Ballet skiing has become the stuff of viral Internet video these days, but during the winter months of the late ’90s, it was pretty much how I spent my weekends — weekends I whiled away competing against future Olympians, as it turned out.
While freestyle skiing as a sport has morphed and changed over the years, back in the 1990s, the three concentrations Olympic hopefuls could focus on were moguls, aerials and ballet, the latter later dubbed Acroski.
Ballet skiing never really made it as big as the other two concentrations — and it never became an official Olympic sport, either. It was a demonstration sport at the 1988 and 1992 Winter Olympics, sure, and it had a few standout stars (Richard Schabl and Susan Chaffe, in particular) but people basically stopped competing in it around 2000.
The International Olympic Council just wasn’t down with it, according to Slate, so competing at a lower level was basically a non-starter.
Back in the ’90s, however, my family and I would trudge to various competitions across Vermont and New Hampshire where my sister and I would duct-tape ourselves into teeny tiny skis (so that they wouldn’t fly off mid-spin), grab our really long poles (the better to do tricks with) and cue up songs for our 90-second routines. She skied to Huey Lewis and the News’ “The Power of Love,” I twisted and tangoed to Queen’s “Princes Of the Universe.”
My sister was much better than I was and managed to place a few times, whereas I pretty much never cracked the top 7. This was partly due to the fact that I was not that good at ballet skiing — one time I reached the bottom of the course much too quickly and basically Vogued for 60 seconds — and partly because I had future Olympians Eliza Outtrim and Hannah Kearney in my age class.
Outtrim is also no slouch: She placed sixth in moguls this year and I remember her being the best skier on Mount Snow Team Freestyle, of which I was also a member.
While seeing my old competitors taking the slopes and taking home medals 10+ years later is pretty cool, I can’t help but mourn the loss of that most noble of sports — a sport where one’s ability to flip over one’s poles is honored and revered. A sport where glitter gloves are encouraged. A sport that saw me dancing dramatically on skis to “My Heart Will Go On” (I remember Outtrim teaching me some moves for that stunner of a routine).
So, as the Olympics continues to proudly soldier on, let’s pour one out for ballet skiing.