When ski ballet pushed back the porous boundary between art and sport

“At first everything was new, and almost everything was okay,” said Pfeiffer, now 94. Crowds came out to watch the emerging stars invent new daredevil moves. “The lift people were complaining that no one was getting on the lifts,” Pfeiffer said, “because everyone wanted to see the freestyle skiers enjoying it.”

Over time, freestyle developed three distinct forms: aerial jumps, in which skiers performed huge twisting jumps; bumps, in which they bounce over a series of small bumps; and ballet, which highlighted more intricate tricks and footwork. In the beginning, skiers performed all three styles in one wild descent down the mountain. Eventually, each style had its own run, although competitors had to do all three. In the late 1970s, each form had its specialists.

Of the freestyle skiing categories, classic skiing, with its 360-degree approach to the slope of the mountain, offered the most room for interpretation. Some skiers have explored its athletic side, developing a range of jumps and pole flips. Howard, who had a background in other sports, said, “For me it was rock ‘n’ roll, go as hard as you can, do as many laps as you can.”

Others saw the potential for a different type of expression. Suzy Chaffee, who made it to the 1968 Olympics as an alpine racer before becoming a glamorous face of freestyle skiing, introduced music to freestyle competition. Chaffee, now 75, had studied ballet as a child. “Deep down, I had always dreamed of dancing on a mountain,” she said. Graceful and supple, it became known for its elegant lines. Fuller, who had a background in figure skating, also emphasized musicality and fluidity in her ballet runs.

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