Outside magazine, December 1997
The Hot State
It's chic! It's wild! It's Idaho!
Famous potatoes. infamous powder. Both are served up by the gross ton in Idaho, which helps to explain why a just-released survey — OK, so the respondents were 17 local sheep ranchers, but why be picky? — named the Gem State the best place to ski in America.
And why not. The snow-sport ethos here runs the gamut, from the fur-and-fleece chic of Sun Valley to the meat-and, well, -potatoes hominess of Grand Targhee, which (try not to hold this against it) straddles the Wyoming state line. In fact, local snow enthusiasts argue that Idaho melds its ski cultures in an absolutely seamless way, somehow managing to be simultaneously more Colorado-glam than Vail or Aspen and more Utah-pastoral than Alta or Sundance. Certainly a quick look at the evidence makes the assertion hard to refute.
People's Exhibit A is Sun Valley, which invented modern resort lift skiing in the 1930s and seems to have perfected it in the '90s, adding seven high-speed quads this decade and 64 new acres of skiable terrain over the last three years. Add to that its abundance of posh four-star lodging, its crisp, perpetually sunny skies, and the largest automated snowmaking system in the world, and you can clearly see why Bruce and Demi and friends strut with that air of alpine superiority.
Exhibit B is Grand Targhee, a legendary powder stash with 3,000 acres of deep white stuff — 659 inches of it last winter alone — 90 percent of which is off-limits to groomers and left completely au naturel. Targhee, which just attained quad status with a new high-speed lift last season, keeps a second hill, 10,230-foot Peaked Mountain, lift-free and reserved for backcountry Sno-Cat skiing from December until spring. With most of the nearby downhill-destination-resort herd migrating to either Sun Valley or nearby Jackson Hole, much of Peaked Mountain's fresh stuff can stay that way for a week.
So there you have it: Incontrovertible proof backed up by the good word of nearly a score of salt-of-the-earth eweophiles. What more ringing endorsement could you possibly need? — Ron C. Judd
The Hot Gift Item
Picture if you will: lights twinkling on a seven-foot Douglas fir, fire crackling in a brick-lined hearth, nog warming the loved ones' bellies and putting a mildly goofy glint in everyone's eyes. Anticipation wells to a crescendo as the one who gave you life starts ripping the green-and-red paper to uncover the offering of love inside. Unable to take the suspense, with just the top half of your largesse revealed, you blurt, "Look, Ma! It's me!"
Yes, though it's taken years, the fog has lifted and the answer has become clear: Now we finally know what purpose is served by those photographers lurking on blue runs offering to take your picture. For what better yuletide gift could there be than an eight-by-ten glossy of everyone's favorite person — you — strutting your stuff down an impeccably groomed cruiser on a sunny winter's day. Imagine the possibilities: You skiing in a gold-leaf frame. You skiing on Christmas cards. Even you skiing on the front of a T-shirt or the side of a mug!
Of course, we admit the idea has certain pesky problems, mostly having to do with accusations of narcissism and threats of future gift-withholding. But this is a small price to pay. Perhaps recent convert and Seattle resident Tedd Martella — who this Christmas is giving a Tedd-skiing-Mount-Hood glam shot to all six of his brothers — puts it best: "Screw 'em if they can't take a joke." — Adam Horowitz
The Hot Job
"If all the year were playing holidays," William Shakespeare wrote, "to sport would be as tedious as to work." Far be it from us to disparage the Bard, but his attitude would have been different had he taken regular breaks from playwriting to spend winters as a paid ski host. Then he too could have spent his fair well spoken days carving turns as a corporate ambassador, shunting visiting luminaries down intermediate runs in hopes they might, perchance, tell the world about the place and its unparalleled charm. "You get to be all things to different people: friend, guide, sometimes even rescuer," says seven-year Telluride ski host Rich Hamilton. "And you also get to show off your favorite parts of the mountain."
Hosts are essentially entry-level flacks, intelligent, clean-cut young folks taking a shortcut to the top of the resort food-chain. It's a job for an anointed few — only the best-looking, sharpest-turning, friendliest-acting ski bums need apply. Like instructors, they get to wear the corporations' snazziest outfits, achieving this status without toiling for years on the bunny slopes or wiping down cafeteria trays. Simply put, hosts get to ski — yes, really ski — all day, every day.
