I'm sure I won't be stepping into the confessional if I admit that as a hormone-addled teen, my bedroom walls were adorned with posters of female celebrities posed with knees tantalizingly apart. This was not, however, part of any obsession due to the chemistry cooking my brain. Rather, it was because what I truly lusted for was snow and skiing and general mountain radness, and the women papering my room — Genia Fuller, Suzy Chaffee, Penelope Street — were all top freestyle stars of the day executing the era's most stylish move: the daffy.
My preferential interest in these particular depictions of the iconic trick over those of male contemporaries was because this cadre's versions were simply better: they were naturally more limber and gymnastically inclined than the men on the circuit, and a good daffy — referred to by one ski wag as "the sport's crotch-ripping bag of courage" — benefited supremely from such ability. Being able to throw one in all its daffiest glory, like a cheerleader for skiing, was hot, and that spoke to the freestyle-addled heart of any teenage skier.
For me, the appeal of the daffy resided in the unacknowledged fact that it wasn't so much one trick as several. To begin, it had the simple joyousness of a spread eagle, but didn't require a ball-grab or other add-on to make a grander statement. While a spontaneous spread eagle might transmit little more complex to an onlooker than look at me I'm in the air!, even a half-ass daffy channels notions as diverse as a gymnastic routine without a mat, a ballerina leaping across nature's stage, and an enviable lower-limb yin yang with some serious potential consequences. Furthermore, in the annals of progression the daffy stands alone (the screamin' semen notwithstanding, according to some, though I would argue against). Even in this day and age of unbridled aerial experimentation, the daffy remains the only ski trick that involves a natural human motion — i.e., putting one foot in front of the other — to achieve an unnatural mien. Double and triple daffies remain the closest thing to a spacewalk without leaving the Earth.
Like many other ski tricks through the ages, there were people for whom the daffy came naturally and others for whom it held true terror. I was one of the latter, making those who excelled at it seem even more superhuman. As a defining upright aerial that appeared early on in the freestyle milieu, it was soon more prevalent and easier to execute as shorter, lighter skis became the norm in the mid-70s. This was the juncture at which my friends and I arrived at the daffy crossroads that I can only assume all core skiers face.
Though it looked easy, we all knew it wasn't. In fact, of all the stupid things we did on snow as young freestyle knobs bent on terrorizing local hills and shaking up fossilized ski sensibilities, the daffy was up there with the tip drop and mule kick in requiring a jump of precisely the right height and distance to execute without embedding the tip or tail of your skis in the snow. This also showed the daffy to harbour an interesting physics problem not shared with the similarly straightforward spread eagle: there were so many ways to come up short — from kicking off a ski on the jump (more common than you'd think), to slicing yourself across the face (front ski tip) or smashing the back of your head (rear ski tail), to getting off-axis without knowing it, to not quite getting both feet from as far apart as they could be, to as close as they needed to be to land. Given these varied travails, we all learned 360s — a de facto right-of-passage easily executed off any bump or reasonable-sized mogul — and even the frontflip and backflip before we deigned to attempt a daffy. Mostly we practiced daffies on the flats, usually out of boredom in lift-lines, propping ourselves into position on the snow between our poles. But you could only really do that with rear leg bent — not a true daffy at all.
In a perfect daffy, both skis as well as the body are held still in a fully vertical plane (arm-position options included crucifix or fore-aft stride); this is known as "getting your daffy square," or "squaring up." If the transition from stepping into a daffy to pulling back to a two-footed landing stance didn't cease for a discernable second at some point, then it couldn't be called a daffy, but only daffy-ish. Get it right though, and, as one scribe has opined, it was "pure Picasso"; get it wrong and it was mere aerial flailing; get it very wrong — unintentionally crossing skis while your legs were moving past each other in either direction—and you'd be praying you remembered to turn down the DIN on your bindings. Badass in any respect to be sure, the quality of a daffy lay in how emphatic it was, which in turn relied on how big of a step you could create, how convincing your splits are. Which brings me back to those wall posters. Not only were they convincing, but as someone who has never even been able to touch his toes or sit cross-legged, they convinced me out of even trying to emulate their perfection.
Not only did the ladies show that the square daffy ruled aesthetically, and that the pause was key from a technical standpoint, but also that these were both required in order for other elements of a photo — fashion, for instance, and here I would cite stretch pants, a rainbow-striped sweater, or hat with a massive pom-pom — to come into sharp, indelible, poster-worthy focus.
Sure the spread-eagle-ball-grab-peace-sign might be the most complete statement of the skier ethos possible, and the classic mute grab à la JP Auclair more stylish, but the daffy, by dint of sheer radical silliness, remains the coolest old-school freestyle trick.
Leslie Anthony is a Whistler-based author, editor, biologist and bon vivant who has never met a mountain he didn't like.
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