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Why you should prioritize ski style over skills

ski diva

Staff member
I just came across this article from January's SKI magazine, and thought it raised some interesting points. I particularly liked this excerpt from Glen Plake:

“I can clearly see somebody skiing with style,” legendary freestyler Glen Plaketells me when I call him one afternoon. “It sticks out like a sore thumb.” Most recognizable by his one-foot mohawk and his role in classic ski films like Blizzard of Aahhh’s, Plake built a nontraditional career in front of the camera instead of on the racecourse, demonstrating equal prowess hotdogging down mogul fieldsand skiing freaky-steep big mountains. He is both icon and iconoclast, one of the most expressive athletes in one of the most stylish sports. But he says skiing isn’t the creative endeavor it used to be. “I think we’ve lost a lot of style,” he says. “Everybody looks like robots.”

Plake, now 57, attributes our homogeneity to a few factors, including our modern-day powder mania—“Nobody wants to ski moguls or groomers anymore”—and our stiflingly too-cool attitude: “If you do daffies or spread eagles or some ballet trick, it’s like, he-he ha-ha, that’s funny old school. What makes it any less of a style move than some rail trick?” Finally, there’s the gear: “Everyone’s skiing these big wide skis. You don’t really have to plant your poles or move up or down. You kind of sit there and lean and bank.” Back in the day, he recalls, he and his friends would occasionally ski on superlong 225-centimeter skis, just for the challenge.

“Is difficulty some element of style too, then?” I ask.

“I think so, yeah,” he says. “Funny little style tricks take time to learn.” In other words, style has to be earned. That’s really what we appreciate when we see a beautiful skier coming down the mountain under the lift line, right? The fluidity and ease that belie years of practice. Even in the Instagram era, you can’t fake style.

But with enough work, Plake says, anyone can learn to be stylish. And it’s worth pursuing as the ultimate form of self-expression. “You’re trying to saysomething,” he tells me. “Skiing is a great opportunity to say something. Sport, in general, is a great opportunity to say something.”

So what do you think? How would you define style? I find that I can recognize people I ski with often from a distance, based on the way they ski. Part of this, yes, is skill, but part is their ski style, too. I love seeing a beautiful skier, and I know that a lot of that comes with acquiring skill. But is that all there is to it?
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Angel Diva
I think there’s a lot of room for creativity, style and self expression in skiing! Sure you can charge down the mountain and hit sick lines or whatever, but how you choose your lines and the way you move down them can be akin to dancing down and with the mountain. I’m not good enough at skiing to really have a “style”, but the opportunity to play in moguls and make interesting turn shapes definitely motivates me to improve.


Ski Diva Extraordinaire
Such a great question and as you say, the definition of style becomes part of the answer.

Like you @ski diva I can recognize friends and colleagues by how they move and even stand, in spite of their skills being almost identical. Some of it is probably that we all have different morphologies. Same height, but different bones lengths and weight distributions will totally change how we move.

More fun are small or big style movements that tell stories. Like the backcountry powder skiers out with their friends for a day on groomers. The elbows move up higher than for the rest of us as they are used to lifting the baskets above the inches or feet of pow for each pole touch. Or the choice to carve in powder, or slash a turn on groomers, often indicative of the type of terrain or snow a person prefers.

These choices, sadly get lost a little, when a person has the skills to mix it up for the conditions of the day. I try to encourage people to try to change up their skills if it improves their skiing, but to also hold on to the style elements that define them, even if it means loosing a little efficiency in favor of flair. One example is a dear friend who likes to "dance" with her shoulders a fair bit. Super solid, double black, and backcountry skier. Wasted movement? Perhaps, but so so defines her style.

I like our PSIA ski approach to teaching, because it gives instructors a little room to allow our students to be themselves and not try to look exactly like some national standard. When we get visitors from say france or austria that ski at a higher level, they all look identical, and more to the point of @ilovepugs they seldom explore the canvas that is the mountain, and make the same shape, and size turns, straight down. Personally, the line selection part of style, has been the most challenged and fun when I follow good snowboarders on my home mountain. They look for features in a way that skiers my age were not encouraged to do. Of course, doing so safely is key, but boy oy boy, is it fun to learn about the features I skied by for years without taking heed. Some are too gnarly for me, but many are just a gully, or wave, or something that adds a break to the turn turn turn turn pattern I often get stuck in.

