Denim till it snows

Powder - - TA­BLE OF CON­TENTS - Leslie An­thony, a long­time Pow­der se­nior cor­re­spon­dent based in Whistler, skis in jeans. By Leslie An­thony

Imag­ine, if you will, an Or­wellian outdoors in­dus­try where doublespeak rules. Where canned, cook­iecut­ter ex­pe­ri­ences are la­beled “ad­ven­ture”; where the in­her­ent qual­i­ties of nat­u­ral fab­rics are mar­keted as “high tech”; and where “packed pow­der” is a fre­quent eu­phemism for ma­chine-made glop. If you’re chuck­ling, you rec­og­nize we al­ready live in this world. One where the phrase “al­ter­na­tive facts” is be­lieved by mil­lions to de­scribe some­thing real—though by def­i­ni­tion it can­not ex­ist. Only in such a world could the bold, life-af­firm­ing act of ski­ing in jeans be por­trayed by the whims of hater pop­ulism as the rock-bot­tom of moun­tain style. Let’s make one thing clear: Ski­ing in jeans rules.

I’m not sure why the con­tra­b­lish­ment adopted this view. Per­haps it orig­i­nated in the cru­cible of Colorado snob­bery di­rected at Texan vis­i­tors to that state’s moun­tain re­sorts. Folks who only ski three days a year aren’t wont to forgo util­i­tar­ian Wran­glers that have served them well else­where, yet this hardly seems a rea­son for de­ri­sion; in fact, it’s a paean to both DIY in­ge­nu­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity. Why not re­pur­pose some­thing “ad­e­quate” in lieu of bet­ter-suited gar­ments that will barely be used but whose man­u­fac­turer might con­trib­ute to global warm­ing, wa­ter pol­lu­tion, and child la­bor? (I stretch, but you catch my drift.)

And yet, the ranks of ridicule rise. “Cheney Skis in Jeans” stick­ers and a “Rom­ney Skis in Jeans” sign out­side a 2012 pres­i­den­tial de­bate pre­saged the “Trump Skis in Jeans” lawn signs of 2016. But they all seek to make sim­i­lar points: These peo­ple are odi­ous, un­cool in the ex­treme, pos­sessed of not a shred of savvy or in­tegrity, and ergo, man­i­festly un­fit to lead. And while this logic is doubt­less true, to ap­pro­pri­ate jeans—the quin­tes­sen­tial Amer­i­can gar­ment in­vented in 1873 by Levi Strauss and Ja­cob Davis—as a sym­bol of moral fail­ing is grossly mis­guided.

The jeans/jerry con­nec­tion, how­ever, tran­scends pol­i­tics. As re­ported by Bri­tain’s Daily Mail: “While most ski fans shun pricey de­signer win­ter [cloth­ing], don­ning a one­sie or slip­ping on a pair of jeans to hit the slopes is se­verely frowned upon.” The pa­per cites a poll by Monarch Air­lines that ranked the Top 5 Ski Fash­ion Faux Pas: Jeans (31 per­cent); One­sie (16 per­cent); Track­suit (15 per­cent); Bum bags (7 per­cent); Ly­cra (6 per­cent). Clearly re­spon­dents had never skied in Eastern Europe—or Ten­nessee.

I skied in jeans as a kid be­cause it’s what we did ev­ery­thing in. Whether to­bog­gan­ing, play­ing hockey or ski­ing, there was no thought of some­thing bet­ter to wear, only of adopt­ing what we had to the pur­pose. Much as we got good at ski­ing the East’s man­made ice, we got good at ski­ing in jeans. You just needed the right lay­er­ing. Early on this in­volved cow­boy pa­ja­mas that might dan­gle from a cuff, but later it was long un­der­wear tucked into socks, and be­cause you gen­er­ally couldn’t pull jeans over the top of a ski boot, gaiters were used to keep the boot-pant in­ter­face snow-free. I don’t re­mem­ber be­ing wet and cold (per­haps we ex­pected it), but if the fab­ric ab­sorbed the right amount of mois­ture and froze up, it be­came an im­per­vi­ous layer through which more snow couldn’t melt—the world’s first Gore-tex.

As teenagers, the pros of jeans clearly over­shad­owed cons: You didn’t have to change be­fore ski­ing and you didn’t have to change af­ter, mean­ing you were ready for après, a night out, or go­ing to work. (They also acted as the more eco­nom­i­cal op­tion.) The fact that your après, night out, or work pants might be soggy mat­tered not—they would dry. It was Zen min­i­mal­ism.

In the late ’70s, I ski-bummed out West for a year with­out proper ski pants. Not a sin­gle per­son snick­ered be­hind me in a lift­line. To­day, though, egos are more frag­ile, and peo­ple wish they could ski in jeans. Proof ? Over the years, sev­eral out­er­wear com­pa­nies have made ski pants of treated denim to look like jeans. The best came from Swe­den, and there are no greater ar­biters of fash­ion than the Swedes. If you pre­fer old school, the flan­nel-lined jeans still made by many com­pa­nies work well.

Sup­pressed fash­ion isn’t the only rea­son we know ski­ing in jeans is cool. Colorado’s Grist Brew­ery pro­duces “Ski­ing in Jeans Bock,” a badass lager whose graph­ics de­pict a badass ac­tiv­ity. There’s even a ski­ing-in-jeans film trib­ute on Youtube with the mu­sic from Gin­uwine, singing, “Look­ing good plenty tight/is there room, any more room for me/in those jeans?” And some have even turned the in­sult meme on its head. Take Trump­skisin­jeans.org, for ex­am­ple: “We are skiers and riders in Sum­mit County, Colorado, who want to help fund marginal­ized peo­ple our cur­rent pres­i­dent is de­fund­ing and mis­treat­ing.” The site’s mod­er­a­tors call it “pas­sive re­sis­tance,” and place 100 per­cent of prof­its from the sale of T-shirts and stick­ers to Planned Par­ent­hood, ACLU, Pro­tect Our Win­ters, and the In­ter­na­tional Refugee Com­mit­tee.

Here’s the ham­mer: The great­est ski mag­a­zine cover ever, the Pow­der 40th An­niver­sary is­sue, de­picts a free­wheel­ing, rad dude in a head­band ski­ing in jeans and an open denim jacket, the look on his face, de­void of even an iota of irony, confirming he has no idea that he’s the coolest skier of all time.

Far from a semi­otic say­ing, “I am weak,” ski­ing in jeans flatly states: “I don’t give a shit.” And in an age of doublespeak, not giv­ing a shit might re­ally mean you care more deeply about the ex­pe­ri­ence than its ac­cou­ter­ments—a de­cid­edly rad­i­cal state­ment.

Spencer Harkins is caked and baked. Photo: John How­land

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