Why I Purposely Left My Skis Behind on My Last Ski Vacation

This article originally appeared on Ski Mag

Last season, at the end of a fabulous day of skiing, cappuccinos, and dumpling soup, I set my skis on a rack at the base of Alpe di Siusi, a pretty resort in Italy’s Dolomites. Before walking away, I turned back for one last wistful glance. As far as I know, my skis are still sitting there. Or a thrifty young local is taking them out for a spin. Guardami, ragazza. Sono retro. “Look at me, girl. I’m retro.”

Until that day, I’d been skiing on the same pair of skis for nearly two decades. A pair of K2 Phat Luvs circa 2004. My now-19-year-old son was in diapers when I peeled off the shrinkwrap. My 17-year-old daughter? She was only a twinkle in her daddy’s eye when I took them out for their maiden voyage.

Ode to Clunkers

The writer (right) rocking her Phat Luvs on one of the umpteen adventures they’ve accompanied her on over the last almost-20 years. Photo: Courtesy of Helen Olsson

The graphics were a sort of Hawaiian floral print over a kelly green background. I had them for so long, I swear the graphics had come back in style. In the fashion world, style is cyclical, with trends resurfacing after a period of 20 years. Bell bottoms, mom jeans, scrunchies, platform shoes–and my Phat Luvs. It’s true, even a few years shy of that 20-year trend rule, I’d get compliments in the lift lines. “Your skis are so pretty!” It was like I was sashaying Rodeo Drive with a vintage Louis Vuitton clutch. They’d become heritage pieces!

But let’s face it, the tech was not up to date. Just a couple years before my traditionally shaped cambered skis came out of the mold, Volant released Shane McConkey’s visionary Spatula, the first ski with reverse sidecut and reverse camber, aka rocker. This rocker you speak of? It didn’t go mainstream until four or five years after I bought my K2s. But, hey, I learned to ski powder at Alta in the early 1990s on a pair of hot pink K2 KVC Comps, circa 1987. Straight and skinny as an arrow. It was like surfing on toothpicks.

It’s not that I’m so frugal I didn’t want to spend money on skis. Oh, I was buying skis, alright. With three growing ski racers in my brood, I was shelling out for, on average, nine pairs of skis a year. Slalom, GS, Super G, all-mountain skis. Race pairs and trainers. In one season, my son delaminated four pairs of brand-new Volkl slaloms. I estimate that while I was clicking into that versatile and utilitarian one-quiver ski, I probably bought (and sold) at least 80 pairs of skis.

When the Phat Luv first came out in 2003, Skiing magazine’s buyer’s guide called it “a beefy little sucker with the snap for a honkin’ finish.” The following year, SKI put my T:Nine Phat Luv into a category called “Frontside Porkers.” (Fat shaming wasn’t frowned upon back then.) At 90 mm underfoot, the Phat Luvs weren’t even the fattest skis in the category. They had plenty of float on deep days but enough sidecut for maneuverability on hardpack.

Ready for New Gear? 8 Signs It Might Be Time For New Skis

Over the years, wringing every last turn out of those skis ultimately became a source of pride–and a metaphor for motherhood sacrifice. While I was buying all those junior race skis, I never felt like I had the time (or money) to buy myself a new pair. We moms let ourselves drop to the bottom of the family’s priority list. But also, when the kids were young, I switched to telemarking to keep things interesting while I was tooling around on the bunny hill. In other words, I wasn’t logging 75 days a year for 19 years on those Phat Luvs. When I switched back to alpine, I didn’t find an expiration date stamped on the tails. Still, my brother’s favorite joke: “Helen, the 2000s called… They want their skis back.”

Operation Swan Song–leaving my skis in the racks after two weeks of skiing in the Dolomites–was meant to be poetic, but it was also a financially motivated ploy. My son was training with the Alta Badia Ski Academy, traveling with five pairs of heavy race skis loaded up in two massive ski bags. The going international rate for an overweight ski bag: around $200. I could bring my skis in a flimsy ski bag, leave them in the racks, and pop the ski bag into my checked luggage, freeing me up to carry home one of my son’s ski bags. I would use the savings as a down payment on a new pair of skis. Light bulb!

It was time for me to finally prioritize my gear closet. I exercised self-care in the form of a brand-new pair of Volkl Secrets. They have a 96-mm waist width, tip and tail rocker, camber in the middle, and a Tailored Titanal Frame. How very modern! On snow, I discovered a certain snap, crackle, and pop that had been lacking in my old skis. It felt a little like trading in an antique Chrysler LeBaron for a turbocharged Porsche 911. Those Volkls were my me-time. This season, I’ve decided I didn’t just need a new pair of skis. I needed a quiver. So I bought a second set of Volkls, Kenjas this time. Retro is cool, but it turns out that I just can’t have enough Tailored Titanal in my life.

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