One of the benefits of a Realskiers.com subscription is the ability to contact me directly with your questions and comments. I also periodically solicit reader feedback on what I perceive as important issues. Point being, I maintain a robust correspondence with my readership, much of which is of the “what ski should I get?” variety, but a lot of it includes information and opinions that extend well beyond the boundaries of equipment advice.
I’ve culled ten such jewels from this year’s cache, including my response where it lends additional context. As this will be a long piece, I’ll dive right in to the details.
[Jimmy Petterson sent me this letter shortly after I published a compendium of reader responses to a Revelation about shrinking ski sales in the U.S. Petterson has skied practically every ski area in the world; if he’s missed one, it wasn’t for lack of trying.]
As always, I appreciated your piece on diminishing ski sales. Unfortunately, I read it too late to submit a letter to you in time for your next piece, which included ideas for others. I will try not to be repetitive, because so much has already been mentioned by you and your readers, and almost all of that seems spot-on to me. You have a very knowledgeable group of readers (i.e. fans). So what can I add?
- Many people mentioned price. While it was often mentioned about the absurd and ever rising cost of skiing and all the additional costs that it includes, I would suggest that skiing in the Alps or most other parts of Europe are VERY MUCH more affordable than in the US. It is primarily in the US, that the cost is killing the industry. The average cost of lift passes, accommodation, meals, etc. in a top Alpine resort is about half of what it is in the US. When I skied in Greece three seasons ago, I visited a very nice resort called Kalavrita. (See Volume II of Skiing Around the World). While this was a small resort with only 7 lifts, it had a very respectable 2100 vertical feet of skiing, and the resort was basically devoid of skiers. The cost of a three-star hotel with breakfast AND a lift pass was $35 a day!!!
- One of your readers, John P., mentioned Hal Clifford’s book, Downhill Slide. I agree that that book makes a great assessment of the ill-fated US business model for skiing. Led by the Darth Vader of the ski industry, Vail Corporation, they have turned away from skiing and focused on real estate development. Simultaneously, instead of the profit pie being shared among the townspeople of small ski villages, Vail and other such entities take over every aspect of the business. Their monopoly status and stranglehold on the ski area allows them to charge ungodly rates, but equally important is that all that is genuine about the ski village, mountain experience, etc. is destroyed and replaced by a kind of plastic atmosphere.
- Nobody mentioned that since the 1950s-1970s, so many other sports and activities have emerged to compete with skiing. Many are less expensive as well, but whether they are cheaper or not, there is more competition than previously for people’s entertainment time from wind-surfing, golf, kitesurfing, and a myriad of other activities, not to mention the endless supply of entertainment on the Internet that is all free of charge.
- One of your readers, Carol Worthen, explained how she has personally only had two pairs of Alpine skis for the last 20 years, and how she has saved money by keeping her children on the same pair of skis for many years. As you know, I certainly ski a lot more than Mrs. Worthen. In fact, since I work with skiing in various capacities, I generally ski a pretty full season, an average of about 90 ski days a year. Most of the time, I am sponsored with free ski equipment so cost is not that much of an issue. Nevertheless, I see a pair of skis that I like as an old friend. I prefer to keep company with my old friend rather than try to make friends with somebody new. Ski equipment is of a much higher quality nowadays than when I was young. In the past 20 years or so, I have often used my favorite pair of skis for 400-500 days before finally hanging them up when there was no longer any base left to allow one more grind. For even an avid skier, who skis 30 days a season, this means that a pair of skis (and bindings) would last 12-15 seasons. For a normal skier who skis a week a year, the skis would last most of his lifetime.
- Numerous people mentioned that the extreme aspect of skiing, which is so prevalent in the ski magazines and films shows material that the average skier cannot relate to. I fully agree. Many of the top ski photographers and journalists nowadays travel with sponsored athletes, who can huck cliffs at the drop of a hat and ski 50-degree slopes as if it were a beginner’s slope. The spectacular photos and films exemplify this, but who can relate? For the past 35 years, in my articles and also in my books, Skiing Around the World I and II, I have mainly skied with friends. They are good skiers, but my focus has been on trying to show photos that a good skier would look at and say to himself, “Wow! Cool! I would love to try to ski there!!!”
