We skiers are a resilient lot.
We have to be. The sport that feels embedded in the most elemental fibers of our being requires winter. I realize that last statement isn’t entirely true, but anyone who mistakes indoor skiing or sliding on sand or grass or nylon filaments for the real deal is in a deep state of denial. The essence of skiing is inseparable from mountains and snow, bringing powerful forces to bear on any and all who dare to brave both.
One of skiing’s baked-in ironies is that the skiing is best when you can’t get to it. The same storms that dump their abundant goodness on the mountains also visit all the roads that lead there, often rendering any attempt at access an extended exercise in impatience.
Then there are days like last Saturday, when a prophesized atmospheric river flowed across northern California like an inland tsunami. I realize there are exotic locales, like New England, where rain and snow often move in tandem, with the rain frequently arriving second, so as to obliterate whatever snow – and hope – that might have preceded it.
But in this instance, the rains came first, and they burst open with a Biblical vengeance, saturating the forlorn, dormant ground in no time. I awoke in Reno on the last day of 2022 to discover that I now was the proprietor of small lakeside community that was taking shape in my basement. Water was sluicing down walls and cascading from the corners of shelving. My liquid assets were swelling around my feet faster than tattered towels could absorb them. To take my mind off my hopeless predicament, I pondered how I could pull off a real estate boondoggle such as, “Lago di Hoginini: buy your Tuscan-styled lot now, while it’s still above water!”
Eventually, a good friend, a couple of wet vacs and a change in the weather caused the waters of Lago di Hoginini to recede to pre-flood levels. But while we were celebrating this triumph over adversity, silver-dollar-size snowflakes were accumulating faster than IHOP can make flapjacks. Plunging temperatures then froze the whole kit and kaboodle into a solid mass with the molecular weight of molybdenum.
It was a bad night to be an old tree. The weight of the frozen-stiff snow dropped aged limbs below their threshold of resilience, snapping off 20-foot long branches like dried kindling. Rose bushes that had survived pestilence and drought since FDR’s first term lost major limbs overnight. An old peach tree right outside our kitchen window from which Oscar Wilde (the cat, not the 19th-century British wit) could jump to the sill was leveled when a massive sheet of sodden snow slid off our steeply pitched metal roof with enough momentum to uproot it. Its fall caved in the back of a metal chaise longue like it was a soggy Pringle.
In a word, I was stymied. Skiing would have to wait.
The Great Chain of Being
If you were reading this Revelation – or listening to it in podcast form – in Elizabethan times, you might have believed in the Great Chain of Being worldview, that the orbits of Man and Nature are so intertwined that disruptions in one induces tumult in the other. I’m dusting off the concept here as I feel the paroxysm that Nature recently unleashed locally is perhaps a harbinger of change across the ski landscape.
How and where skis are sold, and how information about skis is presented and disseminated – once well-established conduits – are evolving with every passing season. One reason I continue to toil in these vineyards is because the specialty ski shop – home to the world’s best bootfitters – is an endangered species. If we lose the ability to accurately fit the skier, the gulf between the sport’s elite and the public – already a giant rift – will be complete. The sport we love will become an activity, like pickleball or cornhole. So, I want to support the shops that continue to make skiing more than just “accessible;” they help make it transformative.
While my tone might come off as “erudite curmudgeon,” I see my role as more cold-eyed realist than over-wrought alarmist. Just about every ski brand you’ve ever heard of – and all of the ones you haven’t, of which there are legions – is working overtime to build their direct-to-consumer channel. It would be poor corporate governance not to. So, this behavior is here to stay.
Meanwhile, the new product renewal machinery marches on. Today, shops in this region will get their first gander at the 23/24 model line-up, and on-snow demos will follow in due course. The mechanics of the sell-in cycle will hold together for at least another season. But there’s little doubt that further changes are more likely than a stable status quo.
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