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.
Watching Mikaela Shiffrin in the zone makes hip swiveling pow wiggles look kinda boring; I’m sure whatever alien race Candide Thovex belongs to evolved strictly to make us Earthlings stare at our skis to say, “why can’t you do that?”; and Cody Townsend’s commitment to skiing mountains that make me want to call my therapist is inspiring. But have you ever noticed that a lot of what we consider amazing on skis looks downright awful?
Watch a video of an Everest descent. “Wow!”, you’ll say as a skier jump turns boilerplate yuck on which you don’t even need to fall in order to die—you can just go hypoxic. Denali’s South Face has more shark toothed rock than skiable terrain, but minds were blown when it was somehow navigated. When Yosemite’s Half Dome was skied from summit to valley floor the internet nearly broke in half. The entire descent is roughly 5,000-feet of 45 to 60-degree awfulness. There’s exposure, no fall zones, rocks, rappels, death ice from hell, the Wampa monster from the planet Hoth, memories of horrible first dates—just all the bad shit you can think of.
So why are we skiers so captivated with such outrageous and unattainable feats??
Professional skier Brody Leven, who typically skis perpendicular parking lots, said it best when I posed the question: “I dunno.” he says.
Leven skis all over the world, has first descents in areas I can’t even find on Google, and the “Yippeee!” factor you and I get on low angle boot top powder no longer entices him. He’s motivated by skiing an un-skiable line in shit snow, testing his limits, both physically and mentally. “I like that feeling,” he says. “It’s different for me now, it’s evolved. What grabs my attention is what’s riskier. That’s more athletically impressive to me.”
Brody is of course entitled to his opinion, and I am of course obligated to point out that his opinion is wrong (ha, solid burn, Leven!). When he comes back from an expedition to some middle of nowhere place where he skied some precipitous frozen wall of nope, I usually text him stories about all the smile-inducing wintery fun that’s been happening without him. For example, the remarkable ski goofiness displayed by my friend Elizabeth Williams.
This past winter Elizabeth set the arbitrary goal of skiing 30 different resorts, just…because. In fact, Elizabeth’s entire ski philosophy is skiing for the sake of skiing since wiggling on planks of wood is a joy-filled, hilarious, and extremely ridiculous endeavor. She’s been consecutively schlooshing at least once a month for the last 100-plus months, somewhere over eight years. Some days that’s a low-angle backcountry tour, some days that’s resort groomers, some days it’s a long-ass, arguably dumb hike for a sliver of snow surviving summer heat. Yes, she almost certainly has the best snacks in her backpack.
“There’s a lot of people way ahead of me with number of months in a row,” she says. “But my [skiing] almost always involves donuts.” To me, Elizabeth’s approach exemplifies the very best of skiing. It’s not about the ski objective, not really. It’s all about having a good time. She organizes her ski days with pals and dogs and donuts weeks in advance. “I think riding the magic carpet with my niece is just as joyful as a first descent,” she says.
View this post on Instagram
But not all first descents are created equal. In the last few seasons, nothing has grabbed my attention like the jaw dropping line two Alta locals accomplished last year. Hazel Fujas, 4, and her 5-year-old sister Zoe Fujas, eyed Alta’s High Rustler (aka High Boy), the famed 1000-foot, 40-degree chute, all season long before putting on their iridescent tutus and skiing it for the first time.
“I have to wear my tutu when I ski. It gives me magical powers,” four-year-old Hazel told me over the phone.
Supported by their dad, pro skier Pep Fujas (you, uh, may have heard of him) and their mom Claire, Hazel and Zoe stem chistie’d their way down the steep chalky mogul tube on legs no bigger than a pair of tootsie rolls.
A few days later, unprompted and after hours of skiing, Zoe made the 45-minute hike to the top of the Baldy Chutes to ski the Main with her father.
“I was a little nervous at the top, seeing the people at the bottom so small,” she said. “[Then] I got excited to do all the turns. It was really fun to ski and I was so proud of myself.”
And so was her father, who described his daughters’ accomplishments as one of the most joyous experiences of fatherhood and his ski career. “That’s what makes skiing so damn cool,” Pep said. “It’s a combination of having fun and doing goofy things. But also pushing yourself. Watching a 4 and 5-year-old figure it out, mentally and physically, get excited about it, was amazing. I mean, there are adults that don’t ski those lines.”
Most folks don’t apres like the Fujas’ either. After each of these smile-filled adventures—the girls still wearing fluffy neon tulle—scarfed ice cream and danced to “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce. Hazel and Zoe invited me to ski with them the next time I visit Alta and when I told them that I, unfortunately, don’t own a tutu, Hazel laughed. “Don’t worry. We have plenty.”