- I will finish by adding something to point 1. There is another huge difference between the ski industry in Europe and in the US. The average American has 2 or maybe 3 weeks’ vacation. That basically means that his vacation goes to a summer holiday and skiing becomes an activity for weekends with the odd long weekend at Thanksgiving or President’s Day. The average European, on the other hand has 5-6 weeks of paid vacation per year. If he is an avid skier, that allows for two or three weeks devoted to skiing (+possible weekend skiing if he is near the slopes) and still plenty of time for the summer holiday. For people who are not fanatic, many will still have a week winter holiday on the slopes. The short vacations in the US is a major factor in my opinion of what is killing the ski industry. It creates a vicious spiral. Without the benefit of many weeklong destination guests that fill many, many resorts all over the Alps every winter, (not to mention top resorts in Sweden, Norway, Finland the Pyrenees, and Eastern Europe), US resorts are forced to charge higher prices than their European counterparts. (The high cost of insurance in the litigation-crazy US adds to the problem as well.) With the higher prices, more and more people even in the upper middle class are priced out of the ski market or decide to spend their money on less expensive pastimes. With an ever-smaller class of people at the top of the food chain who can afford skiing in the US, the profits get even thinner, etc. etc.
All the Best,
[The following contribution from the Great White North also paints a sharply contrasting picture to the U.S. market.]
You recently published your readers’ top 10 reasons why they think ski sales are in decline. I read their lists, and the experience left me in a somber mood. Are we the last of the dinosaurs to shush down snowy pistes after our world has been hit with a ski-killing meteor?
I live and ski in Montreal (and its environs), so perhaps my experience and perspective are not in synch with those who call the U.S.A. home. Thus, please be understanding if the world appears a little brighter atop the ski lifts up here.
Rather than a counter-list, here’s a tale of hope for our beloved sport. A mere 20 km (or less than 12.5 miles) from Montreal stands Mont Saint-Bruno. Stands is perhaps too grand a word for a ski resort with a vertical drop of 134 m (440 feet). Yes, this is precisely the type of place that many Realskiers.com fans lamented had become extinct, or was soon to become just another well of fossil fuel.
When I skied at Mont Saint-Bruno in the 1970s, there were four runs: one “learning” piste served by a T-bar; plus one green, blue and black that all shared a two-person chairlift. You could rent equipment at the chalet, but all they offered were wooden skis. It was a convenient place to learn to ski, but once you got good, you headed to the real hills in the Eastern Townships and the Laurentians, the nearest of whose mountains are a mere 45 minutes east or north of Montreal.
If everything on those top-10 reasons for despair were true, then Mont Saint-Bruno would be doomed. And, sure enough, during this period of skiing’s decline, the mountain recognized that it had only one thing going for it: it was a convenient place to learn to ski. Yet, what a strength this could be.
Today, Mont Saint-Bruno is the largest ski school in Canada, with 565 instructors and around 33,000 students a year. Nine lifts (the t-bar has been mercifully upgraded to a moving carpet) service 18 trails, all of which are lit for night skiing. Day tickets cost $42.25 ($32.30 USD). What’s more, the resort provides free bus service to and from the Longueuil metro station, part of Montreal’s public transit system.
I haven’t returned to Bruno since the ‘70s, but almost every skier I know learned to snowplow and carve there. A few friends still like to go back to their old haunt for a day or a night on the slopes, or because they have kids of their own who are learning to ski.
