Ski resorts generally do what they can to lower barriers to kids’ participation, like discounts for kids’ tickets and value-priced programs designed to develop their skills in a variety of disciplines. But kids grow up, and when they age-out of junior programs, the pressures to stop skiing intensify, such that the chances of raising a skier to adulthood today are roughly equal to the odds of a newborn turtle making it from its nest to the surf in broad daylight.
The obstacles to remaining active skiers throughout life’s passage are growing evermore formidable:
- The Cost of, well, everything. Even without the pandemic, all the associated expenses of going skiing: travel, lodging, food (edible or not), decent equipment, suitable clothing, even parking, have gone up. Goggles for a family of four by itself would pauper a Rockefeller.
- The Opportunity Remaining an active skier requires access to local skiing. Commitment needs to be nourished by frequency or it will eventually wither.
- The Time in your life to take advantage of a season’s pass. (Day passes are as dead as the dodo.) Vacation time is limited (for Americans) and weekend crowds can sap anyone’s enthusiasm for the sport.
- Higher Education Even those who survive the early stages of skills development and show some talent for the sport may be encouraged to drop skiing in favor of a more likely scholarship opportunity. No matter what this sport is, it won’t allow junior to keep skiing.
- Distractions Offspring may be lured into sub-cultures and parallel worlds, such as snowboarding, Alpine Touring, or pipe and park shenanigans. All things considered – barring catastrophic injury – such deviations aren’t the worst outcome in a skiing family.
- Adulthood Once kicked out of the nest and/or induced to take a “real” job that doesn’t offer any ski-related benefits, so-called “obligations” may diminish an already inadequate domestic treasury to a level below what’s required to sustain a ski life.
Despite all these high hurdles, many erstwhile skiers nonetheless return to the sport of their youth. But all of these factors, taken together, cause the arc of absence to grow longer; like the ever-expanding universe, the distance between the past skiing life and any future one grows longer as each non-ski day dissolves into the past.
While the fraught passage between youth and maturity is normally when the time requirement and expense skiing demands become too onerous to bear, life can get in the way of skiing at any stage. Fortunately, it’s also possible to get back on the horse at any time, even deep into one’s dotage. The only serious handicaps imposed by a decades-long absence from the sport are getting and staying in some sort of ski shape and acceptance of the fact that everything you thought you knew – about boots, skis, brands, technique – is most likely wrong.
For most Americans, the only period in their lives when they have both time and money is called “retirement.” Unless you have the determination of spawning salmon, skiing every year is a tough record to maintain. For most skiers, there will be gaps, for reasons as varied as life itself.
If skiing is to expand its base beyond the affluent unemployed and the hopelessly addicted, we need to improve affordability and accessibility for participants aged 16-60 who have to work for a living. There are no easy fixes and there probably isn’t enough time to improve the situation under the best of circumstances, as we’re about to run out of winter.
The End is Nigh
The other looming disaster that may make the next generation of skiers the last is the devastation we’ve wrought on the weather. One can only hope that the ash cloud that has covered much of the U.S. in August will stop the moronic mewling from the climate change deniers, but environmentalists can win every battle going forward and still lose the war.
Once we’ve completely compromised the planet’s ability to generate snow, we won’t be able to fall back on the man-made stuff, as making fake snow requires real water, a commodity the western U.S. is losing at an ever-accelerating pace.
While we could still continue to slide on a synthetic surface, comparing this antiseptic environment to a mountain in winter (as we once knew it), is like comparing chlorinated tap water to Dom Perignon. When Alpine skiing ceases to be an outdoor sport, it will become merely an oddball diversion, like bar-stool racing. The sheer boredom of it all may inspire a cult of trick skiing, as in the early days of freestyle ballet, but that’s about the only positive spin one can put on this train wreck.
An eternal optimist by nature who moonlights as an unlicensed metaphysician, I prefer to believe that mankind is spiraling forward, however ineptly. While as a species we may yet survive the climate catastrophes that await us, there’s little evidence to suggest that skiing as we know it will be among the survivors.
All the more reason, I suppose, to enjoy it while we can. If you get an opportunity to ski this year, go. You never know when you’ll get another chance.