Bring Back Ski Ballet!

Ski+aerials+are+still+an+Olympic+fixture+today%2C+but+their+fellow+%2780s+up-and-comer%2C+ski+ballet%2C+has+tragically+been+relegated+to+the+history+books.+

Warren Miller Entertainment via Instagram

Ski aerials are still an Olympic fixture today, but their fellow ’80s up-and-comer, ski ballet, has tragically been relegated to the history books.

George Fuehrmeier of Germany stands at the top of the ski run, his face contorted in focus, the number 119 bib stretched over his jacket, his poles grasped firmly in his red gloves. 

It’s January 1985 and the Freestyle Skiing World Cup has arrived at its fourth competition venue of the season: Breckenridge, Colorado. Spectators line the run and judges stand inscrutable at the bottom, waiting for Fuehrmeier to begin. 

“Here comes George, building up speed for his first big maneuver,” says the TV commentator as Fuehrmeier makes his way down the slope. “Oh! A two-and-a-half stay cross. That was fabulous. Would you look at those sleeves on his outfit? He really is one dramatic skier.”

Snow.com

 

This is ski ballet: the most flamboyant sport to ever grace the Olympics. A precursor to modern freestyle skiing, it thrilled fans in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics as a demonstration sport with its flashy costumes, technical tricks (moonwalking on skis, anyone?) and choreographed dancing to everything from classical piano concertos to rock music. For a brief time, ski ballet even included partner routines in an homage to its figure skating roots. 

 

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Ski ballet was fun. It was wonderfully weird. It was, in the end, deemed unnecessary. The International Olympic Committee questioned ski ballet’s athletic merit and dropped it from the 1996 games. The International Ski Federation, ski ballet’s governing body, echoed the decision. By 2000, just 15 years since Fuehrmeier flipped and spun his way down the ski run in his gold puffy-sleeved outfit, ski ballet had died a rather quick and unceremonious death.

Ski ballet came of age during the era of neon one-piece ski suits and was a quintessentially 80s sport. In fairness, many Olympic demonstration sports have been dropped over the years—cannon shooting, tug-of-war and sculpture, to name a few. However, to rub salt in the ski-ballet-shaped wound, its fellow 80s up-and-comers are still Olympic sports today. 

Aerials, moguls and ski ballet were the power trio of freestyle skiing when they made their Olympic debut; aerials and moguls joined slopestyle and halfpipe as competition fixtures in 1992, yet ski ballet was cast aside. In a further humiliation, the International Ski Federation chose to keep grass skiing on their roster of official snowsports. Grass skiing! In an attempt to gain credibility and make the sport seem more serious, ski ballet was renamed “acroski,” to little avail. How could we have let this gem slip through our fingers? 

Freestyle skiing aficionados may think their discipline is complete, but how good can something be without a healthy dose of ski ballet? The Olympics may think they’re fine just the way they are, but is table tennis seriously more captivating than ski ballet? Does curling bring you the same amount of uninhibited joy?

In an homage to its figure skating roots, ski ballet competitions briefly included partner (and trio) categories. (Warren Miller Entertainment via Instagram)

The Olympics are, at their core, an exhibition and celebration of athleticism. Besides all the spandex-clad runners and serious-faced speed skaters, we have rhythmic gymnasts, figure skaters and synchronized swimmers. Compared to each other, none of these athletes are less qualified or less athletic than another, and the Olympics have made room for the creative expression that is inherent in their sports. If sequined costumes are to figure skating what neon nylon is to ski ballet, is there any reason to exclude it when the athletic feats performed are more or less equivalent? I think not. Is there anything wrong with a sport that happens to be a little more “out there,” a little more “goofy,” than swimming?

International Olympic Committee, if you’re reading this: you try doing a front cross-over into a Posty Toasty (named for skier Ellen Post) into javelin spins and a flip while wearing a costume and staying in sync with the music and managing to not drop your poles. Let me know how it goes. Until then, I’ll be brushing up on my ski ballet, getting ready for its grand re-debut at the Beijing Olympics in 2022.