Lest you or your readers contend that this small mountain has found success solely because it is close to a large urban center, or because it lacks competition, consider that Montreal is surrounded with great skiing opportunities. To the north, there are sixteen ski resorts, ranging from smaller hills in the Lanaudière region, to broad runs in the Laurentian mountains, including Mont-Tremblant. Tickets in the former cost about the same as Mont St-Bruno’s. To the east, four resorts offer great skiing, and at great prices. A season’s pass can be had for $409 ($315 USD), or $189 ($145 USD) for night skiing. Family passes are cheaper.
As they say on those infomercials: Wait, there’s more! If you’re willing to head to the Quebec City area—and plenty do, including yours truly—, you have three wonderful resorts, including Le Massif, which boasts the highest vertical drop east of the (Canadian) Rockies. Not enough? A drive across the U.S. border brings you to Jay Peak, in Vermont, which takes Canadian dollars at par; plus two other marvellous mountains. And, New York offers a couple of choice resorts, including Whiteface, which hosted the Winter Olympics twice.
The purpose of this travelogue is to demonstrate that little Mont St-Bruno doesn’t have it easy. Yet, it thrives.
I add to my tale that the price of skis has remained about the same for the past 20 years, though quality, and hence value, has steadily increased.
Is it all good news? No. Perhaps the greatest threat to our beloved sport is global warming, which has shortened the ski season by as much as two months, while making the rest of it unpredictable.
In the end, perhaps this perspective can serve to reassure us that we are not a bunch of oversized reptiles lumbering toward our doom. From over here, as far as skiing is concerned, there’s hope.
Jode H. Lax
[This member was one of the first to raise the flag about ski shortages in the U.S. market. I’ve included my reply.]
Here’s another topic: Shopping for new boots earlier this season, and then for the new Kendos – holy cow, they are awesome! – last week, I’ve observed that business at my local ski shops here in Pittsburgh is absolutely through the roof. I visited one shop—Fox Chapel Ski and Board—and the store was half empty. They say each week they break new sales records and are having their best season ever.
Another shop, Peak Ski and Board, also has been swamped. And a friend of mine took his kids to Willis (I think they are one of the shops that sponsors Real Skiers) a week or so ago for new boots and found them almost sold out. What’s going on? Are more and more people taking up skiing out of pandemic boredom? (Evidence at my local shops seems to indicate this.) Will the pandemic actually GOOD for the ski industry in the long run—is it prompting more people to take up skiing and will that stick long term? I realize of that resorts are probably suffering by having to limit capacity and indoor dining, etc. But what impact will this ultimately have on skiing as a whole?
Not looking for answers to those questions, just thinking its good fodder for ski industry folks like you to consider, and maybe write about.
Hi Rob –
Glad I combed through old emails today and found your gem. Please note that today’s Revelation was partly inspired by your note, the gist of which I confirmed with other, well-trusted sources. Lodging and restaurants took a big hit, for sure.
The biggest problem retailers in your area face is they can’t get their hands on enough product.
I don’t think we’re seeing more new skiers than usual, but maybe more returnees. I suspect this surge will help re-balance the books in some quarters, but I don’t hear of any suppliers dancing in the aisles. I think a lot of product was delayed and some of the deep cuts in orders were never restored. But I think normalcy will prevail. There are too many inherent obstacles to skiing’s growth to keep this wave cresting. And too many addicted skiers on the other side of the equation to allow the tide to completely run out.
Anyway, thanks for your thoughtful note. It was more appreciated than my silence made it appear! – JH
[This exchange between John Clendenin and one of his disciples reveals the depth of the bond between JC and his flock of followers.]
Please check out Realskiers.com short Podcast (below). A tear almost creeped out of an eye as I have never heard kinder words. Thank you, Jackson for the endorsement and your details about mogul skiing and mogul skis are valuable and right on… brother!
Well! This was not only a joy to hear (and from the mouth of someone who obviously knows his stuff), but also a resounding endorsement of a methodology that is at once transformative and freeing.
