This story was originally published on February 22, 2018
Picture ballet, figuring skating and skiing all mashed into one. That’s ski ballet, a mostly forgotten art form that got a little glory when it was a demonstration sport in the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games. Interest in it quickly waned when it didn’t become a medaling event, but on the slopes of the Hidden Valley ski resort south of Pittsburgh, ski ballet is being kept alive by one very enthusiastic, early-adopter. The Allegheny Front’s Andy Kubis got a lesson in ski ballet from him on a recent winter weekend.
When Ed Cook saw ski ballet on television for the first time around 1976, he knew he had to try it. “I said, whoa, they’re doing that on skis? How did they do that?!”
Cook says he needed to see it in slow motion to try to figure out exactly how they were doing those moves, but there was no ski ballet slow motion instant replay. So instead, he bought himself a pair of Olin ballet skis and headed to the mountain to figure it out on his own. It quickly became his passion.
LISTEN: “Dancing Down the Slopes to the Beat of His Own Drummer”
“I love the fact that I’m out here in the fresh air, on top of the snow, being able to twirl around,” he says. “It’s wonderful, absolutely wonderful.”
WATCH: “Ski Ballet: The Forgotten Olympic Sport”
“The main thing is you learn all the rules on how to ski properly and then you break them,” he explains as he begins demonstrating some of his moves. “What I do is I lift my left leg and bring the ski up towards my shoulder and then I will start to make 360s on the ground.”
Cook propels himself into a circle, using his poles to guide him. At one point he’s skiing backwards. It’s surprising how often you see the bottom of his skis. He looks like a pinwheel.
“I bring the tip the ski back down, have the tip cross over my other ski, catch the snow which will turn me again for 360 and then I do a little bit of a “kick-out” to get my skis parallel with each other again.”
The “kick-out” is one of Cook’s signature moves. And since he’s entirely self-taught, he gets the naming rights for all of his tricks.
“Oh, I’m sure they have names but where around here would I find anyone that does ballet skiing to ask?” he asks. “So I just make up my own names while I’m doing the tricks.”
Cook was never interested in competing. He just likes the challenge and energy that ski ballet brings him. And he likes to impress his family. On this day, Cook is skiing with all of his kids, grandkids, and, for the first-time, his two-year-old great grandson, Holden. And though his love of the art form hasn’t rubbed off on any of them, they clearly admire his passion.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” says his daughter Zolina Cook. “We always enjoyed watching him. We always kind of knew where he was on the slopes also because we could hear people oohing and ahhing.”
Cook does turn heads when he performs tricks, and it’s obvious to everyone who sees him that he skis to the beat of his own drummer. In the version of ski ballet that was exhibited at the Olympics in 1988 and 1992, the routines were set to music. And that’s how Cook started out, too.
“In the beginning, when I skied ballet I would have music in my head,” he says. “But unlike typical ballet, it was always rock-n-roll that was going on in my head, but the slower paced rock-n-roll like Lady [by Styx].”
Nowadays, Cook doesn’t ballet ski with a sound track in his head. He’s just trying to get from one move to the next without falling.
“Tricks just don’t come as easily as they did when I was younger,” he laments.
WATCH: Ed Cook, Great-Grandfather and Ballet Skier
Still, Cook is incredibly nimble. He says his dad skied well into his 80s, and Cook is hoping he’ll be jumping and twirling just as long.
In the meantime, he says he’s a little sad that there’s no ski ballet to watch on the Olympics this year.
“I regret they don’t do more of it,” Cook says. “It was just a real, real pretty thing to watch. And it’s just a lot of fun to do.”