Of course, ski hosting has its downside. For starters, it comes with a salary that leaves many a host eating fast food or ramen — at least on days off, when the company doesn't have to pick up the tab for lunch. And they have to put up with the whiff of condescension emanating from the hotshot patrollers and star instructors, who view ski hosts as glorified nannies, living on an existential plane where they're required to say, straight-faced, "Mr. Trump, let's clear that snow off the bottom of your boot so we can snap it back into your binding."
Ah, but these are mere quibbles. In an employment realm where the lucky must wipe snot from the noses of third-graders — and the less fortunate are doomed to spend eight hours a day shoveling snow and directing traffic — you could do worse than being paid to seek the day's glory in the company of VIPs. Hey, Donald, wait up! — Donovan Webster
The Hot Stixx
Better gear for a better America
As revolutions go, the recent super sidecut uprising was rather bloodless. Now that shaped-ski devotees have had their moment, this year we've moved on to an egalitarian, freedom-of-choice vibe. In other words, there's still room for those who uphold the merits of other designs, not to mention the virtues of that which sparked the changes in the first place, the snowboard. Herewith, the best of the season's new crop for nonconformist beginners, intermediates, and experts alike.
Just when you thought you had shaped skis figured out, Fischer throws a curveball. Meet the Radarc ($500; 800-431-2204), the first asymmetrical carver. The sidecut of the outside edge is deeper than that of the inside edge, and the two are offset, so that you can carve perfectly parallel arcs with each ski simultaneously, with no need to ever adjust your uphill ski — and no possibility of ever crossing your tips. In other words, an even more foolproof model on which to start your schussing career.
The closest thing to a throwback giant slalom ski, Salomon's Super Force Series 2S ($695; 800-225-6850) combines a narrower waist with a wider tip and adds the company's proprietary Prolink Twin damping system, which makes the rather soft Super Force seem like a somewhat stiffer model. The result is a ski with all-around capabilities to let intermediates dabble in both bumps and powder, and a forgiving nature that allows a slight margin for error as you look to make the leap to the next level.
By far the most extreme pair in this year's crop, K2's Seth Morrison — named for a talented if injury-prone free skier who many say is America's best — beckons the steep-skiing savant, whose idea of recreation is linking high-speed turns on vertiginous, unkempt terrain. As you'd expect from such a ski, Morrison's signature model ($599; 800-972-4063) comes in long (193 cm) and longer (204 cm). Its wide, surefooted 70-mm waist, buoyant 107-mm tip, and stiff construction will let you do anything you dare, provided your skill set is up to the task.
Designed loosely around Burton's ever-popular Supermodel series, the Johan 62 ($430; 800-881-3138) serves up a bigger slice of sidecut than most boards on the market, doing for would-be riders what shaped skis did for neophyte slalomers. And in its effort to welcome recent ski converts, this all-mountain board also combines ample width for dabbling in powder and vivacious flex for the occasional halfpipe-inspired outburst. As for construction, Burton's wood core spans from tip to tail, giving it the sort of durability necessary to keep pace with your growing repertoire of skills.
Hop on Sims's T. Sims 169 ($415; 425-951-2700), which brings longboard surfing sensibilities to the snow, and for a brief instant you'll wonder why Snurfing never stuck. Long, stable, and wide, the T. Sims is simply a snow hog. A set-back stance lets you wheel this bruiser through waves of powder or bust big moves through Sierra cement. One word of warning about riding the 169 on the groomed: Its size, weight, and shallow sidecut conspire to let it achieve white-knuckle speeds all too easily.
In the same way that Porsche's Boxster is more than merely a sports car, Ride's Jeff Brushie model ($429; 800-757-5806) is no average trickster. Whether you're sticking an off-kilter landing or showing the kids a proper ollie, the Brushie's impressive responsiveness — the result of its centered stance, resilient wood core, and considerable flex — will inspire both the desire and the confidence to aim your sights that much higher. — Stuart Craig
The Hot Accessories
Maybe you can have it all
It's not always about what you need. Sometimes it's simply a matter of what you want. Take, for instance, the following four ahead-of-the-curve extras. They're hardly essentials, but who cares — when it comes to being the coolest kid on the block, parsimony is not part of the equation.