Speaking for moi, I can easily say that Mr. Hogen took the words right out of my mouth as regards the man (JC) and his method (CM). I am completely smitten with both and know of no other way than the power of “The Keys” to open the door to The Kingdom…aka “the transcendent slide on snow (dance with gravity).”
Hope the adventure tourers are enjoying a spectacular week, on and off the mountain.
Huge, abiding fan,
[This dialog between a Realskiers member and me concerns the dearth of demo days where consumers can try before they buy.]
A question and some further commentary since I love discussing ski gear!
Why doesn’t the industry do more ski demo days? I find for advanced to expert skiers it is the only way to really buy the skis that “fit” you.
For example, in my last two major purchases, I read a gazillion reviews, talked to shop people and friends, and I bought skis I did not like though one purchase was the wrong length of the ski (which can be like two different ski models/brands).
After the last two ski investment disasters, I did at least a dozen demos over the last 2 years, and now I am really confident about what to purchase. Would someone buy a car that you have not test driven (I understand it is a much bigger price tag)?
I found that all the high-end skis are really, really good, but what is the best for you, your body type, ability, terrain, typical conditions, aspirational goals/terrain and etc. is not an easy decision. Also, there is the “dream” factor of what I would like to ski (powder out West vs. hard pack/ice on the Ice Coast). Ideally, good skiers should probably have at LEAST a 2-ski quiver, but that is not realistic for many skiers.
Pre-COVID there would be some demo days, but the industry and retailers do not do it enough on the slope where you can swap and minimize the hassle. Many good shops do provide demos at a cost, but most likely do not carry all the brands/models that I want to test, and at $50+ a demo it gets costly.
Is there hard data that show manufacturers/ retailers see a worthwhile revenue impact post-demo days and is it enough to justify the time/expense of the shop and/or industry reps?
Dear Joel –
Unless the supplier has a particular mission to accomplish (I’m thinking of Salomon and the BBR launch), they don’t see it as their job to put consumers on demos. It’s certainly not in their interest to defer a sale until a consumer has exhausted the supply of demos. The job of doing consumer demos falls to the retail channel, which either engages in this practice or not. (Bobo’s does demos every Friday at Mt. Rose and a big, all-brands day towards season’s end.)
A key point to remember is there are no company reps; they’re all independent contractors, trying to squeeze whatever they can out of their time. Like the brands they represent, they don’t see it as their obligation to put consumers on their skis (the companies charge them for any skis in their fleet and of course the reps have to maintain them or they’re useless). Their demo fleets are meant to get shops to try and buy. Once that goal is accomplished, they liquidate the fleets as fast as they can.
Also due to the internet and market dynamics, just when demos become feasible, the world goes on sale. The retailer takes a haircut, like it or not. There goes the margin that might have subsidized demos.
Manufacturers, for the most part, made money in 2020 (in the U.S.), but you wouldn’t know it by how they are trimming their sails (pun intended). I don’t foresee anyone engaging in this practice (on the supplier level) for the foreseeable future. – JH
[The most common query I fielded this season concerned the absence of any test scores in the 2021 Gear Guide. Here’s my usual reply and the follow-up emails from a couple of my Dear Readers.]
Hi Gregory –
Please see the following Revelations where I advise that scores won’t be shown this year, and why:
Note that any model that carried over from last year will show its stats in last year’s archived reviews. And the narratives on new models are considerably longer on the members’ site (not for all models, but almost all that are new). And you have access to me if you want more details comparing one ski to another. And the 20/21 reviews are presented in their order of finish for either Power or Finesse properties. And I continue to add new features, like the podcasts I’ve begun to accumulate. Not an exclusive members’ benefit, but like the Revelations library, podcasts will be archived where only members can see them.
Wish it could have been otherwise – JH
Thank you for the reply. I get it! Great to add the wealth of info available on Realskiers to my other review sites; at $20 it’s a bargain!! Good luck for next season, Covid is really a formidable problem!!
