I became aware of freeski culture at the height of the “Skittle-thug” era. My home hill’s terrain park was full of park rats with doo-rags, tall T’s, and the always cool bandana tied around the knee. Magazines were packed with shots of folks in the Salomon Magic Suit and G Suit. The wardrobes of the films I viewed leaned heavily on knee-length Saga jackets, teal beanies under custom Crowbars, and Skullcandy Icons worn under the goggle strap. Skiing had an unmistakable style.
I remember battling my parents to not make fun of me for wearing XXL snow pants. I’d sneak an extra long basketball jersey into my pack to put over my hoody for spring steeze. I’d save up for the Jiberish Smash and Grab, balling out on mystery hoodies, all long enough to wear as a dress. Skiing had a distinctive flavor, and I was doing everything in my power to match it.
Nowhere was this flavor more evident than in boot design. Salomon’s SPK was still in vogue, complete with faux leather toe and graffiti/tattoo/trashy inspired font. Nordica was hyping the purple and green Ace of Spades, and Full Tilt, well Full Tilt had the tongues. The older guys who did spins outside of the park had the Seth Morrisons with the punk rock colorway and the studded cable keeper. The park rats mostly rocked Wallisch boots, or Dropkicks with Wallisch tongues. The tongues were the important part. That “pant sagged over the sneaker” look was very in.
I distinctly remember wanting to dress like Tyler in 2014. He was very cool.
By my second season skiing I had figured out my kit, skinny Holden pants under a Saga PB&J, and Full Tilt Konflicts because I was bad at rails but still wanted to be cool.
What we wear, and what we define as “good style” both on and off the slope are always intertwined. There will always be trend setters, folks who tweak their grabs just right, while wearing something new and different. And there will always be followers, us hordes of everyday skiers who just want to feel steezy, like we’re part of something cool .
You can find hints of that in every trend. It’s easy to suss out why those fake denim pants and plaid jackets were hot for a minute, why hoodies worn under bibs swept through for a year or two, why we went super skater “hesh” for a minute, why tracksuits were cool. You can track the ideation, execution, and broad embrace of every apparel trend in minute detail if you’re so inclined. But at the end of the day, we’re all still playing dress up. Sometimes it’s cultural appropriation, sometimes it’s wildly impractical, regardless, skiers like their costumes.
Caleb was one of the first people I met who had his own style, or at least, was copying people I wasn't aware of. The patches on denim look is pretty fricking timeless.
I thought I’d gotten out of that cycle when I started to purchase gear based more on functionality than aesthetics. Of course, I still prefer jackets that hang lower than my crotch, and I refuse to wear my goggles over my helmet, but I was buying based on waterproofing, not steeze, right?
Well, not really. Even that performance apparel follows its own trends. Anoraks are hot now, for some reason, earth tones and muted gem tones are in, flared pant cuffs come and go. Sure, the outfits are more expensive, and more practical than layered cotton tall T’s, but they’re still just costumes. The difference between a ski jacket I want, and a ski jacket I’d never wear is less about performance than it is about image.
It came to a head for me when I saw spandex skimo suits printed to look like Canadian Tuxedos. Skimo is supposed to be all about performance, right? Why else would you wear a skin tight onesie and ski terrible scary toothpicks in awful conditions? But even here, at the most “practical” end of the sport, we’re still dressing up.
At times this winter has felt a little too serious. I’ve wondered if my investment in skiing is truly healthy, if I’m losing an important sense of self-awareness as I focus more on snow safety and avalanche rescue? Maybe I’m getting to the point where I’m more invested in the idea of the thing than the thing itself. Those are big, open ended questions, with few actionable answers. But I decided I could make one change right away.
My XXL Saga PB&J is long gone, I broke my last pair of Skullcandy Icons years ago, my Konflicts with the fake wood cuff were given to the thrift store five years ago, and I was never cool enough for the Wallisch Pros with the fake tongue anyway.
But my new touring boots are three-piece, with a big top cable. So I threw my request out to the internet, and the internet provided. One of those park rats I used to look up to, one of those guys who set trends at my home hill, sold me a pair of the blue Wallisch tongues, the ones that look like they belong on a pair of Air Jordans. So this spring I’ll be touring with my tongues out, over my pants. I probably won’t hit any rails in them, but I’ll most likely wear them with crampons, and walk up a mountain or two. They’re marginally heavier, as the nerds in my DMs like to point out, and they serve no practical purpose, but an important part of skiing is playing dress up. I want to go to the mountains and wear a costume, dammit, and I’m an adult, so I can make that happen.
It's called fashion! Or something. IDK
Maybe that’s why closing day is such a cacophony of wild getups, maybe it’s why beginner skiers on their one ski vacation a year have a tendency to wear such violently designed one-pieces and the athletic uniforms of their favorite teams. Maybe that’s why companies like Tipsy Elves can exist. Skiers like dressing up, we love our costumes. It’s baked into the sport, and I can’t wait to find out what next year’s cool new look is.