Ski ballet is the magnificently weird Olympic sport that deserved better

Ski ballet is the magnificently weird Olympic sport that deserved better

Warning: you’re about to miss a sport you never knew existed.

What is ski ballet, you ask? For the most part, it’s probably what you’re imagining: a choreographed freestyle ski program full of jumps, spins, and other stunts. Yes, it was set to music. Yes, the athletes wore enormous sleeves. Yes, it was the manifestation of all my personal dreams.

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And yet… it was not fated to last. Ski ballet was featured as a “demonstration sport” at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, but it didn’t resonate particularly well with audiences. After another disappointing appearance at the 1992 Games, it faded into Olympics history. In 2000, it was discontinued entirely.

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Thankfully, ski ballet is now enjoying a brief moment in the sun — largely thanks to a nostalgic video featured on the NBC Olympics website. But we assume you’d like to learn even more about your new favorite sport, so we’ve compiled a few fast facts.

1. Ski ballet began as a a professional sport, but not as an Olympic one. 

Professional athletes were not permitted to compete in the Olympics until 1988. The stars of ski ballet — Genia Fuller, Jeff Chumas, and Suzy Chaffee, to name a few — were originally professional competitive athletes. Anyone who later participated in Olympic ski ballet in ’88 did so because they “went amateur.”

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2. Ski ballet was pretty unique in its fate. Most of its freestyle skiing contemporaries fared a little better.

Aerials, halfpipe, moguls, ski cross, and slopestyle made it all the way to Pyeongchang. Ski ballet made it to… 2000. Rest in peace.

3. Everyone’s music choices were… good.

As the website Grantland reported in 2015, music wasn’t part of ski ballet until athlete Suzy Chaffee suggested adding it. “So she interpreted it in a dance way,” skiier Bob Howard said. “I, on the other hand, was more interested in putting on some rock ’n’ roll in the background and just let it happen.”

A few of our favorite selections, per the NBC video: “Superstition,” by Stevie Wonder, several David Bowie tracks, “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof, and Neil Diamond’s “Coming to America.”

4. A 1984 skiing movie called Hot Dog featured a ski ballet scene. 

The movie, according to multiple sources, does not hold up at all. You should not watch it. You should know, however, that it exists, and that the skiing in it is real.

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5. Ski ballet was later called “acroski.”

The name change was part of a last-ditch effort to get ski ballet into the Olympics. Advocates hoped it would lend the sport more athletic credibility, but it didn’t do the trick.

When the inevitable ski ballet renaissance arrives, I propose we stick to the original name.

6. Moonwalking was not off the table.

Canadian skier Chris Simboli pulled off the iconic dance move at the 1987 Breckenridge Freestyle World Cup. (This is that “Superstition” program.)

Make no mistake: if this happened in 2018, it would go viral. See what we’re missing out on?

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7. Skier Suzy Chaffee was in a Chapstick commercial.

Her nickname was — you guessed it — “Suzy Chapstick.” They really milk this joke for all it’s worth.

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8. The sport was, according to ski journalist Leslie Anthony, “liberally fuelled by copious amounts of wine and weed.”

This is why it “really hit its stride” in the 1970s, he said in a recent interview with CBC radio.

9. One skier says he invented a trick by accident.

“In the early days, if you invented a trick, you would win,” 70s ski ballet star Alan Schoenberger said in the NBC video. He then described something called a “daffy walk,” which he says he accidentally came up with when he lost his balance on the slope, then stuck his foot out to catch himself.

10. And how can any of us forget the costumes?

These weird-ass sleeves truly speak for themselves.

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