I am not sure I agree with Plake on the tricks part. To me that is adding flair versus a person's style. Doing old school tricks is the flair, the personal twist to the move, is the style. What I totally agree with is that it takes a lot of times and effort to perfect those moves. This is why I always give credit to the kids on boards and skis in the terrain park. They may be trying to look cool and seem a bit rough, or over the top, or hard for some to accept as skiers or snowboarders, but the amount of pain and dedication they give their sport is insane.

Ironically, events that do judge on style, like big mountain skiing, tend to not favor the super smooth woman skier or rider as she will not look like she is on the edge or pushing it between hits. This phenomenon became really clear to me over the years of watching women pick the same line, with similar tricks. The super well balanced ones, looked like they were creeping along, compared to some of the slower ones who appeared to be pushing more. Style matters. Skills influence style a bit.
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Angel Diva
This is why I always give credit to the kids on boards and skis in the terrain park. They may be trying to look cool and seem a bit rough, or over the top, or hard for some to accept as skiers or snowboarders, but the amount of pain and dedication they give their sport is insane.
Thanks for this, @snoWYmonkey. My son wasn't a kid when he started freestyle - thus likely making the learning curve even tougher? Man, did he work hard, mostly in the year he passed L3 (2004). I was frequently a jump-spotter. The day he landed his first clean 720 was...celebratory. Thereafter, especially after L3, he was frequently requested specifically for freestyle lessons/training.


Ski Diva Extraordinaire
I once had an amazing instructor at Telluride who preached the gospel: "Skiing is all about looooooking gooooood." Meaning, if you look good on the hill chances are you are skiing with skill. I'd bet he'd say that you've gotta develop the skills before you develop a "style" as Plake defines it.


Angel Diva
Does occasionally skiing switch or doing a whirlybird because a ski didn't make it out of the last turn cleanly count as style? Asking for a friend.
I was remembering this comment and giggling last week, when DS was getting used to his twin tips and did this.
”how are the new skis?“
“I’m getting used to turning them… I did ski backwards for a while”


Ski Diva Extraordinaire
@BlizzardBabe and the best news is that we each get to define our own idea of Looking Good!


Ski Diva Extraordinaire
I have been called 'methodical' in style...one step up from robotic. But then someone recently I'm a beautiful skier. And then there are them who'd say I can't ski. I agree that the kind of style Plake is talking is built on sold skills, +1 to what @BlizzardBabe said,

"I'd bet he'd say that you've gotta develop the skills before you develop a "style" as Plake defines it..


Ski Diva Extraordinaire
@liquidfeet in trying to define it without assigning a performance advantage, I would venture to say that it is the choice of movement combinations one skier choose over another, especially when the final goal and success are identical. One example could be 2 racers with identical times at world cup level but with slightly or majorly different technical approaches, which then might be labeled one style versus another as neither is right or wrong. Timing can be seen as a srylistic choice in park and pipe when the movement is identical but one has a style that is move say aggressive versus relaxed based on timing alone. Just some of the cuffs thoughts on style versus skill.


Ski Diva Extraordinaire
In art, "style" is what an artist has when they have built up a body of work that is in some way consistent and unique. The style is associated with the artist, and with no other artist since it's unique. For instance, Monet's "style" is quite recognizable and it isn't like any other French Impressionist's work. In art, "style" has deep meaning. Dissertations can be written about one artist's style. It's important for an artist to find and develop a unique style or their work won't be memorable.

When I apply that use of the word to skiers and their skiing, it doesn't resonate the same way. Let's assume I'm looking at two excellent skiers, the people we love to watch on youtube videos. Unique differences will show up, but they will be additions to what we love about the two skiers - which is their extremely competent technique which is out of our reach. It's their technique that separates them from the masses, and their "style" that separates them from each other.

I don't think it's more important for a skier to develop idiosyncratic movement patterns than to master the basics, and work towards higher precision in using them.

The master of style in skiing is of course Glen Plake. But his "style" is his hair, his aggressive tactics on extreme terrain, his smile and affability evident in his promotion of skiing. Most of that stuff sits on top of his excellent masterful amazing skiing technique. Without the technique, we wouldn't know his name.

So I guess I disagree with the thread title.


Ski Diva Extraordinaire
DH has style because he is a precision skier and skis all terrains consistently and in form. He is pushing me to fix my issues for a reason not to look good but so that I can ski into old(er) age. Younger skiers can power through bad form but as we get older, skiing 'right' will extend our ski lives (per DH). I'm working on it.......

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