Spend a day taking a good look around your local ski hill and one thing will stand out: Whether they are arcing the groomers or bashing the bumps or scarfing the pow or ripping up the park, there are a lot of pretty good skiers and snowboarders out there.
The continuously evolving revolution in gear — and to a lesser extent, a better awareness of overall fitness — has made much of this possible, with the learning curve from newbie to all-mountain explorer much shorter and less steep than it was, say, 20 years ago.
But for every thousand good riders, there are only a handful who fall into the “great” category; you know, those guys and gals who rip the mountain so effortlessly, who can any terrain under any condition so easily that you can only dream of emulating them.
So what makes a skier or snowboarder great?
After posing this question to a number of long-time friends and acquaintances in the ski biz, there was a general consensus that, talent being equal, there are five attributes that separate the great from the merely good.
This, perhaps, was the number one requisite. You simply have to have the desire to be on the hill no matter what.
“With passion comes an unrivaled drive to improve,” says Truckee-area snowboard coach Ben Fowler. “It pushes you to ski from the first chair to the last, in rain, blizzards, ice, powder or 70-degree days.”
Adds Schweitzer tele skier Dig Chrismer: “Even when it’s a job — like, having to pose for the camera or ski for (film) footage — those who treasure skiing and riding as play seem to ride above it all and make it look effortless.”
A truly great skier or rider exudes pure joy in what he or she is doing. There’s simply no room for curmudgeonliness on the hill.
“Smile; enjoy the ride; take in the beauty, and laugh with your friends and family,” says Grand Junction blogger Kristen Lummis. “Leave your cars behind and ski in the moment. That is what will make you great.”
Adds Chrismer: “The difference is play. The best folks I’ve ridden with always hold that joy, that element of giggle. That internal passion for playing . . . permeates every turn they make.”
It’s pretty easy to get into situations that take you out of your comfort zone: a sudden storm, a wrong turn into unfamiliar terrain, a quick change of snow conditions. But a great skier will be able to turn that budding disaster into another cruise in the park.
“A great skier is one who excels in any condition,” says Bogus Basin GM Brad Wilson. “(He) adapts to the terrain and snow conditions . . . And will those different conditions looking the same.”
Adds long-time Wasatch powder hound Shawn Stinson: “A great skier or boarder can ride any and all conditions effortlessly (or appear to) while a good skier will have deficiencies in certain conditions and situations and will only ski to their strengths.”
The number of people who naturally come by greatness is vanishingly small; the majority of those who are at the top of their game had to put in the hours to get there.
“There is the physical side of being a great skier with training and sports science,” says Truckee back-country snowboarder Steve Benesi. “The great skiers have the ability to visualize and utilize their training and put it into action.”
Adds Fowler: “Skiing through every variable (condition) is the best way to get better because you are forced to ski in different ways.”
This last attribute comes as a consequence of the previous four.
“A great skier or rider knows it, while a good skier or rider to works hard . . . at letting others know they’re good,” says Stinson. “Everyone knows ‘that guy’ (or girl) who tries just a little too hard to let people know they are. Great skiers and riders don’t have to do that.”