In Praise of Ski Ballet, the Sport That Combined Snow and Puffy Sleeves

Five-Ring Circus
A Blog About the Olympic Games
Feb. 11 2014 11:57 AM

In Praise of Ski Ballet, the Sport That Combined Snow and Puffy Sleeves

fuehrmeier
Freestyle skier George Fuehrmeier strikes a pose during a 1985 ski ballet competition.

Screenshot via YouTube

This gloriously weird video from 1985 has been making its way around Facebook lately. You may have seen it, if your friends are the sort of people who enjoy gawking in amazement at bizarre historical sporting events. If not, you might consider getting new friends. But before you do that, take a look at this clip:

Now, you probably have some questions.

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What in the world was that? That, my friend, was ski ballet, a delicate and confusing admixture of figure skating, freestyle skiing, and jazz hands. Freestyle skiing became popular in the 1970s as a trick-centric alternative to traditional Alpine skiing. Whereas Alpine ski racers are scored on their times, freestyle skiers get points for style and flair. For years, ski ballet—also known as “acroski”—was a full-fledged competitive freestyle skiing discipline, alongside aerials and moguls. In competitions, ballet skiers had 90 seconds to perform their acrobatic routines set to music. They were judged on the quality of their flips, jumps, rolls, and, apparently, puffy sleeves.

Do people still do this? Not really—at least, not intentionally. Ski ballet was a demonstration sport at the 1988 and 1992 Winter Olympics, but the IOC apparently failed to see the athletic merit in the discipline, and declined to make ski ballet an official Olympic sport. After that crushing defeat, worldwide interest in ski ballet tailed off, concurrent with the rise of new freestyle skiing disciplines like ski cross and slopestyle.

This didn’t make the Olympics? What was the IOC thinking? Friend, if I knew what the IOC was thinking, I wouldn’t be wasting my time blogging for nickels. Bring back ski ballet! Or acroski! Ski dancing! Dudes with sleeves and poles! Whatever they call it, I’ll watch it.

Whatever happened to Richard Schabl and George Fuehrmeier? According to a 2005 article from the Summit County, Colo., Summit Daily, Richard Schabl now splits his time between Colorado and Germany, and spends “all of his time with skiing on his mind.” There isn’t as much information out there about George Fuehrmeier, the man I just decided to dub the Acroski Liberace. If anyone knows his whereabouts, please email me at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

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