The art of choreographed skiing has its roots in both Europe and North America, though admittedly, the sport’s growth and popularity abroad has far exceeded anything we’ve seen in the United States. The running joke within synchronized skiing circles is that the sport started as soon as the second pair of skis came along. In reality, the sport took off during the 1940s, about a decade after the invention of the parallel ski turn.
American synchronized skiing competitions began with BOSS, the Battle of the Ski Schools, in which professional ski instructors from different resorts competed against one another. Places such as Switzerland, Canada, Vermont, and Colorado had particularly intense and well-organized BOSS competitions. BOSS also gave birth to a cousin of synchronized skiing, a competition dubbed the Powder 8’s. The Powder 8’s, or P8’s, are so named for the shape carved into the snow when the S-turns of two skiers intertwine, like the double helix of a strand of DNA. Colorado’s first Powder 8’s event likely took place at Vail, where the state’s synchro scene flourished for much of the ’80s and ’90s. Today, Colorado’s synchro scene—as well as the Powder 8’s—has settled in Aspen.
Powder 8’s teams are judged on a set of four criteria: synchronicity; the quality of the skiers’ turns; the shapeliness of their 8’s; and their “dynamism,” that you-know-it-when-you-see-it quality that refers to how deeply skiers lean into their turns, how well they carve a line, and how athletically they transition between turns.
The P8’s are not to be confused with the Aspen World Synchro Championships, Aspen’s other marquee synchronized event, which is held a few weeks later in the season (April 3, 2011). World Synchro is like the P8’s on steroids. Instead of pairs, the synchro event features teams of six or eight skiers or snowboarders clad in matching pants, jackets, and skis. They ski to soundtracks—ZZ Top, AC/DC, KISS—that are pumped over speakers pointed at the ski slope. The Worlds and P8’s are both mesmerizing to watch, yet the entire scene feels a bit passé—like you’ve been transported back to a time when fluorescent-colored ski gear and headbands were in vogue.