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Ask Josh – January 2001

Ask Dr. Flake

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Do you think as the years go by, we will ever see sicker tricks than those pulled by today’s leading stuntman, J.P. Auclair of the Salomon freestyle team?
Derek Guttaski
via the Internet

Oh, that’sa good question. You’re actually wondering if, after 13 million years or so of human evolution, attainment, and effort, we’re going to look at J.P. Auclair and throw in the towel? Nothing against Monsieur Auclair, but I’m convinced that we can do better — it’s just the way of the species. (I personally can’t do better, of course, as I routinely confuse “air” and “err” while on my skis, much to the detriment of my skeletal and ligamentary systems.) J.P. himselfwill soon enough be doing sicker stunts than he currently does, and in no time at all, some young kid will come along and do something so sick that his buddies will coin a new term to describe it because sick is too tame. Depraved. Craven. Wretched. Putrescent.Unless, of course, he busts his chilly ass trying one slick move too many — in which case, his buddies will quietly return to school and become accountants and high school history teachers.

I have repeatedly visited resorts boasting a 50-inch base only to encounter more sticks and rocks than at a Euell Gibbons banquet. Is there any standard among different ski areas for calculating base depth?
Andres Ruetman
Sylmar, California

First of all, there will always be rocks, twigs, trees, and other chunks of mountainy detritus poking up through the snow. That’s just the nature of the sport. You’re talking outdoor adventure, here, not the 14th green at Augusta. But you are correct to infer that there is some degree of mystery behind the snow-depth numbers that ski areas report. There is no national standard, so you can’t automatically compare numbers from Mammoth, California, with those from Snowshoe, West Virginia. But there are some regional standards. In Colorado, for instance, members of that state’s ski area association report base depth from somewhere in the middle third of their mountain’s vertical and from a place not more than 100 yards from skiable terrain. But do all the ski areas use measurement spots of comparable exposure? And is it even fair to try to represent a mountain’s worth of snow in one number? After all, due to the vagaries of wind speed and direction and orographic lift, snowfall can be wildly different at different spots on the same mountain, even at similar elevations. More useful are the data collected in the East, where areas reporting to the New England Ski Areas Council collect several measurements from all over the mountain and come up with a low average and a high average, resulting in a range — a fairly accurate picture of the overall quantity of snow on the ground. But no matter what anyone says, every ski area has at least one bare spot, which may be why I put a four-inch-long gouge in the base of my ski last year while skiing on a reported 34 inches of snow. Look, you can’t take it too literally. Or seriously. We’re talking skiing, and I’ll take what I can get.

In a recent edition of SKIING, I saw the terms on-piste and off-piste used to describe different kinds of terrain. What’s the difference?
Doug Royer
Louisville, Kentucky

At its most basic, on-pistemeans on a packed, groomed trail, and off-pistemeans off the same. But in the U.S., at least, denotation differs slightly from connotative usage. Based on its etymology (it comes from the same root as pistonand pestle), pistesuggests snow that has been beaten or pounded down. Before it was used to refer to ski slopes, it referred to horse tracks; it no doubt started as just a simple way to refer to where everyone else had skied down a big, wide Alp. But nowadays it is used — rightly or wrongly — to refer to anymarked trail, whetheer groomed or not. In fact, one could plausibly say that one skied powder on-piste all morning, even though the presence of powder suggests snow that is unpisted. But I, for one, wouldn’t be piste off if I did.

Do you have a question for know-it-all Josh Lerman? Send it to Ask Josh, SKIING Magazine, 929 Pearl St., Ste. 200, Boulder, CO 80302; or e-mail him at

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Former SKIING executive editor Josh Lerman is now senior editor at Parenting.