Performance Enhancing Drugs in Skiing - or - Failure, Experience, and the Positive Binary Correlation between Effort and Achievement in Skiing

For the last few decades, professional athletes have been occasionally but predictably embroiled in scandals and debates over the use of performance enhancing drugs. From the tainted quest for the single season home run record in the late 90s, to Lance Armstrong’s confession of doping to a worldwide audience via Oprah, to the widespread Olympic scandals in Russia, the pervasive use of banned substances in competitive athletic events is seemingly universal. And while there are certainly some comical cases--Dock Ellis pitching a perfect game with an alleged head full of good ol' lysergic acid diethylamide, for example--the incidence of drug use is typically condemned as heretical to the purity of the athletic pursuit. 

Mark Ortiz TetonsMark Ortiz ripping Photo: Jedd Mumm

But barring Candide pleading guilty of using HGH to boost to new heights out of the superpipe in the 2006 X Games, Glen Plake admitting that his antics in Blizzard of Ahh’s were fueled by beaver tranquilizers, or an exhumation and autopsy on Saucer Boy revealing that it was more than whiskey that fueled his fire, skiing still runs on the staples of stoke and adrenaline. While a certain substance is overtly used by certain individuals (Mickael Deschenaux comes to mind for some reason), there is no veil of secrecy about it. That said, let’s keep the X Games in Colorado just to be safe.

The reason for the absence of PEDs in the ski culture, as with any data, spawns dozens of barroom discussions of cause, effect, correlation, causation or simply coincidence. Theories abound, each with varying degrees of validity. Accepting this, I followed the lead of obstinate explorers who are challenged by skeptics: get out there and get dirty. Following the lead of Thor Heyerdahl, Jane Goodall, and Roald Amundsen, I chose to strengthen my theory by immersing myself into the subject and studying it from the inside. And while the not everyone might be willing to dedicate their life to gathering data on the lifestyle of a primitive nomadic culture, I was willing to take one for the team. Having spent the entirety of my brief adult life researching this difficult dilemma, I have reached a conclusion.

It's actually embarrassingly simple: (1) fun is the ultimate goal and (2) achievement comes through hard work. Considering the first point, it's not even a mutually exclusive event. As anyone who's shared a drink or five in the bar after an epic pow day knows, everyone wins when Mother Nature drops the hammer. Furthermore, deep turns are even better when your crew is there schralping the gnar with you. This is where the camaraderie of skiing is born: everyone doing the same thing on the same day, together, and reveling and remembering it together. You take out skiing and replace it with any activity--fishing, skydiving, bowling, whatever--that's the recipe for making friends. So somehow, with the singular goal of fun, skiing has you making friends too.

Meaghann GaffneyFriendship Photo:

As for the second point, I'll try to keep it in layman's terms. Achievement comes through effort, obviously, but it's a sliding scale. The first 360 is the hardest spin most of us will ever do because of the inherent trial and error in that learning curve. Imagining running around the MGM Grand, opening doors to different rooms to find your own. A random few people may find their room first few tries, but most of won't hit the right room out of the 5043 doors for a while. It's like a demented Price is Right game where if you guess the wrong door you get kicked in the nuts by an Elvis impersonator wearing rhinestone cowboy boots. Hopefully it won't take you anywhere near 5000 tries, but the first spin is really a tough guessing game of edge control, balance, rotation and all those other PSIA terms that I don't really give a shit about.

Mark Twain 1909Mark Twain, 1909 Photo: A.F. Bradley

Achievement continues from there, whether it be discontinuous lines in the Wasatch or clocking 90 mph while wearing a junior high wrestling singlet or skiing every run on closing day naked. Ultimately, the magnitude of the achievement is directly correlated to the effort involved. The ambiguity of this lies in the concept of crystallized knowledge. When you see something done first try (a new trick or a new line or whatever), it's easy to dismiss the achievement due to the apparent lack of effort. But remember: Bill Briggs didn't just wake up one morning, put his ski boots on, and ski the Grand Teton on his first try. It took years of effort and accumulation of knowledge that led up to that singular event. As Mark Twain so eloquently put it, 'Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions.

So with opening day come and gone, I guess what I'm saying is get out there and give 'er hell. I'll be up in the bar afterward, ready to toast a few drinks and tell a few lies. Oh yeah-pics or it didn't happen.


By: Mark Ortiz

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