By Liam Downey
One of our prized freeski writers, Stratton-local Liam Downey has steadily contributed to Allisports.com since the initial Winter Dew Tour stop at Breckenridge. He just this winter graduated from Bates College, where we’re assuming he majored in something writerly. Liam is sponsored by Volkl, Tecnica, and Electric.
Let me begin by saying I’ve been an avid fan of both freeskiing and snowboarding my whole life; consequentially, I have also fallen victim to several of the trends that I'm about to make fun of. As I type this, I'm wearing a wool, XXXL Lebron James Nike Hoodie over a pair of suspenders which sag pea-green Spyder pants below my ass. I've still got these on, along with a hunter orange bandana, despite the fact it’s been a whole four hours since I left the hill.
Despite my own fashion follies, my close proximity to both skiers and snowboarders over the last few years has made me a bemused observer of the various stylistic overtones these two youthful winter sports have given birth to. Let's start with snowboarding, which plays the role of freeskiing's big brother when it comes to trend setting; a brother whose example is inevitably followed against all reason. Around 2003, snowboarding coopted NBA and NFL merchandise, along with mainstream hip- hop couture, to launch itself into its "gangster" phase. F.O.D.T. crew members like Bittner, Bennee, and McCarthy started rocking jerseys and even golden Jesus Pieces in park, urban, and even backcountry locales. The Tall Tee quickly followed as a requisite as an underlayer to the jersey, hoodie, or jacket. By the winter of 2006, snowboarders and skiers had collectively discovered that different color Talls could be stacked on top of each other; we were — and are, still — unaware that the layered t-shirts gave the illusion of long striped dresses.
Perhaps in rebellion against the Tall Tee/jersey movement, many snowboarders decided tight-pants were the only way that they could really look like skaters. If snowboarding is freeskiing's big brother, then skateboarding is the poster child that big brother pins to his bedroom walls. Anyway, the shredders took the next step, which was to raid their sisters' jean collections and layer up on what looked like spandex-y long underwear. Worried that Levi-Strauss had cornered the clothing market, outerwear manufacturers like Airblaster (formerly a leg bag and sticker company) responded with unisex lines of waterproof bell-bottom-ish-tight-pants with clasps and buckles to cinch them even tighter. In the spring of 2005, a rare genus of Park City snowboarders bridged the gap which had formed between the “gangster” and “girly-pants” groups by wearing Tall-Tees and tight jeans. This, predictably, led to the derisive “lampshades” reference.
Around the same time that the Park “Silly” snowboard scene was most mixed up, skiers started dropping their poles in what seemed to be an attempt to be more like snowboarders (in reality, it only made them more closely resemble aggressive in-liners). This trend may have been initiated by freeskiing's elite with Fujas and Pollard, but its main proponents in the public sphere remained those who either didn’t know how to turn or those who somehow found the concept of pole-planting irksome. Unfortunately, the no-pole fad arrived at the same time as tight pants and just before matching pants and jacket suits phase, which would lead to even more confusion. Rocking skintight jeans sans poles, even a talented freeskier can be easily mistaken for a weekend warrior, shuffling and wedging through lift lines. Still, nothing compares to the no-poles, matching-pants-and-jacket-park-skier, who is indistinguishable from a Texan wearing a Bogner suit.
Skiers not only have the misfortune of inheriting snowboarding's worst modes of dress, we also get its second-hand terminology. For instance, whereas “tindy” is an old school snowboard grab that is neither tail nor indy, it has become skiing’s “cool new grab”, where it is similarly grabbed half-assed. Perhaps the greatest misappropriation of a snowboard term is freeskiing's love of the word “afterbang”. Popularized when Robot Food dropped their 2002 freshman film, Afterbang, the term connotes an effort to make a sketchy trick look better by forcefully puffing one’s chest after landing. The greater ski community never received that memo however, and six years later we have successfully changed the word-meaning “whipped cream on crap” to “the icing on the cake”. Skiers everywhere are now thrusting out their hips and arching their backs while trying to appear relaxed as they ride away from a trick -- two ideas which are as counterintuitive as they sound. On top of all this, the Tall Tee and “afterbang” movements have unified their fronts. Literally. Between rail features, groups of skiers often “afterbang” by forming a slope-descending circle and grabbing onto each other's garments -- all with the intent of properly stretching out their Tall Tees. Really.
While that brings us up to speed on the wonderful world of ski fashion and terminology, snowboarding has recently co-opted one trend which skiing has yet to adopt. This new rave is that of “the gypsy”, a hybrid that takes everything vagrant, hessian skater, and metal head and straps this aggregate low-life to a snowboard. Essentially, they're the Ali Boulalas (a one-of-a-kind, pro-skateboarding hessian-ista) of wintersports. While many of these “gypsies” may drive Audi's to the hill, they offset reality by wearing leather jackets and ripped black jeans on snow (blouses optional). Into their now-rarely washed hair, they twist various gypsy trinkets, dreamcatchers, and bottle caps. In the park, they can be spotted by their Think Thank-esque noseblocks and bonks and their greater tendency to avoid larger features and jumps altogether. While gypsy steeze might hurt your off-hill game anywhere that’s not, say, Portland, Oregon, chances are your local terrain park is already beginning to resemble the extras crew from Pirates of the Caribbean.
It is only a matter of time before the freeskiing gypsy will make his appearance. It will be only then that the “ski bum” of the ’70s will have come full circle; proving once and for all that while fashions may be short-lived, any and all trends will be recycled, and, unfortunately, make intelligent, decent people appear as anything but.