The Hot 'Tude
Want to fit in with the locals? Think "Grouchy."
Eric Nesterenko teaches skiing in vail, but it was his 20 years in the National Hockey League that taught him to tap his innermost feelings. During that time, most of it with the Chicago Blackhawks, opponents showed Eric the value of candor, breaking his nose 13 times or so and facilitating more than 1,000 stitches in his face. Now, at 64, Eric brings his sensitivity to the slopes, serving as a refreshingly straightforward — blunt, even — role model for all real skiers in their quest to distance themselves from the posing hordes. When a guy like Eric detects a fellow skier putting on airs, he just might gently rip him a new one. Clients pay $400 a day for therapy with Eric. Colleagues get misty just talking about him. "He's a tough old bastard," says one. A few pearls from the sage of smashmouth:
On aging: "There was this couple from New York, when they saw me, they didn't want to ski with me at first because of my gray hair. I beat the shit out of them."
On education: "Sometimes I get a guy that's pretty arrogant and he won't listen to you unless you hit him over the head with a two-by-four."
On image-making: "While Vail appears to be a glitzy resort that caters to fat people, there's a lot of ski bums that live here because it's wonderful skiing."
On skiers: "Most people are OK, even if they're rich." — Mike Grudowski
The Hot Craze
Say cheese, twinkletoes — it's time for a little downhill dance fever
Ever wish you could cha-cha through the moguls? Fly into a Hamill Camel to the oohs and ahs of the captivated folks on the chair above? Then perhaps you, like would-be Boitanos everywhere, as well as such notable ski manufacturers as Salomon and Dynastar, should hop aboard the Gauer Blades bandwagon. Your ticket to the suddenly booming sport of ski dancing, Blades — invented in 1987 by designer Richard Gauer but only now finding their niche — are just half as long as the shortest traditional adult skis and feature curved tails and dramatically rounded bottoms, allowing you to plant the skate-sharp edges and jetë, axel, and twirl through your best "Ice Castles" routine. "You sure can boogie" is — honest — how Charlie Malfetti, president of the International Ski Dancing Association, puts it. The fiftysomething Malfetti and his wife, Cheryl (above), are the sport's glamour couple, waltzing downhill cheek-to-cheek in matching white jumpsuits and Walkmans. "It's a feeling of freedom to pass people while skiing backward," explains Charlie, who hopes that this will be his sport's breakout season. Indeed, mainstream ski makers seem to agree; Salomon's Snowblade and Dynastar's Twin both entered the retail fray at ski shops last month, looking to nab a share of what is estimated to be a 30,000-pair market. But alas, it seems with rising popularity comes a bit of unseemly dissension. "These new models are being aimed at rowdy kids, like the snowboard crowd," sighs Malfetti. "But our sport is about grace and beauty, not hotdogging. When people see us coming down the hill, they say, 'Now those two are bringing some class back to skiing.'" — Andrew Tilin
The Hot Personage
There's no more with-it sport than free skiing, and no more with-it free skier than Wendy Fisher
As any fan of starship, roseanne, or the artist can attest, the quickest way to initiate an image makeover is with a name change. Hence extreme skiing, in which competitors were judged on their ability to throw themselves off cliffs, has become free skiing, in which competitors are judged on their technical merits and their ability to throw themselves off cliffs. The new spin seems to be working. In the last year we've seen the birth of a six-stop circuit called the International Extreme Free Skiing World Cup Tour, an International Free Skiers Association, and a free-skiing team sponsored by K2, which this season has no less than five models of free-skiing boards on the market. And amidst all this buzz, nobody is more in vogue than Wendy Fisher.
A 26-year-old former Olympian who resides, as do most of the nation's top female free skiers, in Crested Butte, Colorado, Fisher bade adieu to the starched turtlenecks of the U.S. Ski Team in 1994 after a five-year World Cup career. "Those people were boring as hell," she explains. "All I kept dreaming about was free skiing." Two consecutive extreme, er, free skiing world championship titles later, Fisher continues to dazzle the crowds by taking, as she puts it, "decidedly un-chick lines." On her second run at the South American championships in Argentina last September, for instance, Fisher chose a narrow, chunk-strewn gully that none of the men had dared to try — and whupped the entire field in the process.
