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SKI’s Top 5 Long Reads of 2021

Settle into your favorite chair and sink into a satisfying story guaranteed to stoke your desire to plan an adventure of your own.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Is there anything more enjoyable than sitting down with an action-packed ski tale while the snow swirls about outside and the coming days bring potential ski adventures of your own? Of all of the stories we produce here at SKI, from invaluable gear advice to travel recommendations, what we love most is serving up enjoyable yarns from our contributors around the globe, stories about skiing wherever the snow falls and the often life-changing—and always life-affirming—experiences that occur when we click into our skis and set off with an adventurous spirit.

Also Read: The Most Compelling News Stories of 2021

These stories below are our favorite reads with which to settle into your favorite comfy chair with a cup of coffee (and a splash of your favorite liqueur, if you please). Dig in and get lost for a spell. Then go plan a ski adventure of your own to celebrate the new year.

Top 5 Long Reads of 2021 To Inspire You in the New Year

No. 5: This is How You Get Extreme in Taos, N.M.

Skiers stand atop West Basin, Taos, NM
The author (right) and Jill Thomas scope Spitfire Chute in West Basin during course inspection before the Freeride World Tour Qualifier in Taos, N.M. Photo: Keri Bascetta

Former Skiing Magazine editor Kimberly Beekman has been on dozens of assignments for SKI and has traveled to Iceland, Norway, Chile, and beyond to get us the story. This one only required her to drive some five hours from her home in Denver to Taos, where she would compete in a Freeride World Tour qualifier event, but it would provide her with some of the scariest moments she’s had in a while. We’re glad she survived to tell the tale, and give us all a good laugh.

Now, however, standing atop this godforsaken pile of jagged rocks that are waiting to tear my legs from their cozy hip sockets, I have reverted to my awkward seventh-grade self, shuffling through the crowd sideways in too-big flats. In this moment, the only thing I am sure about is that I should never have let her talk me into this.

Did she end up in traction? Find out here.

No. 4: How A Weekend Trip to Zermatt Transformed One Skier Forever

This way to the raclette and glühwein. Sam Anthamatten points them down the mountain. Photo: Christoffer Sjostrom (Photo: Christoffer Sjostrom)

Longtime SKI contributor Tim Neville has traveled the globe to report some of our favorite stories of all time, including skiing in North Korea and sampling the best cheeses in Switzerland. This story sheds some light on how he became a prolific travel writer with an insatiable appetite for adventures on two planks. It all began as a 19-year-old exchange student in Switzerland, where he fell for the charm and challenge of the Alps around Zermatt.

Winter had arrived warm and sluggish that year, but that didn’t matter to me. I’d already logged more days skiing those first few weeks of the season than I ever had growing up on the eastern shore of Maryland. While abroad, I skipped school to test my mettle on mogul runs at Portes du Soleil and played off-piste at a place called Bettmeralp. On weekends, I would head up to a mom-and-pop joint in the Jura called La Dôle, where my classmates and I would build kickers between the larches. It was all so easy for a car-less teen: Just hop on a train in the morning, ski all day, then wobble back onto the train for the lazy ride home, legs still on fire.

But this was something else entirely. We were going to Zermatt? The place with the Matterhorn? I had won the lottery.

Learn how one writer turned his love for skiing into a full-time job.

No. 3: Science Confirms What Skiers Already Knew: Time in the Mountains Shapes Who We Are

Italy, Gressoney mountains
This? Affect me? Yeah, most likely. Photo: Franz Faltermaier

Writer Nicola Busca grew up in the idyllic and remote Gressony Valley of northwestern Italy, where the intense mountain environs make for long, dark, and snowy winters with little sunlight. Not surprisingly, Busca noticed a connection between the topography of his homeland and the quirks of his personality. And now, science agrees with him, according to the study “Physical topography is associated with human personality,” published in Nature Human Behaviour.

Growing up in the Gressoney Valley was idyllic. I was free as a bird, and my only focus other than performing well at school was to become a better and faster skier. I was obsessed with the technical improvements required in GS and slalom, and I was having a go at downhill and Super G as well. But I never had a real passion for the latter.

Then, when I was introduced to powder skiing by a group of Swedish ski bums I started to explore the forests and glaciers of my village in search of cliffs and great hiking grounds. At 18, that coincided with the end of my racing career and the beginning of a new chapter as a ski instructor and philosophy student dreaming of becoming a mountain guide.

Only after several years of living elsewhere, research, and therapy, have I been able to discern the link between the Gressoney mountains—my mountains—and my behavior. And, I think, between any mountains and their people’s character.

Has your personality been shaped by where you live?

No. 2: At Maine’s Shawnee Peak, Longtime Race Rivals Battle For More Than Gold

Luke Pfeifle skiing
The author’s father, Luke Pfeifle, shows off his new speedsuit. Photo: Chris Bennett

Late last winter we got a pitch from a writer we’d never worked with before. His name was Sam Pfeifle, an accomplished writer out of Portland, Maine, who grew up as the son of a former University of Vermont skimeister and grandson of the original owner of the Sugaloaf Inn. For SKI, he wanted to write about his father, who’d been racing in the moonlight league at his local hill, Shawnee Peak. We bit. The story turned into a lovely exploration of—and tribute to—the most dedicated skiers on the hill.

My dad was on the phone. The ski season was looming and he wanted me to know that he’d bought a new pair of skis. “But didn’t you just buy a new pair of skis last year?” I asked. We’re a ski family, but a relatively thrifty one. I had skied on dead-straight Atomic ARC 205s well into the 2000s. Dad, who literally grew up at Sugarloaf as the son of Sugarloaf Inn proprietors, had been even more skeptical of the shaped-ski revolution.

“Yeah, but I needed some race skis. Those all-mountain skis weren’t cutting it.” He’d bought a pair of Atomic Redster GS skis, the same skis Mikaela Shiffrin uses.  

This year, as he turned 70, he was going to get serious about his Racing with the Moon league team at Shawnee Peak, a 1,900-foot family mountain on the banks of Moose Pond in Bridgton, Maine. He and I had taught my now-teenage kids to ski there, roughly 45 minutes from my house.  

Find out who comes out on top.

No. 1: A Dolomites Trip Serves Up Powder, Adventure, and a Deeper Connection To Someone Loved and Lost

Skier: Matthias Aigner, Location: skiing down from Sass Ciapel with views at Sass Pordoi and the road connecting Pordoi pass with Arabba (Photo: Christophe Oberschenider)

For years writer James Jung lived in Switzerland, where he embarked on no shortage of ski adventures throughout the Swiss, Austrian, and Italian Alps. But this story, which he wrote for SKI as part of our 2021 Destination Guide, is a little different. Through a brilliant and touching narrative, Jung weaves in memories of growing up with his father, a native of Austria and a passionate skier, and the guilt he carried about living half-a globe away while his father slowly died of cancer in New Hampshire. It’s a story of love, loss, and learning, all seen through the lens of skiing’s deep connections.

Molly snapped several more pictures. I stood beside her, breath puffing in the cold air, and thought again of my father, dead now these two weeks. It wasn’t the kidney cancer that got him but a gastrointestinal kind, one that spread far faster and took him in under three months, most of which I spent back in America by his side. He kept his spirits high throughout, often speaking of the mountains and our shared love of them. But in the end that talk stopped, and in the last weeks of his life I sat vigil with my mother as we watched him recede from this world in the sheets of a rented hospital cot, this once ebullient and indomitable man silently fading away with all the disinterest of the soon-to-be dead.

Read the whole story here.