Like many other sports, skiing has always had a vocabulary associated with it. That vocabulary has changed with the times so I was intrigued when I came across a document entitled “American Ski Language” copyrighted in 1939.
Let’s start with the first term on the list: “Bathtub!” According to the document a bathtub is “a very deep sit-down indentation in the snow left by a skier’s fall.” John Thurgood had the answer to last week’s trivia question. Granted he said it was a “sitzmark” which is a European-influenced term for the same thing. And in fact, sitzmark is a term I remember from my early days of skiing.
However there is even local evidence that bathtub was a commonly used term for the evidence left behind when a skier falls. Early Mount Mansfield Ski Club newsletters mention the term “bathtub” and in one case say that “bathtubs remain a problem on the Nosedive!”
So why would a bathtub be a problem? Back in those days there were few skiers and most slopes or trails weren’t packed. A fall could make a large crater in the snow. If not repaired, the next skier along could have their skis dive into the hole, producing another fall which might result in injury, broken skis, or an even bigger bathtub! The 1939 document says that a bigger bathtub was called a “well.”
The Nosedive of the 1930s and 40s was narrow and had the infamous seven turns. One technique skiers used if they couldn’t make one of the turns was to intentionally fall. Throwing yourself down into soft snow was far better than taking on a tree.
Proper skiing etiquette of the era included filling in any bathtubs you created, but apparently that etiquette wasn’t always followed. In an early 1940s letter to Sepp Ruschp, Frank Springer-Miller suggested some possible signage that could be added to the single chair towers. One suggested sign was “Fell in Someone’s Bathtub. Think I’ll Fix Mine From Now On!”
Another sign Frank Springer-Miller suggested was “Do I Really Belong on the Nosedive?” I’m thinking this sign could still be useful!
Today grooming, snowmaking, and heavy skier traffic have produced a surface that is pretty much impervious to bathtubs or sitzmarks. This season here in the east our snow depths are so shallow that even if you could dent it, it wouldn’t be very deep!
I’d like to suggest a contemporary term to replace bathtub. That term would be “bruise!” Falling today on the slopes rarely dents the surface, instead it dents you! Or I guess that black-and-blue bruise on your hip from falling on Nosedive, you could call a sitzmark!
Another term from the 1939 list is “Ski Dude.” The definition is “one who over-dresses the part and does more talking than skiing!” I don’t know what the contemporary term for that is, but I rode up the gondola with one last week. He dropped the name of every backcountry route on the mountain. I wasn’t impressed.
A Ski Dude shouldn’t be confused with a “Ski Heel” who is a “bad mannered or unsportsman-like skier.” Then there’s the “Ski Lush – a skier who does most of his skiing at the bar.” Hey, wait a minute, that one hits too close to home.