Monday, September 8, 2008

I Don't Know How to Fix Skiing

Skiing is a sport for rich kids. It is an industry fueled by seven-figure families who take one weekend a year to provide the rest of us with another example that they are superior. At least, that's the view of the majority of the non-skiing world. While these people are a part of the ski community, they are not what drives it. At the core of the skiing world is a group of people who love their sport for its most basic qualities. Their desire for athleticism, serenity and a connection with nature creates an emotional tie between sport and athlete not commonly seen in other "recreational" activities. Skiers do not care about class; they care about their sport. With the recent rise of newschool skiing, a young crop of dedicated skiers see an increased need to reverse the image of a sport largely seen as the province of the privileged.

In the case of a paradigm shift, it is useful to find a successful model to use as a basis. Skiing has overwhelmingly turned to snowboarding as its model. Over 25 years after its invention snowboarding is still viewed as a counter-culture alternative to the posh world of skiing. Though they exists in the same market as skiers, snowboarders are perceived as people out ot have a good time, nothing more. This is the image the skiing community wants to display, and it has consequently emulated snowboarding. The men and women behind joint skiing and snowboarding contests, the encouragement of off-piste skiing and new clothing styles have worked to blend the line between skiers and boarders in an attempt to latch on to the boarder image.

Snowboarding's rise, however, cannot be effectively used to move the image of skiing to the place it wishes to be. Snowboarding began as an alternative to skiing, which was, at the time, beginning to become synonymous with wealthy lifestyles. It's popularity rose up from the lower classes rather than down from the upper. This method of garnering popular support is much simpler. America, since its beginnings, has represented the everyman. Though the privileged and the celebrity may not live like the factory worker, it has always been important that they are not seen as snobbishly superior. To achieve this, these classes have latched on to the activities and customs of the lower classes. This especially evident in the popularity of modern punk and country music. It is cool for a celebrity earning millions to throw on a cowboy hat and talk their love of the south or die their hair black and rage against the machine. These are cultures that have risen to popularity from the lower class.

Skiing is attempting the opposite. It is the culture, not the counter-culture, and it wishes to move down the ladder. It has been suggested that the rising price of day of skiing is to blame and that simply lowering lift ticket and lodging prices will improve skiing's image. But resorts cannot be blamed for raising prices. They are run by businessmen out to make a profit. If people will pay more, why not charge more? Lowering prices is only part of the solution, as the entire culture surrounding skiing has evolved to encourage its new image. Manufactured "ski towns" are lined with Louis Vatton stores and $100-a-plate restaurants, and intermediate-level ski systems can cost over $1000. This is not what makes skiing great, but it is what has become associated with the sport.

So, what is the solution? How can the skiing community convince the world that they are not brigades of trust fund babies? In my search for an example of how this can be done I have found nothing. Is skiing, then, doomed to be misunderstood? Maybe. Maybe not. Newschool skiing has made inroads with the country's youth, and the future looks brighter than it did ten years ago. If I can ever find, or for that matter create, a model for skiing to follow I will gladly share it. In the meantime, I will love skiing as it should be loved...and do everything I can to let people know what they're missing.

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