Features & Images » Feature Story

Living Large

The culture of extreme skiers



The word extreme has in recent years evolved from a simple adjective to a marketing slogan, used to sell everything from shoes to soft drinks to sport utility vehicles.

Of course it is never extreme, but Xtreme, dropping the e in favour of the bold x. As I am sure any copy writer at any ad agency will tell you; the letter x in extreme has far more impact on consumers than the banished vowel that used to precede it. X-factor, x marks the spot, brand x, what is it, we don’t know, but we want it.

There are any number of companies that have adopted this slogan/marketing ploy to sell their products. Some have a more legitimate link, such as ski and snowboard manufacturers, but others are more tenuous, for instance a certain soft drink comes to mind.

Whatever the product what they are really selling is a lifestyle, or at least a taste of that life, going to extremes, living large. In reality most of us don’t live that way, but we are willing to be sold on the idea that a running shoe or an SUV will make us feel like we are living on the edge.

However, there are people out there who actually do live the life of ad copy fantasies. Of course in doing so they also face the very real prospect of dying young. I suppose it is fair to say that extreme skiers are a sub-culture among skiers, they are far flung and travel frequently, although Whistler is home to many. As one local once mentioned to me, "there are a lot of boarders, skiers and bikers crammed into this little town."

Still, whether they are fully sponsored professionals (rare) or working in ski shops in winter and tree planting in summer to make ends meet (much more common) travel features large on the itinerary of any extreme athlete. There is also a monk-like devotion to their sport, or I suppose nun-like in the case of females, not that vows of chastity are observed by either. In fact to some, I don’t think that it would be a stretch to call it a religion, a religion with its own martyrs; the ghost of Trevor Petersen looms large as bumper stickers that read "Trevor would do it," attest to.

Living in Whistler it is probably easier to understand their obsession, although for others – weekenders, tourists, city folk, the sort of people whose only knowledge of backcountry skiing is the report of an avalanche death in their local media – it might seem that extreme skiers and snowboarders are suffering from a sort of collective insanity.