He was on skis at age 2, scammed his first season pass the next year and broke his fibula at 5. Undaunted, Glen Plake eventually qualified for the World Cup mogul tour in the early 1980s, but never got a start bib because of his unconventional approach. While colleagues took the zipper line on their 195s, the irrepressible Plake leap-frogged moguls on his trademark 212s. Most frustrated athletes disappear into obscurity, but Plake was just getting warmed up. His infamous leap (and egg-beater) off Chamonix's Grand Montets in Greg Stump's Blizzard of Aaaahs secured him as one of the fathers of what was then tagged "extreme skiing." Plake has since appeared in dozens of ski films and TV shows. A decade ago, honeymooning with his wife, Kimberly, the two set off in an RV on a 33-state, 12,000-mile tour on which they skied 50 small areas east of the Rockies, climaxing with a visit to (where else?) Mohawk Mountain, Conn. At 38, Plake remains a charismatic rebel and inveterate speed freak.
How many autographs have you signed? A million?
I don't know if it's a million, but it's way over 100,000. I do have a bit of a weird callus on my middle finger.
Does it take long to get your fin up?
It's not as much time as you'd think. If my hair is dry, it takes 15 minutes.
For a guy who once competed in moguls on downhill skis and who swears he would have landed that Blizzard of Aaaahs jump if he'd been on them, I guess we shouldn't be surprised to see you on 12-year-old straight skis in the 2002 Warren Miller film, Storm?
Heehhh-Heehhh-Heehhh-Heehhh. You like that? I find shaped skis to be too design-specific. I think I can do more on my 212s. I'm on them now for spite more than anything else. I think it's a shame that long boards are completely out of the quiver.
Young skiers today are doing spectacular things in the terrain park and halfpipe. Are they missing out on skiing the rest of the mountain?
I think some of the jib kids will become better skiers as time goes on. Right now, they're kids playing around in the park, but they'll learn.
SKI Describe your role in skiing.
GP I just want to be a skier. I want to get new skiers into the sport, people who just go skiing for the sake of skiing and don't care about whether they're any good, don't care about whether the place they're skiing is any good. The simple act of skiing is what I'm into. We spend a lot of time glamorizing the spectacle of the sport and not the blue-collar side.
SKI You were legendary in the early years for partying hard. Has Glen Plake mellowed with age?
GP I haven't drank or smoked for 10 years. Do I stay up late? Yes. Do I get after it? Yes. But I feel a lot better in the morning than the guy next to me. Heehhh-Heehhh-Heehhh-Heehhh.
SKI You've never competed in a World Cup or an Olympics, much less won a medal. Yet you're arguably the most recognizable skier in the world. Why?
GP I'm proud of that. My only explanation is because I came from the act of skiing. I am a skier. There are a lot more skiers out there than there are people watching the World Cup or the Olympics.
SKI Maybe the hair and that laugh have something to do with it.