Day 6

Wong Bangers and daffy stands: Whatever happened to ski ballet?

In 1988 and 1992, ski ballet was an Olympic demonstration sport. Then, it was dropped and lost forever.
Cathy Fechoz of France does performs during the ski ballet competition at the Olympic Games in Albertville, France. (Getty Images /Chris Cole/Allsport)

In Pyeongchang, we will see both ice dancing and downhill skiing.

However, to the disappointment of — perhaps — a handful of people, we will not see them combined.

Leslie Anthony is the author White Planet: A Mad Dash Through Modern Global Ski Culture.

Ski ballet, formally 'acroski,' is the name of the sport that combined the aforementioned ice dancing and downhill skiing. It was an official form of competitive freestyle skiing until 2000.

It also made two appearances as a demonstration sport at the Winter Olympics.

Ski Ballet debuted at the 1988 Games in Calgary. 

"That was good because there were a lot of Canadians who were very good at it," says ski journalist and author of White Planet: A Mad Dash Through Modern Global Ski Culture, Leslie Anthony.

"And it was a demonstration sport in Albertville [in 1992] and that was good because the French are incredibly tolerant of anything," he tells Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

Germany’s Georg Furmeier of Germany (L) at the 1987 FIS Freestyle Skiing World Cup. Sweden’s Annika Johansson (R) in action at 1992 Winter Olympics. (Getty Images /Chris Cole/Allsport)

    

It wasn't easy

Ski ballet athletes had 90 seconds to perform their routine to music. They would flip, jump, roll and do anything else they could physically imagine. It was, in a word, fabulous.

And it wasn't easy.

"There's a lot of torque on the lower limbs and a lot of twisting and legs are pointing in different directions," says Anthony.

But it also looked ridiculous. In a few cases, it seemed that commentators during the sport's Olympic run were at a loss for words.

"There was a memorable one from the Albertville Olympics and the announcers hesitation in describing the moves," Anthony says with a chuckle.

The announcer would turn away from the microphone to, maybe, consult notes or ask a colleague a question, leaving the broadcast with dead air, he recalls.

   

Interest goes… down hill

The sport became popular in the 1960s, says Anthony, but really hit its stride in the '70s when it was "liberally fuelled by copious amounts of wine and weed."

Before it debuted at the Winter Olympics in Calgary, Anthony believes, ski ballet had hit its peak.

At the time, freestyle skiing was becoming popular, so when the different disciplines — moguls and aerials, primarily — took off, ballet fell into the shadows.

"I wouldn't say went underground, but it wasn't in the public eye as much."

After some interest during the Calgary and Albertville Games, ski ballet wiped out and was dropped as a demonstration sport before it got to Lillehammer.

"When the Olympics moved to Norway ... the birthplace — the cradle of skiing — I don't think it was going to be a demonstration," says Anthony.

Fabrice Becker of France does his ski ballet routine in Albertville, France in 1992. It was the sport's last appearance at an Olympic Games. (Getty Images /Chris Cole/Allsport)

Just not cool enough

For those still in love with dancing on a pair of fibreglass planks in fresh powder, the news is grim, and they have teenagers to thank.

"All the kids in the late '80s, early '90s were into snowboarding so they were looking one way, the Olympics were looking the other way," says Anthony.

Part of the reason people love skiing is the excitement that comes with it — hurtling down a hill and "being on the edge of control," as Anthony puts it. Ballet, instead, treated the sport as a "more passive, clearly less exciting display that didn't quite fit everyone's received view."

In 2000, competitive ski ballet died when the International Ski Federation officially stopped recognizing the sport. Today, elements of the sport's technical roots can be seen in freeskiing events — like half-pipe and slopestyle — at the Olympics.

But Anthony believes that for those die-hards, ski ballet will always have a place on the slopes.

"You know how it is! Nothing ever disappears completely," he says.

"There's always some little clique that will continue the tradition even if it's just for fun."


To hear our full interview with Leslie Anthony, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.

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