Many Readers May Remember Ski Ballet, The Graceful, Sometimes Amusing, Phenomenon From The 1980s.

Costumed performers on skis took skiing to new levels as they executed freestyle moves to a variety of musical themes.

It was the snow equivalent of free style figure skating with individual and pair performances.

Ski Ballet with Suzy Chaffee and Mark Steigemier

Some observers saw ski ballet as liberation from the restricted forms imposed by European techniques, a natural outgrowth of the freewheeling youth movement of the 60s and 70s.

Shorter skis and smooth slopes were used. Occasionally, moguls played a role. When participants took air, it generally was close to the snow. In 1988, it was exhibited at the Canadian Winter Olympics in Calgary. It appeared again in ’92 in Albertville, France. But it never made it to a full Olympic event. FIS ended formal Ski Ballet competition after 2000.

Every now and then you may spot a rare bird linking ballet moves together on the hill. When I’ve encountered this endangered species, it’s been on gentle terrain. Terrain park acrobatics — another form of pushing limits on skis — are far more aggressive.

To me ski ballet represents a different, youthful and more innocent time. It is a historical curiosity that, like other things, from our past, may one day be rediscovered.

Are there any SeniorsSkiing readers who performed back in the day? If so, let us know. Better yet, send stills or video.

Many of you will remember Suzy “Chapstick” Chaffee. She performed ski ballet with grace and beauty. In this vintage video from Bogner she performs with John Eaves.

6 Comments

  1. I remember the birth of freestyle skiing very well, because I was a competitive figure skater and a coach at the time. In fact, a very name notable freestyle skier in the 80’s who was very integral in starting the popularity of acrobatics and freestyle ski jumping, asked for me to consult on the early day moves and bring in the skating element. I quickly realized how so much was similar but mostly how much was not. The weight of the skis for lifting and turning, the slope and the speed to gain the needed momentum , and especially the positions needed to land were all very different than skating. The only similar movement was the rotations in the air and how to use the arms to gain lift and speed.

    As for the ballet part of the freestyle ski craze… the same was true; some of the body positions were indeed very similar, but the management of the snow surface and the weight and shape of the skis dominated the limitations list. As for myself, I never performed ski ballet but I had a lot of fun trying various elements. It’s a fun application for my skills and I used to really enjoy renting a pair of “ski blades” and head to the bunny hill to try a few tricks. Those who could master the difficult moves and make them look so easy certainly had my highest respect as I could tell how very hard they were. I could do a triple jump on skates, but on skis?… now THAT would be a very STEEP learning curve!

    • Thanks for the reminiscence, Susie. Your skate to ski experience is extremely interesting. Isn’t it amazing how kids in terrain parks lose touch with gravity?

  2. Larry Burstein says:

    Glen Plake was a wonderful soloist.

  3. Bernie Weichsel says:

    For the Historical record – Ballet’s heyday was in the 70’s – not he 1980’s – during the pro events of IFSA and PFA. As you write it died out in the late 80’s after being rejected as an Olympic Sport and by that time it was called ARCO (don’t ask me why!) I don’t think it even made it as a demonstration sport to Albertville (but not sure on that point) Also i don’t think that is Suzie Chaffee in the Bogner Clip you show; she is a blond you know (But maybe she donned a wig!) Think it might be Pat Karnik.

    • Jon Weisberg says:

      Ahhh, the vagaries of Internet searches. Copy accompanying the clip identifies Suzy, but if it’s Pat, so be it. Thanks for the clarification on Ski Ballet, Bernie. If anyone has the history and knowledge to set the record straight, it’s you! All best, JW

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