Peter Shelton

Special Trick Shoes

Posted in Ski evolution, Ski history by pshelton on June 6, 2016

At first I missed my Buddhist poet. He’d been with me on the slopes for the last five years. Inked in silver and black on the topsheet of my old Völkl Mantras, he walked, bearded and imperturbable, from the left ski to the right (two vertical, cloud-shrouded panels) up a mountain path toward a temple on the right ski tip. He was my Zen perspective on skiing as discipline, quest, mystery, obsession. (more…)

Summit Day

Posted in Personal History, Ski evolution, Uncategorized, Weather & Climate by pshelton on January 4, 2016

The wind was not so loud I couldn’t hear the words of the volunteer patrolman at the top of the Summit Chair. My hood was cinched tight, and for the last thousand feet of the lift ride I’d held my gloved hand up to shield a bit of exposed cheek. It was a sunny morning, single-digits cold, with the wind ripping out of the southeast, rivers of snow like airplane banners streaming from the peak, gusts rolling over the mountain’s ribs like waves breaking over jetties. (more…)

Code White

Posted in Personal History, Ski evolution by pshelton on December 15, 2013

My new skis are German-made Völkls, the Völkl Code Speedwall S. I leaned them against a wall downstairs and admired their sleek shape, felt their supple flex – every time I walked by, day or night – before I took them out for a ride.

The S stands for slalom, I’m pretty sure. They are built like a slalom racing ski – without actually being a race ski – sandwiching stiff titanium top and bottom sheets around a laminated wood core. They are small-waisted, just 74 mm underfoot, and curvy. (Back in the 1990s when I was part of the annual equipment test at SKI magazine, someone correctly described the then-new “shaped” skis as having a figure like Betty Boop.)

The Speedwall in the name refers to the skis’ sidewalls, which can be be waxed. In fact, the factory supplies a little tube of fast fairy dust with an applicator lid. Just rub on and polish.

Why wax the sidewalls? Part of the Code.  You wax the sidewalls because these babies beg to be tilted up on their sides – way up – so far up on edge the resulting grooves in the snow are etched by both the base and the sidewall. You wax your ski bases, so why not . . .

My regular five-year-old skis carve pretty well. They were once described, in a gear review, as “double-wide giant slalom skis.” They are curvy, too, compared to old-fashioned “straight” skis. But they are much fatter than the Codes. Their built-in turn is more like a high-speed bend in the road than a mountain hairpin. A gifted skier can carve them down almost any hill, but I have to apply the brakes when it gets steep. I reach a point where I can’t handle the speed, or the g-forces, in a long-radius, pure-carved turn. So on the old skis I’m on-carve and off, scrubbing speed, on-carve and off. Carve and skid, where the skidding can feel like compromise.

With the Codes, and their tighter natural turn shape, I learned right away I could carve more terrain more of the time. This is huge. I struggle to relay just how huge. Carving is not like run-of-the-mill steering, not like the skiing we used to do. There is no play, no skidding, no brushing sideways at all in a turn. The feeling is pure precision joined with perfect stability, because the ski is in fact slicing a trench in the snow, building a tiny curved wall against which you, the driver, lean. Insouciant. Invincible.

Think of a bobsled run with its banked vertical walls along which the sleds ride. It’s as if an alternate gravity were pinning them to the wall. Carving skiing is like that. Except you don’t have to ride down a refrigerated track, you gouge your own little wall with each turn, anywhere you want, anywhere you’re confident enough to stand firm against that knifing edge.

The Codes drew such round-y perfect lines in the snow, I could ski entire runs, top to bottom, without once throwing my skis sideways. Not until reaching the lift line again. It felt like what an engraver must feel, working soft silver. Ted Ligety, the American master of giant slalom, can do this. So can Mikaela Shriffrin, the slalom prodigy from Vail whose gorgeous technique and precocious sense of touch have made her, at 18, the world’s best slalom racer. Carving has been the Holy Grail of efficient, ecstatic skiing, especially for ski racers, forever. Sixty-four-year-old guys who started late and have never raced aren’t supposed to be able to do this. To feel this controlled freedom, this giddy, pressed-against-the-wall line drawing. And yet now . . .

The Code. Maybe it’s Code for cheating? Na. I don’t believe there is such a thing as cheating in skiing. In the early 1970s, when I was trying out for the ski school at Keystone, my Uncle Hal took me into his garage and showed me his Dynastar MV2s. He called them his cheaters, said they knew how to turn and somehow transferred that gift, deserved or not, to him. They were beautiful, white metal, with a small red logo near the tip. I bought a used pair in Denver and aced my apprentice clinic.

Those skis were primitive approximations, many design generations ago, of the surgical tools available today. I couldn’t have carved a turn on them to save my life.

The Codes are white, a beautiful pearlescent white, with a small red Völkl chevron. If Albert Einstein had skied, he’d have understood the Code. Riding them I can bend space-time.

My atoms get excited just thinking about it.

Hot Buttered Corn Snow

Posted in Ski evolution, Ski racing, Watch columns by pshelton on April 5, 2013

Powderhorn’s closing day on Easter Sunday delivered perfect corn. Corn snow, that is. (more…)

Slow Lift Movement

Posted in Ski evolution, Ski history, Watch columns by pshelton on February 16, 2013

People bitch about old, slow chairlifts, but they have their up-sides.

Alta’s Alf Engen used to say he preferred the crowd hanging up in the air, rather than descending the slopes en masse. (more…)

X (Rated)

Posted in Personal History, Ski evolution, Watch columns by pshelton on February 1, 2013

I had three reasons for going over to Aspen last Friday during the XGames. One was to meet up with skiing friends who have known each other since childhood and tell the most amazing tales on chairlift rides. Like the time one of them had a tarantula the size of a grapefruit in his swim trunks. (more…)

Early Season IQ Test

Posted in Ski evolution, Watch columns by pshelton on September 17, 2012

OK, kids. It’s that time of year again when the skiing juices start to flow – even if the sky has yet to loose the white stuff.

The Telluride Film Festival has come and gone. The Imogene Pass Run is history. The season, the reason we’re here, waits just around the corner and thoughts turn – in dreams, certainly, and in moments less appropriate – to sliding down a frozen mountain. How ready are you for those first gliding turns? Take this simple test and find out. (more…)

Messing With Ski Shapes, Part Two

Posted in Ski evolution, Watch columns by pshelton on January 5, 2012

The battle continues over new ski shapes dictated for 2013 by the International Ski Federation.

The debate blows hot on the slopes and in the blogosphere. (Although we haven’t heard lately from American giant slalom specialist Ted Ligety, who protested early in the season that the FIS was attempting to “ruin” his sport.) (more…)

Turning Back the Skiing Clock

Posted in Ski evolution, Ski history, Watch columns by pshelton on December 8, 2011

My mother says she doesn’t always “get” the things I write about skiing. Full disclosure, Mom: Look out! This one’s about sidecut and turn radius, and what some World Cup skiers – most notably outspoken Americans Ted Ligety and Bode Miller – see as an attempt to send ski racing back to the Hickory Age. (more…)

Trend Report: Old Is New

Posted in Ski evolution, Ski history, Watch columns by pshelton on September 22, 2011

I don’t blame them. The editors. Ski magazine’s Buyers Guide is down to a 98-page weakling. So, they should be forgiven for hyping a bunch of product “trends” as “cutting edge,” when in fact they are either old ideas coming around again or subtle tweaks in proven technologies and materials. At least one “trend” – the one on the parity, finally, of women’s performance boots with men’s models – just made me laugh. It’s the same old “You’ve-come-a-long-way-Baby” sales pitch. (more…)