Let me start by wishing skiing a very Happy Valentine’s Day. Yes, skiing, I love just about everything about you: the activity, the culture, the weather, the scenery. To me, skiing has been a gift that has enriched my life in oh so many ways. Yet true love doesn’t mean unconditional acceptance. You can love something and still recognize its flaws. In fact, the more you love something, the more you want to make it better.
So this week, I thought maybe it was time I took off the rose-colored glasses and addressed some of the issues the ski industry needs to work on. No, I don’t have the answers. These are complicated problems that many people have been puzzling over for years. But as a (very) interested observer, here are some of the things I would change, if only I could:
• Greater affordability, particularly for families: There’s no denying that skiing is expensive. Sure, there are ways to cut costs: ski clubs, buying tickets in advance, ski swaps — all of these can do a lot to make it more affordable.That said, it’s a wonder that anyone can afford to be out on the slopes. At $189, Vail’s walk-up rate is firmly in nose-bleed territory. And while that may be an extreme example, it still demonstrates that the industry is pricing a lot of people out of the sport. When I see a family on the slopes and I think about what they’re paying for lodging, food, gear, lessons, and lift passes, I’m frankly at a loss to know how they do it.
• Better pay and benefits for instructors.* Anyone who takes a lesson knows you pay a pretty hefty price. But what most people don’t realize is that instructors only receive a very small portion of that amount. Typically, instructors are only paid about 10 to 20% of the revenue they generate for major US resorts. Sure, they get perks: the free pass is nice, and they may get discounts for food or gear. But the amount they receive is way out of whack when you look at what’s being charged. *Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s up the pay and benefits for patrollers, too.
• More affordable housing for ski resort employees. The problem with working in a ski town is living in a ski town. The market for high-end vacation homes has made affordable housing nearly impossible to find. So what’s the average liftie/instructor/food service worker to do? Typically, commute in from farther and farther away. You can read a good article about the problem here, but it’s a crisis situation that needs to be addressed.
• More diversity on the slopes: From 1974 to 2016, the percentage of Americans skiing fell from 25 percent to 17 percent. And while the number of minorities in the country is continuing to rise — by 2060, the US will be a ‘minority majority’ nation — 73% of skiers are white. What’s more, a key demographic — the Baby Boomers — are aging out. If skiing is going to survive, we need to bring younger, more diverse people into the sport.
• A viable model for smaller, family-friendly resorts. Since the 1980’s, roughly 33% of US ski areas have gone out of business, and up to 150 more are considered threatened by industry experts. It breaks my heart to see these places close. Small hills play an important part in skiing. These are where many of us get into the sport, and are an important, affordable place for families to play. Keeping these areas going is essential for the life blood of the sport. I’ve written about one solution, Mountain Rider’s Alliance, here. But there need to be others, too.
• And while we’re at it, a little less sexism. This covers a whole lot of ground: everything from relegating women to soft goods sales in ski shops, to only paying attention to women racers who look a certain way, to producing skis in girly colors with flowers and butterflies (thankfully, this is a trend that’s disappearing). It’s simple: Women want to be appreciated as the athletes we are. We don’t want to be talked down to like children or treated as sex objects. The industry has made a fair amount of progress in this, but it still has a long way to go.