Roger Marolt: ‘Protect Our Pocketbooks’ should be skiers’ concern for industry
Forget about POW (Protect Our Winters) for a minute. It’s not global warming that is the biggest threat to skiing. It’s lift ticket prices. Once they become so expensive that skiers can’t afford them anymore, nobody is even going to care if we have snow in the mountains. There won’t be anyone here to know if there is any. We need an organization called POP (Protect Our Pocketbooks).
I bet I am oversimplifying. I’m sure there are many reasons beside price that people aren’t flocking to the slopes, but before we get into speculation, let’s be clear on the facts: in the 2015-16 ski season, U.S. ski resorts logged roughly 53-million skier/snowboarder days. That was about the same number of lift tickets sold in the 1995-96 ski season. This was approximately the same as there were in 1985-86.
OK, OK. I admit it. I cherry-picked the above data a little, glossing over the highs and lows. Skier visits for last season topped 59 million. Tracing the flat line connecting data points, this means skiing participation has actually grown an average of 0.41% a year since 1978. That’s a mill bastard file shaving better than nothing.
This prolonged lack of interest in skiing is not because skiing isn’t fun. The truth is there isn’t much that’s more fun. I know some detractors will say I didn’t get my facts straight on this. Others will conclude that I need to do more research. However, I will point out that the lack of facts, research, and data is a torsionally rigid two-edged fat ski; a lack of information doesn’t prove anything the other way either. While they’re trying to argue with that statement, I’ll stick to my claim — skiing is super fun. Boredom is probably not keeping skiers away.
A funny thing about skiing is that it was relatively more popular back in the days when the chances of breaking your leg or ruining some other perfectly healthy body part was much greater. A renowned snowsport injury researcher, Dr. Jasper Shealy, professor emeritus at the Rochester Institute of Technology, has determined that these painful skiing mishaps were about twice as likely to happen in 1970 than they do today. It is important to mention that reconstructive surgeries are far better, too. So, it would appear, the odds of having an accident is probably not keeping people off the slopes, either.
Another thing to consider is that, even at the almost ripe old age of 57, I am making prettier turns than I did when I was 21. I am not stronger, more flexible or more athletic than when I was younger. My eyesight is worse. My reflexes are slower. My hearing is deplorable. My knees creak in harmony with my back moaning. I have to pee way more frequently. And, still, if I could have seen myself the way I am dancing through the moguls now when I was muscling through them then, I probably would have given up the sport for being humiliated by a geezer. Just to be clear, I am not getting better. My skis are and the trail grooming is. Skiing is easier than ever. Nobody is not skiing because it is difficult.
Speaking of gear, ski boots are finally comfortable. I wasn’t thinking about this the other day when I was up on the mountain. That’s the point. I never think about my ski boots anymore. Forty years ago, the pain in my toes was about all I could concentrate on when I was out on the slopes. The drill was to unbuckle my boots in the lift line and hope that the extra breathing room on the ride up would be enough to revive the phalanges before snapping the buckles back down and smothering them again just long enough to gut out another run. I haven’t contemplated another foot surgery for years. Finally, ski boots are no longer an excuse to stay home and watch regular season NBA basketball on Saturday afternoons.
Lastly, with faster lifts and cushy seats encapsulating us in gondola cabins like the secret ingredient in a Tylenol capsule, people can now get in more runs before their mid-morning latte breaks than you could by working the system and cutting lift lines in the old days. And still nobody new is showing up.
Why don’t more people ski? The only things I can think of that are worse about skiing now compared to the early days are the exorbitant cost and fluorescently accented ski patrol uniforms. While clearly painful on the eyes, I don’t think the latter is enough to overcome the innate, primal, wholly human urge to slide down a steep, snow-covered mountain on slippery non-recyclable plastic planks. It has to be the invisible altitude-activated wallet siphons stealthily installed at strategic locations all over select ski resorts.
I guess it was us diehard skiers who refused to put our feet down as the cost of skiing flew off the big kicker. Looking back, why did we go along with the price hikes to pay for all these improvements to the sport we already loved without them? I guess we did what we felt like we had to do. And, yes, this proves skiing is an addiction.
Roger Marolt sees no reason to try to lure young people to a sport that may not exist in 50 years. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Certainly there is no replacing the voice Paul Andersen brought to the Times’ op-ed pages. For the next year, though, we’re going to use the Monday spot to bring some of the voices of our newsroom to these pages.