Skiing: Give Me Liberty...and a Lot of Monster Air
Kasha Rigby's free-heeled assault on extreme skiing
By Michael Finkel
"Alpine skiers," says Kasha Rigby, pioneer of extreme telemarking, wrinkling her nose in a gesture of nordic disapproval at her aggro, locked-heel foes, "look like their feet are stuck in cement. Telly skiing is about mobility, rhythm, and balance." She pauses a moment, glancing down at her square-toed leather boots. "And, of course, speed," Rigby adds. "I love to go fast--really fast."
If you find yourself a bit perplexed, you're probably not alone: Telemarking and speed are words not typically found in the same train of thought. But Rigby is quite used to the expressions of puzzlement. As the lone free-heeled star in an event dominated by a rowdy and often outrageously coiffed fringe of downhillers, she often finds herself battling confusion--and outright prejudice--as she attempts to redefine telemarking with a hard-driving, oft-airborne, point-'em-straight-down-the-hill style that would shock even the brashest snowboarder. But on the 25th of this month, in the 1996 U.S. Extreme Skiing Championships in Crested Butte, Colorado, she'll have an excellent chance to bring further acceptance and recognition to her high-octane hybrid--if she can outdo the brightest stars of extremism with a series of runs so impressive that the alpine-oriented judges will have no choice but to award her the title.
Indeed, what little notoriety Rigby has garnered thus far is due to her past successes in the U.S. Extremes. On a whim three years ago, the then-22-year-old Crested Butte waitress decided to compete in the national event held at her local ski area. She was the only telemarker to enter, and though she encountered more than a few snickers, she ripped the course's steeps, chutes, and cliffs, taking the same ungodly steep lines as the others, with a graceful approach that made her alpine competition seem rushed and choppy in contrast. The judges placed her third among the women and ahead of more than three-quarters of the men. "It caused a big hullabaloo," Rigby says, a sly grin creeping across her face. "A lot of the competitors said I was given special treatment. They also said it was a fluke. That really pissed me off." The next two years, however, Rigby silenced her critics, logging fourth- and third-place finishes to secure her status.
Alas, Rigby has also learned that being a telemarking luminary is no road to riches. Thus far the Stowe, Vermont, native's take has amounted to a season pass at Crested Butte, some free gear, and a role in a ski movie so bad that Rigby refuses to divulge its name. She maintains her stereotypical ski-bum lifestyle: She doesn't own a car (she uses her boyfriend's) and only recently bought health insurance (her mom paid). She does, however, get in more than 200 days on the slopes every year. "My mom and dad don't really approve of my lifestyle," she admits. "They want me to finish college and get a real job. But then, what did they expect--after all, they raised me in a ski town."
Copyright 1996, Outside magazine