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The Case For Cowardice: Heel Pieces

Palisades at Squaw Valley by Ryan DunfeeWhat you are about to do with your uncomfortable feet has the potential to be painful and expensive. Photo by Ryan Dunfee.

Words by Ryan Dunfee

“Heel Pieces” is a column by Ryan Dunfee published twice a month on TetonGravity.com. In each entry, Dunfee tackles an area of ski culture in an effort to provide insight to the sport. This week, Dunfee argues the case for cowardice on the slopes. See: Being a giant pussy. 


After the tragedy of last season and the explosively emotional Tunnel Creek story in the New York Times, a few corners of the ski community have begun a quiet conversation about what kind of skiing, and what kind of skier, “we” should be promoting. The most fearless, fastest, and gnarliest dude or dudette has long been the promoted emblem of our sport, and any “progression” in that direction for a given individual is a general good, barring any costs of that progression.

So far, we have yet to lay out the beneficial attributes of being a total whimp on the mountain. You know, the guy or gal who takes it slow, heads inside when they get wet or cold, or turns around when they see moguls, rocks, or hear anyone mention the word “avalanche.” Of particular note, the health and financial benefits of avoiding the gnar have gone completely unappreciated. That’s why I’m here to lay out the case for cowardice on the slopes.

It’s Cheaper

While the cost prohibitive nature of snowsports is no doubt a major factor of its anemic 0.6 percent annual growth rate, the bell curve really starts to head north once you’ve crossed off that “Level III” box when you’re getting your bindings mounted at the shop. Not only are you so good and so attuned to the demands of your various skiing escapades that you need more than one of every piece of equipment barring a helmet, but you run through it at a fast clip.

The feeble have a major advantage in budgeting for their ski excursions. Core shots and blown edges don’t happen when you avoid thin cover trails and the terrain park at all costs. Exploded heel pieces and snapped tails are avoidable by avoiding time in the air and through rough terrain at high speeds. 

You’re Never Injured

Even more cost-prohibitive than $800 powder skis and iron-stiff boots are skiing-related medical bills. Few things are sadder to come across on your social media feed than a buddy calling out for help to fundraise for another buddy who blew their knee/hip/back but have no medical insurance. Thought your sled was expensive?? Try $35,000 ACL surgery.

However, fearful skiers and riders never put themselves in situations in which there is even the possibility of discomfort, let alone injury. Insurance premiums stay low, walking is a permanently crutch-free experience, and when they’re marching at a spirited clip to the nursing home shuffleboard tournament, you’ll be limping there in between pounding pills to deal with all your arthritic joints.

Your Boots Are Comfortable!

Ski boots: the Achilles Heel of the skiing experience, and quite possibly the single most inconvenient, ugly, and uncomfortable piece of equipment in all of sports. Expert skiers in particular suffer the most, as the demands of cliff drop landings, tight moguls, steep couloirs, and high-speed GS turns require tightening the boot down until circulation cuts off and toenails wilt into stalagmites. Not to mention that if you have any of those normal foot issues (6th toe, bunions, bow legs, etc.), you have to spend another couple hundred bucks to warp a piece of solid plastic to the exact physique of your hoof (insert ad for Fischer Vacuum Fit™).

Meanwhile, casual skiers get to buy second-hand 80 flex boots for $200, not adjust a thing on them, and stretch their toes while they cruise groomers with the buckles undone. They might even pass by you on the cat track under KT-22 while you lay in a ski patrol toboggan, knee and heelpiece blown, writhing in pain. Who’s laughing now?

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