Warren’s World: Anarchy on Ajax

By Beacon Staff

More than 30 years ago, one of my photographers returned from Alta, Utah, with what was then some never-before-seen images on movie film.

My cameraman told me that the men doing whatever they were doing were riding on some new homemade thing they called a “snowboard.” The only problem was, that they could only make one turn before they crashed in the deep Utah powder. Fortunately the cameraman got enough single turns on film for our editors to glue it together in a sequence that looked like everyone was making continuous turns. When one of the men in the movie phoned to see how the sequence turned out, I only had one comment, “I might suggest that you invent bindings for those things you are riding on.”

For the next four or five years, whenever a new snowboard sequence appeared in our movies, the men and women riding them were doing things that I had never seen skiers do.

This is not to say, “I had anything to do with the growth of snowboarding,” but a lot of people did see snowboarding for the first time in many of my films. Remember that a snowboard provides a great way for kids to get rides to the snow and lift tickets from their parents and still not have to spend the day waiting for them.

Headlines in the Aspen newspapers recently screamed of anarchy on Ajax because, after 20 years, snowboards were finally allowed on the hill. For those purists who might be upset about this turn of events, I only have one thing to say, “If snowboards had been invented before skis, the Aspen Ski Corporation would not have let anyone ride on their lifts with a funny thing on each foot.”

I don’t take any kind of a stand for or against either skis or snowboards. The only stand I do take is, “Have a smile on your face while you are riding down the hill on your toy of choice.”

Accepting change is a difficult thing to do.

There was anger in the hearts of some winter sports enthusiasts in 1934, when Bunny Bertram hung a rope tow up on a small hill called Suicide Six.

“You mean to tell me that some of them city softies will ride up here on a train and spend the day skiing down without ever having to climb up?”

When the Union Pacific Railroad engineers invented the chairlift in a railroad yard in Omaha, Neb., in 1936 there were a lot of people who wouldn’t ride it at Sun Valley for several years because they wondered, “What’ll happen if the cable breaks?”

In only 50 years, going downhill as a sport in America has grown from fifteen chairlifts to what it is today. How can anything have such exponential growth without a lot of differences of opinions? But does it really have to be polarized?

In the 1950s there was class warfare among ski resorts as to what kind of technique their ski school would teach. Would it be the Arlberg Technique where the downhill ski is stemmed? Perhaps the Swiss, where the uphill ski is stemmed? What about the French parallel technique where neither ski is stemmed? The French used a contraction of both legs while the upper body was rotating to initiate the turn. During the same 1950s, American instructors where trying to get ride of what they thought was second class citizenship because they had no foreign accent while they slowly developed whatever the American ski technique has become, sort of an amalgamated verbalization of a lot of interrelated terms. Some of them where invented by Sir Isaac Newton when he discovered gravity and others by someone else who discovered inertia and rotational energy transference. If you perform all of the above, while on a pair of skis or a snowboard with good side camber, the right amount of torsional rigidity, and sharp edges, you can carve a turn anywhere you want, in any kind of snow with your toy of choice strapped to your feet.

However a trail down a mountain is not a highway with white lines, often there is not a right or wrong side of the trail, and thus regular laws of survival might or might not apply. Some fundamentals rules of behavior do apply however. We should observe a snow-riding variation of the Golden Rule. “Ski or snowboard around others as you would like them to ski or snowboard around you.”