Roger Marolt: Skiing has become dull!
Dude! Take a look around town this week. Everyone is partying and going nuts. Lots of crazy people are doing extreme stunts in front of big crowds and bigger camera lenses. It’s wild. It’s fun. It looks like any winter weekend in 1980 again!And, it’s a wake-up call. The morning after is going to be brutal next Wednesday.Go ahead, gaze into your mirror mirror on The Headwall. See yourself? Now glance at the X Games playing on the tube over your shoulder. Quite a contrast, huh? Snow riding for the average enthusiast is getting dull faster than a titanium edge on Aztec.”Incredible” advances in equipment and grooming technologies are leveling our mountains. The challenging terrain within ski area boundaries is disappearing faster than support for Snowmass Base Village. Nothing is off limits to the novice anymore.It’s the inevitable “dumbing down” of our sport; a byproduct of mass marketing to mature (aka wealthy) skiers (aka timeshare purchasers). Remember; modern ski gear was not originally designed for the expert. It was developed to help bumbling beginners.Take shaped skis for example. Well … they just make skiing easier. Now there’s a thrilling concept. “They practically turn themselves.” Are you invigorated yet? The decline started in the 1980s when skier numbers began to drop. Rather than lowering prices to keep people in the game, ski industry executives decided it was simpler to fight over existing customers. Retirement community amenities and corduroy-smooth runs were the bait. Equipment manufacturers followed suit. “Easier” became synonymous with “better.” The result is that now ski resorts are competing with strolls down the Palm Beach Boardwalk as the recreational activity du jour. This effect is best seen right here in good ol Ski Country U.S.A. Since 1980, the population of Colorado has increased by an astonishing 44 percent. Yet, skier-day visits in the Rocky Mountain region have increased a measly 10 percent over the same time period. Meanwhile the shopping malls on the Front Range are bursting on weekends. In our own home state, we’re less exciting than a brassiere sale at J.C. Penney’s. Ski racing, which approximately 99.9 percent of all skiers don’t do, is the only place where improvements in gear can really be measured. So what has been the attraction to skiing for the rest of us? The adventure, of course! You know, being able to get down some obscenely steep, crudded-up mogul run out in the middle of nowhere and bragging about it afterward. So how do improvements in technology help us there? Sure, we’re skiing more gnarly terrain these days, but look across Highland Bowl so is granny! If that perspective doesn’t moderate the feeling of accomplishment, I don’t know what will.The irony is that the challenges of skiing are inherent. Why are we putting so much effort into taming them? Lot’s of you are thinking that I’m nuts just about now. You’ll tell me to just take a gander at Thanksjibbing, Big Air Fridays, The X Games and the bevy of new ski videos. Riders are doing all kinds of unbelievable stuff that nobody dreamed of attempting back in the “golden years” of skiing. That’s not exciting? Well, sure it is. But it also highlights my point. Please let me know just when you plan to do your never-before-seen roll off of a gnarly 100-foot cliff. Twin-tipped, all-mountain skis or not, the average skier can’t relate.Besides, do you think these kids at the X Games are just littering our slopes with jumps, bumps, rails, stairs, walls and halfpipes to make us mad? Heck no. (Well, actually that might be part of it, but we can discuss that later.) Those deafening roars from the crowds are a collective scream for help. They’re desperate encouragement for the athletes who are trying to create some excitement out of theses on-slope junkyards. We’re tired of the thrills melting away like butter on our pancake-smooth runs while ski resort executives chase each others’ tails around the money tree. Now don’t get me wrong, I would rather spend my recreational time skiing than doing anything else. I have to admit though, I don’t ski all day long like I used to. I reach a point where I am satiated some time before the lifts close even though I am not drop-dead dog-tired. That never happened in the old days. This isn’t about my age either. Back then the geezers were skiing all day too (the ones over 70 for free). It boils down to this for me: It’s not possible to have more fun skiing than I did before the sport was “revolutionized.” So what could I have hoped for from any improvements? There were only two possible outcomes. My Highland Peak level of enthusiasm would stay the same, or … changes could cosmically foul up the mystical fun formula I had developed and my enjoyment would wane. Personally, I had nothing to gain and everything to lose. You can point out that my arguments are contrary to what skiers say in the latest Ski magazine polls, and that I am a dinosaur of the sport. Don’t forget though, dinosaurs once roamed the earth just as adventurers once ruled the slopes. Something needs to change before both are extinct. To the ski industry I offer this: Take some risks yourselves. How about dampening the plans for more improvements and use the money you’ll save to put a little extra side cut in those ticket prices? What more do you have to lose?[Roger Marolt remembers when the biggest challenges in skiing were not figuring out how to pay for it. Tell him about yours at email@example.com]