The Greatest Skiers & Boarders Of All Time
Millions of people enjoy skiing and snowboarding, they might live in the mountains, work there or simply have a couple of weeks on the slopes every year for their holidays. Everyone has their own reasons, methods and ability, but like most sports there are people who can do it better than everyone else - let’s take a look at a few of these icons.
You may judge someone’s skiing ability by how fast they get from the top of the piste back to the chairlift. I’m not talking about people who just point their skis straight down the fall-line and hope for the best; it’s actually those who quite literally eat up the mountain carving big beautiful turns from top to bottom. People of a certain age might think of Franz Klammer or Alberto Tomba when discussing World Cup or Olympic racers; more recently the names of Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn spring to mind.
But we’re talking about the greatest here so in my opinion there’s only one ski racer we need consider: Kjetil André Aamodt. This Norwegian is the most decorated alpine skier in history, the only alpine skier to win 8 Olympic medals. He medalled at 4 separate Olympic Games, becoming the second youngest alpine skier to win an Olympic Gold medallist when he won the Super-G aged just 20 at Albertville 1992 (Toni Sailer was two months younger in 1956). He was also the oldest Gold medallist when he won the same event at Turin 2006. As well as a further two Olympic Silvers and two Bronze, he added five World Championship Golds. Now that’s a haul!
Kjetil André Aamodt
So we’ve covered great Olympians on skis, lets move on to snowboarding where there is one man who has hoovered up the medals, be it the Olympics, Winter X Games even SUMMER X Games. Mr Shaun White, “The Flying Tomato”, has two Olympic Golds as well as an incredible 24 X Games medals. In 2003 he became the athlete to compete and medal in both the summer and winter X Games in two different sports. He holds the record for the highest score in the men’s halfpipe at the Winter Olympics - he did it with a 46.8 at Turin 2006, then four years later he bettered that with a 48.4 in Vancouver. His incredible sporting talent on a snowboard and a skateboard has earned him global fame, with appearances on TV shows and even in movies.
White’s great rival in the run up to Vancouver 2010, was Kevin Pearce, who won three medals at the X games in 2008 becoming the first ever athlete to compete in three medal events in one day. He was tipped to be White’s biggest rivals at the next Winter Olympics in 2010. But tragedy struck on the last day of 2009 when he had a horrific accident while training halfpipe in Park City Utah. Shaun White’s sponsors Red Bull built him a private halfpipe for him to train in, the race was on to see who could perfect the “double cork” a highly technical trick, Pearce explained it to David Johnson (Telegraph 31/11/13): “A Double Cork is when you do two flips and while you’re flipping you’re spinning as well, so you have both of these motions going on and you have to land correctly in the half-pipe wall.” On that fateful day Pearce over-rotated by a fraction, caught his toe-edge and smashed face-first into the ice of the pipe. He suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury, spending three months in hospital, but after a heroic effort with his recovery he got back on his board. Unfortunately he wasn’t strong enough to return to competition. To see his full story check out the highly recommended film - “The Crash Reel”. Action sports like snowboarding and skiing are sadly all too used to tragedy. The great female freestyle skier, 5 time XGames Gold medalist Sarah Burke died after an accident severing an artery while training in the superpipe also in Park City.
The list of great freestyle skiers is almost too long, from the original ‘Hot doggers’ like Glen Plake and co in the legendary 1988 ski movie: ‘The Blizzard of AAHHHs’ to Henrik Harlaut winning his fourth Xgames Big Air Gold at XGames Norway. With notable mentions to the 15 year old Estonian Kelly Sildaru, the youngest skier ever to win two XGames golds (Slopestyle in 2016 when she was 14, and then again in 2017) and the first ‘new school’ freeski superstars like CR Johnson and Tanner Hall. But there are two skiers that it would be impossible to leave off a list of great skiers…
Our silver medal for greatest skier of all time goes to someone that anyone with internet access over the last few years and even a passing interest in skiing will be familiar with, Star of the ‘One of Those Days’ (I, II and III) YouTube videos: Candide Thovex . Born in Annecy, France in 1982 he grew up in the Alpine Village of La Clusaz. He won the French national mogul title at 14 and signed a sponsorship with Quicksilver in 1997 and since then his highlights reel just goes on and on, with XGames Golds, Freeride World Tour wins, multitudes of video appearances (my personal favourite is Rastafaride 1) - the Frenchman has even recovered from a fractured vertebrae. Candide is a bonafide internet superstar with over 35.2 million views of the ‘One of Those Days’ videos on YouTube and he even appeared in an Audi TV commercial in 2015. But what really makes him unique is simply his style on a pair of skis. He can make the most technical and ‘extreme’ trick look easy. He skis full throttle but with so much control that it looks like he’s skiing in slow-motion and in the air he moves with the agility of a cat. Thovex is very humble and unassuming when he’s not on skis, in an interview with FreeSkier in May 2013 he shares the secret to his signature style: “you just have to try and try and not think too much. Just try to have fun. Everyone has their own style. That’s where the word freestyle comes from. And that’s what makes this sport.”
The title of “Best Skier” is entirely subjective and I’m sure everyone will have their own list, but in my eyes there can be no doubt that the greatest of all-time is: the man, the legend… Mr Shane McConkey!
Born on the 30th of December 1969 in Vancouver, Canada to ski champion parents. It was clear to everyone growing up that he was destined for greatness. But his success is not measured in medals and awards but what he did for the sport. He idolized Swedish ski racer Ingemar Stenmark, but his slight build was not suited to ski racing. He just loved having fun, doing as many backflips as he could! He won a Pro Mogul Tour event in 1993 which earned him his first sponsorship: Spyder and Volant. But a now-famous naked spread eagle meant he was not welcomed back to the tour. He took his antics where they belonged, on film! His outstanding athletic ability and hilarious sense of humour graced the screen in 26 ski movies. As mentioned on shanemcconkey.org, it was McConkey who actually coined the term “freeskiing”, he played a huge part in introducing the worlds first fat powder skis, followed by ‘rockered’ skis in 2006 with the K2 Pontoon. He loved the adrenaline of powder-skiing, back-country and launching off cliffs. But he was always searching for new ways to push the boundaries, which brought him to B.A.S.E jumping (parachuting from a fixed structure or cliff.) - it was only natural that he would mix this with his first love, thus creating Ski-BASE jumping. Shane skied off cliffs all over the world and with the advent of wing suit flying - gliding through the air wearing the wingsuit, which enables you to glide through the air as though you are flying. Unfortunately McConkey’s love for pushing the boundaries came to a tragic end on March 6 2009, on a ski-BASE jump in the Dolomites of Italy. Launching off a 2,000-foot cliff one of his skis wouldn’t release, sending him into a spin that he knew would mean his ‘chute would not deploy properly. He sadly died that day aged just 39. There will never be another Shane McConkey, he mixed incredible skiing with creativity and most importantly humour. As I mentioned earlier he starred in many ski movies but my personal favourite is his segment in MatchStick Production’s 2008 film ‘CLAIM’ - buy it, borrow it, YouTube it; it illustrates perfectly an incredible skier just having fun! I’ll leave you with a quote from his last film, In Deep:
“I’m doing what I love, and if you’re doing what you wanna do all the time, then, you’re happy, you’re not going to work everyday wishing you were doing something else. I get up to go to work everyday and I’m stoked. That does not suck.”