With her status as the world's best extremist secured, Fisher is now quite happy to dole out advice to those who would follow in her tracks. Her words of wisdom for folks looking to back up their posturing with honest-to-God chutzpah? "Don't do anything idiotic if there's nobody there to see you," she says. "I'll huck myself off anything — but only if there's a crowd." — A.T.
The Hot Injury
The ACL tear, that bread-and-butter repair job for orthopedic surgeons from Mammoth to Sugarloaf, has become altogether too common to evoke truly gratifying sympathy. To genuinely impress fellow schussers with your high pain threshold and stoic aplomb, these days the most boastable part of your knee to sever — the, ahem, owie with the most wowie — is the patellar tendon. Unlike the ACL, which often snaps neatly (and fairly painlessly) in two, the PT, a wide band of tissue connecting kneecap to tibia, "shreds like a piece of crabmeat," says Dr. Randy Viola of Vail's Steadman Hawkins Clinic. And while these days a rebuilt ACL is usually twice as strong as the old one, allowing walking in a few days and skiing in just four months, a PT tear requires six weeks of complete immobilization followed by a full year of rehab, only to regain limited use of a creaky joint that feels as if it could pop again at any moment. "And the pain is hellacious," says this magazine's creative director, a recent victim, who adds that the injury resulted in her kneecap relocating to the back side of her leg. "It's like being drawn and quartered." — Susan Enfield
The Hot Technique
Too deep for you? Wuss!
According to most meteorologists, as well as a good number of friends who let their arthritic joints do their divining for them, this season could well wind up one of the snowiest in years. Which means there may never be a better time to hang up those GS skis and cross over to the other side. "On a snowboard, there's no such thing as a powder day," explains Chris Zuschlag, dean of Steamboat's snowboard instructors and a budding video star. "There are only powder weeks. Crunchy, tracked-up powder is just as much fun as the fresh stuff. Powder is the reason we board."
But how to negotiate the trail on the heels of a massive dump? Three words, answers Zuschlag: speed, speed, and speed. "If your board is pitching you forward, it's because you're going too slow and the tip is sinking. If you're popping wheelies, it's because you're going too slow and the back is sinking. The key is to maintain your momentum." Once you've built up a head of steam, make turns not by edging the board as you would in packed snow, but by applying subtle pressure. To do this, Zuschlag says, you must unweight your board at the start of the turn by sucking up your knees. Then, as you move across the fall line, simply extend your legs and shift your weight to exert pressure on the floating platform you've created. But make sure not to extend all the way: Because powder rides are dynamic and unpredictable, you need to stay loose in the knees, ready to react. "Lean into the turn with your whole body," he instructs, "concentrating on keeping your ankles, hips, ears aligned." Zuschlag admits that leaning like this while going faster than usual may feel a bit out of control. "But stay with it," he says. "The faster you go, the less likely you are to sink. If you sink, you fall, and believe me, getting back up in deep powder is not much fun at all." — Florence Williams
The Hot Event
Because 175,000 people can't all be wrong
To declare the world ski and Snowboard Festival the foremost event of its kind is a bit unfair, for that would seem to imply that there are other events of its kind. No, if your idea of the perfect ski vacation is to stand arm-in-arm with throngs of Black Fly-wearing revelers, then Whistler/Blackcomb Resort's late-season blowout is without doubt the thing for you, an extravaganza so huge that even its creator is having trouble keeping up. "Quite frankly, this thing has mushroomed beyond my wildest dreams," says Doug Perry, a former Canadian professional ski racer who dreamed up the event a few years back. "I knew people would be interested, but I had no idea it would rocket the way it has." Last year more than 175,000 folks turned up for the ten-day shindig, which included 2,000 professional and amateur skiers and snowboarders competing in 25 events (one a nighttime aerial display set to fireworks), 34 live bands, and more unofficial boozy gatherings than Perry could track. This year's gala promises more of the same. In addition to its myriad concerts and competitions — among the invited are such top-name athletes as Picabo Street, Scot Schmidt, and Glen Plake — the April 10-19 festival will feature nightly groove-till-dawn rave parties (BYO No Doz), the second-annual "Lifty Olympics" (bonus points for surliness), a tribute to ski auteur and Whistler local Greg Stump (to mark the tenth anniversary of his seminal dude-de-force, The Blizzard of Aahhh's), and yes, even a doggie parade ('nuf said). With so much going on, how can a lone vacationing skier take it all in? "Well, there are certainly too many options for any one person," Perry confesses, "but at least there's something for everybody. I can only really offer one piece of advice: Make sure to rest up before you get here." — A.H.