By the way, I am 68 years old and am skiing better than I ever have, mostly from studying technical and race skiing and doing the drills over the last 4 seasons. I watched your clip on ski width and knee strain and I have definitely noticed this. I have a pair of Fisher 108 Ti’s, mostly I use them for side country touring, but I break them out on my local 400’ hill when we have had some snow. (The operation tends to groom everything). I love the trenches I can cut with these skis but have noticed a bit of inflammation that occasionally shows up the next day after 3 hours of high-angle carving. I guess I will stop doing it. Thank you!
Thank you, Jackson!
Now I understand. And you are right that the narrative of the skis is far more useful than the numbers!
Best regards from Iceland and hopefully we will all be soon skiing again,
[Occasionally, one of my Revelations or podcasts will spark a memory from a reader with deep roots in our sport. Longtime subscriber Dave Irons contributed a couple of memories of his encounters with Warren Miller.]
Thanks for more insight into your life in the ski world, something only those of us with a similar devotion to the sport can truly appreciate. I did along the way have a number of encounters with Warren and his enormous ego. My favorite was on a trip to Norway with Warren and Stein as our guides. Had you met with Warren you surely would have learned about his enjoyment of needling others. On one occasion there were just four of us and a bus driver present. Warren was needling Stein and Stein, gentleman that he was, simply took it. Finally, Warren paused and Stein said, “At least I don’t have the Dick-do problem.”
When Warren looked up inquiringly, Stein said, “That’s when the stomach stick out more than the Dick do.” Warren didn’t have any more to say. This is one that won’t be in my book, but I will include the column I wrote about Stein telling me I skied beautifully. I had just turned 55 (Stein was 65) and that took some of the sting out of the advancing age.
Once again, thanks for another interesting bit. – Dave Irons
Warren was very good at getting freebies for being a spokesperson. When he handled Marketing at Vail Craig Altschul put Warren up for two or three months. That’s how the Lawn Chair Drill team wound up in that year’s film performing at Mid Vail. That was when they held the Look Ma Slalom to see who could better negotiate a course through the bumps, pro racers or the local bump skiers. The locals didn’t fare too well as Edvin Halsnes won the first run and brother Jarle the second. It was interesting watching the bump skiers thrash about while Edvin and Jarle carved their way through the course as if the bumps weren’t even there. Fun memory. – Dave Irons
[While most of my correspondence stays focused on skiing, my musings sometimes inspire inquiries that range far afield. Such was the case with a give-and-take with Dr. Jasper Shealy, the foremost statistician in the field of ski injuries and a lifelong contributor to ski safety standards development.]
I very much enjoyed your wandering mind trip today, and agree that a myriad of skills will stand you well in later life. I have always enjoyed your sometimes obscure literary/cultural references. Like you I had the advantage of a classical oriented education in prep school, but unlike my father (I was legacy) while I took Latin, it was not required of us in the 1950s, to be fluent in both Latin as well as Greek, probably the leading (or rather trailing edge) of the general decline in literacy, etc., but lately it looks like the slope of decline is steepening.
The thing that caught my attention the other day was the attempt to ban the Iliad, and other Greek classics, Shakespeare and just about anything composed by a white male as being (take your choice here) sexist, misogynistic, colonialism, racist, you name it. What is your take on this?
Happy New Year, Jake!
Banning books – particularly culturally relevant books, even if you don’t care for their every word – dooms the “civilization” that does so. If students today are so stupid that they need to be reminded that Homer didn’t grow up in our world, but he nevertheless still influences it, then what’s the point in trying to educate them? Public schooling in this nation is a disgrace, period. If we start banning books, we might as well give up.
I realize I’m guilty of straining my readers’ tolerance for running to the thesaurus, but I’m not about to change my habits. English is the richest language left on the planet, but you’d never know it based on popular usage. Sigh. I can’t change that, but neither do I have to submit to it.
Always great too hear from you. Have you tried one of my podcasts yet?
Stay well, my friend – JH