Peter Shelton

Mastering space and time

Posted in Olympic Games, Ski history, Watch columns by pshelton on December 9, 2010

Last weekend was a very good one for American ski racers skiing on American (at least North American) snow.

Up in Alberta, Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso put on a show in the speed events. Vonn finished second in two consecutive downhills, to her good buddy and chief rival Maria Riesch of Germany, then won Sunday’s Super G just ahead of Riesch with Mancuso third. Julia finished fourth and sixth in the two downhills.

At Beaver Creek, the U.S. men didn’t fare so well. The downhill got cancelled due to wind. In the Super G all of the top Americans were ambushed by the same small bump and missed the next gate. One after the other. Keystone cops. Looked like a coaching/inspection/line error to me.

But then on Sunday, Ted Ligety of Park City won the giant slalom for his first World Cup victory on home soil. Er, snow.

Both tall, blonde Vonn and dark-haired Riesch are dominating their tour, have been for the past three years. Funny, though, the images of Vonn don’t look dominating. I know, that’s a stupid thing to say. She’s winning, or coming close, in just about every speed event. But, in still photographs, her position looks a little desperate: her head is tipped, the eyes aren’t level with the horizon; her hand is flying up; she’s leaning in more than she’s angulating; the skis are off the snow.

Bode Miller can be wild, as we know, and still be fast. He doesn’t finish many races these days. When I think of dominant skiing, I think of skiers in gorgeous control of all the forces acting on them painting their way down a blank canvas. (more…)

Where 60 counts as a youngster

Posted in Ski history, Watch columns by pshelton on April 15, 2010

One of the Alta volunteer guides stood on a knoll watching, hoping that all of her charges would make the turn to the Supreme chairlift. Most of them did turn right as instructed onto the narrow access trail. But a couple of them didn’t, sailing along in their timeless parallel christies, merrily on down past the cut-off.

“Oh, I get it,” deadpanned the guide. “Half of them are deaf and the other half don’t listen.”

This was a funny if somewhat exaggerated assessment of the group. Her charges, my compatriots at the annual gathering of the International Skiing History Association, probably averaged 75 years of age. More than a few of them sported hearing aids. Quite a few—the group numbered about 20—were well into their 80s. All were lifetime skiers, some of them superb skiers still. They knew what they were doing, but not, all of the time, where they were going.

ISHA does a lot of good tings. It maintains an exhaustive history website (www.skiinghistory.org). It publishes a quarterly journal, Skiing Heritage, that is chock full of profiles of people everybody’s heard of (Stein Eriksen, Ernest Hemingway) and ski people you probably haven’t heard of (Jerry Nunn, for example, the first female professional avalanche hunter, a woman who regularly drove cross country with a trunk full of dynamite; or Roland Palmedo, Wall Street banker, World War I pilot, kayaker, sailor, climber, world traveler and master of four languages, the man who started the ski areas at Stowe and Mad River Glen, Vermont). (more…)

Max Dercum, Lucky Man

Posted in Ski history, Watch columns by pshelton on January 28, 2010