The Hot Lunch
Burger and fries? Feh. Bowl of chili? Get real, Junior. When the noon whistle blows these days, you owe it to yourself to, in the words of Cooking Light magazine, "think of your plate as your palette. Color it tasty. Color it healthful." Yes indeedy. And what better edible objet for the lift-ticketed cognoscenti than sushi: an artful, unhurried, unapologetically healthy meal, a dish of Zennish subtlety and virtue in a high-speed-quad world. (No, it won't warm you up, but that's why God made sake.) To you, sushi is flavorful grub. To the folks in the white lab coats looking on proudly from afar, it's an exemplary dose of protein and carbos, with virtually no animal fat to muck up your pipes. Nobody's suggesting you'll find slopeside sashimi at Pennsylvania's Jack Frost Mountain, say, or Minnesota's Lutsen. But thanks to the Japanese presence in western ski areas and Americans' still-growing hankering for carpaccio di mare, at resorts from Squaw Valley to Snowbird to Whistler you can sidle up to the bar and declare, "Tojo-san, gimme an inside-out dragon roll and two pieces of your freshest hamachi," without causing a stir. Your innards will thank you back on the fall line, and your legs will sing your praises till a quarter to four and beyond. — M.G.
The Hot Aprês spot
No, we mean a real bar
Americans, it seems, have never gotten their slopeside atmospherics quite right. Who really wants to spend a great day on the mountain only to drink it off in yet another tidy Tyrolean chalet with a synthetic stag springing from the wall? Next time, why not cut the pretensions and head for an authentic swilling establishment, one with irascible waitresses, free darts, and dollar Pearls every Tuesday night? You know, a bar. Probably you already have your own favorite aprês-ski joint, and don't want some magazine to tell you that you need a better one. But next time you find yourself on the southern tip of the Rockies skiing Taos, Angel Fire, or Santa Fe, we'd humbly steer you to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, a proud and slightly slatternly affair just five blocks from New Mexico's state capitol. Press your way to the old coppersheet bar and order a NAFTA (one part Canadian whiskey, one part Mexican Kahlua, mug made in America) or a glass of San Luis del Rio sipping mescal, and let the aprês begin. The Cowgirl is housed in a low-ceilinged turn-of-the-century adobe compound that, says coproprietor Barry Secular, once served as a dorm for sleep-deprived railroad workers and later, certain trends being inevitable, a brothel for railroad workers who were considerably more awake. Today you'll occasionally spot celebrities knocking back Fat Tire Ales or forking up black-eyed-pea salsa in the shadows of the twin fireplaces — recently Woody Harrelson, Patricia Arquette, and The Boss — but Cowgirl notables come strictly to sip and not be seen. On warm winter afternoons — frequent in New Mexico — skiers and snowboarders park themselves out in the cloistered patio under the old rancher's windmill and create their own alpenglow. The hottest aprês-ski spot in America? We'd say so. (True, the Cowgirl is located a mere block from Outside's editorial offices, but that's pure coincidence.) — Hampton Sides
The Hot Couture
How to hear those three magic words: You look maaahhvelous
If last year's alpine chic was all about scene-stealing retro designs, the mandate this season is for clean lines and functional, versatile features. Herewith, a five-piece outfit that will seamlessly take you from one plank to two and chairlift to lodge.
The Hot Runs
The herds have theirs, and we have ours
Deciding which resort to visit is but a third of the battle. The other two-thirds is knowing where to ski when you get there. For this there's no better approach than to pump a local — so we did, or rather, a small army of them. What follows is their accumulated wisdom, and it's not just for the hard core. Whether you're looking for trees or bowls, bumps or take-the-kiddies cruisers, suffice it to say you need look no further.
Illustrations by John Hersey, photograph by Paul Aresu