo-mo shots of Pollard shaping surfboards in a dimly lit garage, but if that’s what it takes for his skis to feel as fun as they do, I’m in. Ski builders and designers are creating paintbrushes, and then they release thousands of them out into the world for us to spray our grafiti or masterpieces all over the mountains.
And beyond that, the athletes on a ski shape our perception of it. Would we all have tried a bunch of 180’s into powder if IDEA hadn’t ever come out? How much of the overall Hellbent experience do we have to thank Andy and Pep for? Pollard showed us how to ski a swallowtail. How much of the CRJ’s appeal was thanks to CR? It’s nearly impossible to separate the marketing from our experience, and that’s part of what makes it all so special.
All of that to say, before you’ve even mounted your bindings, skis are a lot more than a sandwich of wood and plastic.
Some of it comes from the investment, time and money, lusting after skis for so long, saving up for them, watching every edit, reading every review that they’re featured in. But most of it comes from the experiences skis help deliver.
I remember so clearly the first time I got an actual, real face shot without trying, just made a turn on a deep day, blasted out of it blind with unexpected euphoria. I remember glancing down at my skis, shocked, stoked that they’d helped make that happen. Later, someone didn’t close the rack after they took their snowboard out, and they flew off the car on the highway, exploding a binding and snapping a core. I kept them for four more years, displaying them prominently in every house I lived in.
I have a pair of Shreditor 112’s that came with me on my first trip to the Tetons, my first backflip, my first trip to Whistler, my first backcountry tour, my first solo tour, my first ski mountaineering day. I remember so clearly the three times I got in over my head on them, staring down past their topsheets on top of cliffs, wondering if I was going to die. Those images burn starkly in my mind. Now they’re beat up, riddled with core shots, too many mounting holes, but they’re still in the garage, waiting for the day when I can build a proper shrine to display them.
My first roommate in the Tetons had an old pair of PB&J’s on the wall, still stickered up. They carried the same weight for him, were full of memories, reminders of a different life in a different place.
Good apres bars always have ski decor, usually with some epic story behind them.
The shop I frequent has a pair of Tanner Hall’s skis displayed prominently, relics of some video part. You can look it up, go watch them smash pillows. They’re relics of a moment.
I almost feel like I should have a little checklist Sharpied onto the topsheet of my current touring skis: they’ve logged more summits and new descents and powder turns and technical lines than all my other pairs combined. Just a year in I’m already losing track of how many incredible days they’ve accompanied me on. They’re still going strong but when I finally replace them, they’ll live on the wall, reminders of that one day on the Middle Teton, that time it was just too deep Mail Cabin, that time we skied the Sliver, all the times, all the turns.
Drive through any mountain town and you’ll probably run into a ski fence or two. Every pair mounted there has a history, can trigger some fond reminiscence of long ago turns. Some folks prefer to cut their skis up, to make chairs out of them, or wine racks, repurposing them practically while still preserving the nostalgia. Me? I’m a wall ski guy. Mount them there between a pair of nails, somewhere where I can sit back and stare at them and let the memories gush over me. Sure, there’s some wood and plastic in there, but there’s a whole lot more than meets the eye.