When Ski Ballet Pushed at the Porous Boundary Between Art and Sport

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“In the beginning, everything was novel, and almost anything went,” said Pfeiffer, now 94. Crowds came to see emerging stars invent new daredevil moves. “The lift people would complain that nobody was riding the lifts,” Pfeiffer said, “because everyone wanted to see the freestyle skiers get it on.”

Over time, freestyle developed three distinct forms: aerials, in which skiers performed huge twisting jumps; moguls, in which they bounced over a series of small humps; and ballet, which highlighted more intricate tricks and footwork. At first, skiers would perform all three styles in one wild ride down the mountain. Eventually, each style got its own run, though competitors were expected to do all three. By the late 1970s, each form had its specialists.

Of the freestyle categories, ballet skiing, with its 360-degree approach to the mountain slope, offered the most room for interpretation. Some skiers explored its athletic side, developing a range of jumps and pole flips. Howard, who had a background in other sports, said, “For me, it was rock ’n’ roll, go as hard as you can go, blast out as many tricks as you can.”

Others saw potential for a different kind of expression. Suzy Chaffee, who made it to the 1968 Olympics as an alpine racer before becoming a glamorous face of freestyle skiing, introduced music to freestyle competition. Chaffee, now 75, had studied ballet as a child. “At the back of my mind, I’d always fantasized about dancing down a mountain,” she said. Graceful and flexible, she became known for her elegant lines. Fuller, who had a background in figure skating, also emphasized musicality and fluidity in her ballet runs.


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