The Downhill Report, December 1996
It wasn't always like this. Not so long ago, I was normal and rational and traveled with only one pair of skis. Skis resembled fashion models back then: tall, thin, and underneath the cosmetics, virtually alike. In those days I was content with just a pair of fast giant-slalom skis. The new Volant ZmaxG ($620; 800-852-0220), which comes as long as 208 centimeters and loves to rip steep corduroy, would have sufficed handsomely. Only if the groomers got lazy and bumps sprouted would I throw a hissy fit and totter out to buy a mogul ski, like my Hart F-17T ($495; 800-328-7359), whose foam core keeps things light and snappy in the bumps.
But skiing and skiers have changed, and now two pairs don't cut it. I need an entire quiver full of them: the ZmaxG and F-17T, as well as fat skis, parabolic skis, alpine touring skis, telemark skis, even a snowboard. I want it all. Do I see a gearmonger in the mirror? Sure. But I prefer to blame my quiver on the person who truly deserves it, one Rupert Huber.
My finger-pointing may startle Huber, since he has no idea that I exist, but he earned it back in 1988, when he invented the fat ski. While working as director of research at Atomic Austria, he searched for a way to make skis float in powder as well as snowboards do. His solution: saw a snowboard down the middle. Bingo: fat skis. The Atomic Powder Cruise ($629; 603-880-6143) is the latest in the company's line of wide, short boards that let you float above the snow instead of wrestling beneath it.
Fat skis caught on, to the point that even intermediates began taking the deep plunge on heliskiing trips. Engineers then realized that skis, like Oprah, could have fluctuating dimensions and still entertain millions. Designers promptly tossed out the old molds and came up with the new wave of radical sidecut, or parabolic, skis, like my K2 Fours ($625; 206-463-3631), which carve nice, round turns--even when I'm not on them.
All these new ways of skiing, plus the massive influx of snowboarders, can make a resort seem cramped. So when I want to see unmarred vistas and sleep in remote huts, I power into the backcountry on my Blizzard Alpine Tours ($499; 800-654-6158); light, short (190 cm) skis with bindings that can free my heels for kicking up slopes and lock down when I descend. Some of my friends use telemark skis for touring, but I reserve mine--all-purpose Karhu Vertigos ($300; 800-869-3348)--for when I feel like a change. The parallel turn may be more efficient, but I'm ineluctably drawn to the telemark turn. It's darkly beautiful, more or less impractical, and loves to humiliate me. But if Spider Sabich and Claudine Longet taught us anything, it's that skiers are suckers for femmes fatales.
Finally, when all that genuflecting strains my knees, I turn to Huber's muse, the mighty snowboard. My Burton Custom 164 ($420; 800-881-3138) is long enough to cruise fast and make huge-radius turns, but compact enough to spin around and go fakie (that's backward). I don't fret about skier versus snowboarder hostility; it's pretty much gone the way of the rope tow. You can tell by the changing ski-town lexicon: Where once you'd ask, "What are you gonna ski today?" now it's, "What are you gonna ride?"
When people ask me if I really need a half-dozen different kinds of skis, I wish I could react the way Imelda Marcos did when critics mocked her shoe collection: Mutter a few foreign words, then loot a nation's treasury. Instead, I've just looted my own. Whatever. My hefty MasterCard balance doesn't scare me. I'm a skier; the only thing I fear is missing a good time in the