Tom Ross

Tom Ross

Tom Ross: Learning to wedel, and surviving the hot dog skiing era in Steamboat Springs


Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or

Find more columns by Tom here.

Related event

What: Freestyle skiing great John Clendenin’s talk and presentation of the newly edited 1970s film “Winter Equinox” about the early days of freestyle skiing.

When: 6:30 p.m. Dec. 3

Where: Library Hall at Bud Werner Memorial Library, 1289 Lincoln Ave.

— Skiers, do you observe the common courtesy of filling your sitzmark? Do you know how to wedel down a cat track? Have you ever survived a Geschmozzel start?

I found myself last Thursday — over one of the best Thanksgiving feasts ever — trying to explain the term “hot dog skier” to a couple of my younger dinner companions. In the course of explaining the difference between a daffy and a helicopter, I realized how many descriptive terms have come and gone from the lexicon of skiing.

A sitzmark is the equivalent of a divot in golf — if you fall on your keister (not to be confused with your klister) while skiing in soft snow, it was considered good form to fill in the large cavity left behind by using your skis to scrape loose snow into the void.

As former SKI Magazine editor John Fry observed in the 1973 edition of “America’s Ski Book": “Fill your sitzmark … A hole is like a bear trap to the skier that follows.”

I seriously don’t think anyone heeds that admonition any longer.

The term Geschmozzel start refers to an early form of Alpine ski racing that involved a mass start and no flagged gates on the course. Whoever found the fastest way to the bottom of the run was the obvious winner. The old Ballhooter Classic, overseen by ski patrol on Heavenly Daze back in the 1970s, was a modern-day form of the Geschmozzel.

The Ballhooter definitely had a mass start. But in this case, nobody cared who finished first. Our only goal was to survive and avoid the ignominy of finishing last.

Geschmozzel and sitzmark are among many German language skiing terms that were imported to America by Austrian ski instructors.

When I first began skiing I longed to one day become good enough to wedel (pronounced vay’-dehl) — that is to make the series of super-tight parallel turns known as wedeln. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds on 205 centimeter giant slalom boards.

America’s Ski Book provides these tips on learning wedeln: “Simply stay in the middle of the trough (of the catwalk), making very quick, very tightly linked parallel turns. Use sharp edge sets to control speed. The trick of wedeling is to keep the skis following the line of the catwalk.”

It took me forever to figure out how to wedel, but once I got it, I felt like I really knew how to ski. At least I felt that way until the first time I skied with a world-class ski racer. That was a humbling experience.

If you’ve survived enough bump runs in your skiing career to make it into your late 50s, you probably already know that “hot dog skier” was the phrase used to describe the earliest pioneers of the branch of skiing we now refer to as freestyle before it became respectable. I sort of liked the sport when it wasn’t respectable.

Steamboat veterans like Jon Smalley, Rusty Chandler and Suzie (Williams) Lord might admit to having once been hot dog skiers. I’ll never forget Lord launching a flip in the middle of a competition run on Whiteout in an era when things like that just weren’t done.

Hot dog skiers pushed the boundaries of American skiing in a rebellious rock ’n’ roll sort of way, showing off with tricks like backscratchers, pole flips and the kangaroo.

We were daffy, but we had a blast.

More hair, more air!

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email


rhys jones 4 years, 5 months ago

Tom, you forgot to mention Kris "Fuzz" Fedderson, one of the first "hot-dog" skiers and pioneer of the sport. I helped Kris set up the Night Events at Winter Carnival one year -- the stage, bleachers, a fake forest (ex-Christmas trees) and was thus rewarded with watching the fireworks from Ground Zero -- especially sweet that year, as the dumping snow added its own effect.

Fun read anyway, Tom, and thanks, Fuzz!!


Stanzi Lucy 4 years, 5 months ago

Tom ~ Thanks for letting us true skiers remember the grace of the sport by wedeln. Now skiers look like hockey players. As the great philosopher Warren Miller said with the advent of snowboarding garments, “everyone looks like a sack of cats going to the river.” Where is Stein when we need him so desperately?


rhys jones 4 years, 5 months ago

Stanzi -- Stein is still the Billy Kidd of Deer Valley, their PR guy, I believe. I had the pleasure of watching him ski while working over there once, skis two inches apart and going click-click as he changed edges. I don't care what the current thought is, shoulder width -- blah, rubbish; that tight style is beautiful, and my objective ever since. I still ski 205 Vipers, and I love 'em. No upper limits.


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