The Sexiest Sport

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Does your love life need a boost? Click into your skis and slide onto the nearest quad. Your best bet on Valentine's Day might be the slopes.Skiing is a "mating dance," a former U.S. Ski Team racer once explained to me. "You ski under the lifts, jump off cornices, chase each other around a mountain. It's a regular hormone-fest out there." She insists skiers are the most sexually active species this side of a bunny farm. "Let's add up the characteristics of an expert skier: athletic, confident, a buffed body and adventurous," she says. "That's a combustible mix." She's right. Sometimes the last thing on your mind when you're skiing is skiing.

Even the ski lifts add to the hormonal buzz. Chairlifts promote two-by-two pairings-a Noah's Ark on the slopes-as skiers sit, thigh touching thigh, rosy-faced and eager. "Skiing is one of the greatest ways to meet someone because you're outdoors and being healthy-and not sitting in front of a TV," says Dr. Ruth Westheimer, America's sex expert.

A day on the slopes can be like five hours of foreplay in fleece. There's the seductive rhythm of hands, hips and thighs, the unlocking of knees. Skiing serves up fire and ice, strength and grace, mixing male and female strengths in a balance that isn't found on any other playing field. Significantly, no other sport puts both genders on such equal footing. (When's the last time you played basketball with your mate?) Skiing rewards the grace of a ballerina more than the brute strength of a linebacker, which gives women confidence. Confidence is sexy.

A ski racer friend of mine briefly dated her future husband years before they were married; she wasn't impressed. Nearly a decade later they met again and decided to ski together. "I didn't become interested in him until we spent a day on the mountain," she says. "His natural authority and the way he moved on skis-that set the hook."

That is the hook. On the slopes, any couple can feel like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, graceful partners floating down the mountain ignoring gravity's restraints. Skiing and romance is such a natural fit that it's surprising Ken Starr hasn't phoned the National Ski Areas Association to see if Bill Clinton skied last year. Show me someone who doesn't succumb to the hormonal trigger of a crackling fire in a rustic lodge, two hot-rum toddies and that glowing, après-ski exhaustion and I'll show you someone waiting for an autopsy. And in what other sport is cocktail hour a required end-of-the-day activity? Is skiing a sexy sport? A few winters ago, the Austrian National Team's merchandise catalogue actually included an official team condom. What are the chances of the PGA doing that?

What is intuitively understood by skiers is confirmed by academia. A University of Illinois study that was taped to ski-shop walls coast to coast in the Seventies concluded that skiing "stimulates the production of endorphins, which cause euphoria and a sense of well-being." The result? Sexual activity "two to three times your normal capacity." In a 1996 study at Arizona State University titled "You Are What You Play," women told surveyors the obvious: Skiers are the sexiest men out there.

People Magazine recently anointed Harrison Ford as the "Sexiest Man Alive." "Their editors need to get out more," a female Vail skier groused during a recent chairlift ride. Her nomination: the just-retired Tomba.

The Italian Stallion embodies the yin and yang of skiing, its arrogant elitism along with its undeniable sexual tension. Having won a World Cup slalom a few seasons back, a race official handed Tomba the customary bouquet of victory roses as he stood on the winners' podium. Tomba quickly scanned the crowd and stepped down. He walked the fenceline, dropped to one knee and presented the roses to a woman in her seventies, who then accepted a kiss on her blushing cheek. Cameras flashed furiously.

The media, as always, helps get the message across. In 1953's "How to Marry A Millionaire," Marilyn Monroe hits the slopes so she can collapse into the strong arms of her unsuspecting prey. If Marilyn can find romance on skis, younng women reasoned everywhere as they pulled on their tight angora sweaters, then point me to the nearest lift. One look at Norwegian heart-throb Stein Eriksen's blue eyes in the Fifties or Robert Redford in stretch pants in "Downhill Racer" in the Sixties taught consecutive generations of women that skiing was a stud-a-thon. Soon, Jean-Claude Killy, Spider Sabich and Tomba had ladies overheating in their ski parkas. The link between skiing and sex is more blatant when it's aimed at guys. Ask any male who skied in the Seventies about the phrase "Keep Your Tips Up" and you'll see an instant smile. The famous Lange poster bearing that advice featured a buxom babe making a jet-turn in a ski suit whose zipper was closer to her hips than her chin. Less brazen but no less effective has been the wholesome sexiness of the Obermeyer Girl-a cross between a Playboy Bunny and the girl next door.

Today, the Head Girls and Völkl's Carver Girls are a bridge between the cheesecake of the Seventies and the confident female sexiness of the Nineties. These women are like the famous Vargas Girls come to life, but who now can out-ski most men on any mountain. Carver Girl Kristi Brown says the team tries to strike a balance between pin-up commercialism and role-modeling for young skiers. It's not easy. "Someone is always trying to put us in stretch pants," Brown says. "Skiing is sexy, so that's going to happen, but we also want people to say, 'Would you look at those girls ski!'" On the plus side, the sport's natural passion "carries over into other aspects of your life," says Brown, who gave up dating nonskiers long ago. "It just didn't work."

In the end, perhaps Dr. Ruth, who met her husband on a T-bar at Belleayre Mountain in New York, best sums up the natural synergy between skiing and sex. "Skiers like to take risks," she says, "and they wiggle their tushes."