What Does it Take to Become a “Ripper”?


Me at Snowshoe Mtn., WV

As the winter season kicks up and the wind chill is at an all-time-high, those who are brave enough venture out to “carve the slopes”. You might be asking yourself, “What the heck is a ripper? And who even says carve the slopes?” And if you really haven’t figured it out yet, it’s ski lingo, which makes this an article about skiing. So if you’re not faint of heart, and you’d like to learn what truly makes up a skier, whether it be alpine, freestyle, or jumping, you’ve come to the right place.

A simplified slope guide. Credited to Pinterest.

Now I myself am known to enjoy a good ski trip, but it’d be candy-coated to say I’m anything but a novice. It’s a miracle if I can make it down a blue slope (intermediate), let alone a black diamond (expert). Black diamond slopes are known to be some of the most difficult to navigate and, well, survive. There are different levels to each slope, according to color and shape, with a green circle representing the easiest, and of course a black diamond representing the more challenging. There are blue squares for intermediates, and orange triangles for freestyle terrains. Freestyle terrains are typically for jumping and tricks, and include features like rails, boxes, and ramps. They also include (unintentionally) deep divots in the snow created by show-offs hockey stopping, which makes an orange slope a no-go for beginners. Perhaps a given is the all-feared black diamond. With rough terrain, a more direct plummet, and patches of ice, these trails are only for those who consider themselves experts. There are even double and triple black diamonds. Few have survived these runs, and so as you can imagine we must assume what they entail. Most likely live yetis, and wide fissures in the ground you’d have to jump, Evil Knievel style.

This is what’s known as “snowplowing”. Credit to Deer Valley Resort.

Skiing generally requires the ability to balance, and control your core. Much like ice skating, the edges of the skis are used to turn yourself, stop, and even to move on flat surfaces. There are two different ways to approach a slope. Either you cross the trail in an s-shape to slow yourself down, or you angle your skis into a v shape, known as “pizza” (as opposed to “french fries”, which is straight) or “snow-plowing”. The latter is very effective, but usually only applied by beginners who have less trust in themselves.

At first, it can seem scary and impossible to maneuver on-top of snow at a high speed and dodge trees and other skiers, but after a few runs it becomes an experience comparable only to flight.

The key, much like with any other sport, is persistence.

Vonn in 2018. Credited to CNN.

Olympic alpine skier Lindsey Vonn is one of two women to win four World Cup Championships. She was also the first woman to win a gold medal in downhill skiing, along with being the Olympic Committee’s Sportswoman of the year. A well-decorated skier, she’s stuck with the sport since she was the age of 3, beginning to race at 7. She won the Italian Trofeo Topolino, a prestigious race for young skiers, at the age of 14. She consequently made her debut at the World Championships two years later, at the age of 16, in which she placed 4th. And in 2002, she made her debut into the Olympics, at 17.

Becoming a world-class skier comes with practice and determination. Utilizing both of these assets over time can turn even someone who has no experience into a professional “ripper”. And in even less time, you’ll fall in love with the freedom the chilled air on your face provides, and the feeling of fresh powder under your skis.