Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+ Sign up for Outside+ today.
I was sitting on Chair 9 in Telluride with my snowmaking boss when we saw him. He was around my same age at the time, early twenties. Like most of us living and working at the resort, he shed the trappings of “normal” adult life for the ability to ski as much as possible.
We ski bums have a habit of doing that. This nameless skier flew down Kant-Mak-M, a steep and challenging Hollywood bump run under the lift, at such speed he barely touched snow. Legs moving as a single-piston, he skipped across the tops of moguls football fields apart like a two-planked missile. I’m not sure what I said, something like Holy hell, look at that! I bet, but I do remember what my boss said: “That guy needs to learn how to turn.”
And truer words have never been spoken about skiing.
Our ski community regards zipping straight and fast as impressive, and I’m vehemently against it. Skis are designed to turn. Who are you to take that away from them? You don’t use a hammer where a spoon is needed. And skiing and snow are finite resources; savor it, pals.
You don’t look at a perfectly cooked filet mignon and think, “I should put that into a blender, load it into a tee-shirt cannon, and blast that meat milkshake into my face hole as quickly as possible.” Whether it is a steak or skiing or any other tasty treat, deliciousness is best enjoyed slowly.
When a good time ends too quickly, disappointment and dissatisfaction are the outcomes. If you only ski straight and fast, let me be the first to tell you that you are shitty in bed. Your skiing makes me assume you’re the type of lover who sets out to make a frittata and then says, “Screw it, scrammbie eggs are fine!” as you rapidly get yours in 30-seconds of unimaginative linear flopping.
There is no artistry, no beauty, no poetry in skiing fast and straight. Deep angles and the huge drapes of snow flung into the air by stylish turns look cool. More importantly, they feel cool.
Have you heard of Dr. John Kitchin? You need to have heard of him, Speedy McZipster. Kitchin is a neurologist who gave up an enormous paycheck and copious material possessions and committed his life to one thing: rollerblading very slowly along the beachside boardwalks of San Diego (check out the award-winning documentary SLOMO for more).
According to Kitchin, lateral and angular acceleration stimulates the otolith—a calcium structure that sits atop membrane receptors in the inner ear. By doing so, the body and the mind most easily get into the ever-desired “zone,” the feel-good state. Essentially, turning makes you happy because science.
Alta’s Farmer Dave understands this. He’s been wiggling in the greatest snow on earth for nearly 50 years, and he’s been doing it in a singular way. Farmer Dave turns and turns as often as possible, which he says makes him feel like he’s floating and flying.
The Farmer believes the simplicity of his unvaried undulating style allows him to best cultivate the resources presented to him in order to reach full potential. Farmer Dave is famous for stacking track after track on undisturbed, low angle slopes. There is a legendary photo of one such outing: 47 tracks, which the Farmer estimates is around 2,000 turns. And you can bet your ass he wasn’t upset he didn’t lay down 11’s. I’m sure he was too busy picking powder out of his beard and massaging his face after a day-long grin fest.
There’s a guy in Telluride who’s a lot like Farmer Dave. Dr. John has skied nearly every day the resort’s been open since 1972, mostly under Chair 9, where this rant of mine began. Amidst his signature slow windshield wiper pivots, skiers on the lift above always have the same exchange:
“Oh yeah, John!”
“How ya doin’, John?!”
“Best day of my life!”
I like to think that every time Dr. John says that, every time he announces his happiness, he’s at the favorite part of his favorite turn, like the dancing, sparkly illumination of a 4th of July fireworks crescendo. I hope we can all live in that moment, that thoughtful brushstroke, for as long as possible.
Go slow, go smooth, go turn, my friends.