38 Comments

I live in Whistler. And hike/ski throughout BC. 1. I can assure you that glaciers are clearly retreating all over, clearly marked on the ground over the last 30 years. And Blackcomb Glacier is no longer skiable in the summer as it was in the 80s. The seasons are definitely shorter based on my experience. (See also; . https://nsidc.org/home) 2.Vail corp has 40K employees of which 95% are part time. Not only has Vail created an unsupportable economic model for ski resort workers (The Municipality of Whistler has also failed to build affordable housing) but has created a generic and impersonal ski experience for its customers. Only the most affluent families can afford a week stay in Whistler which can cost $5k to $10k on the average. Most of the ‘locals’ nowadays are cheap imported workers from the UK or Australia. There are different economic models such as in Austria where landowners/farmers also operate ski lifts and compete with each other but still act collectively to provide a seamless experience between resorts. Austria has the most advanced, comfortable and aesthetic ski lifts because everyone of the aims to outdo each other. Vail is providing a middlebrow experience at a very high cost to the consumer.

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In that case, a 100% carbon tax (or climate change levy) might be effective and should probably be introduced 🙃

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I'll support CharlieSF's comment. I started skiing at college age in the 1960s, when moving to NJ put the ski areas of northern VT within range (barely). Got pretty good by moving to the Boston area. Reached a ski patrol level of competence and helped to found a national conference that met in Denver and as its highlight, held several days of workshops in a nearby ski area. But those days are gone. As our conference went international, we discovered that few of the attendees cared about the skiing connection, and it has been held at the waters' edge for the past 10 years. Family members ski, but only occasionally. The incredible rate of increase in cost was a big factor.

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Being Swedish, one interesting facet of the whole question of "skiing or not skiing" is the total lack of cross-country skiing in the discussion. Obviously, this is partly due to the fact that it is even more dependant on natural snow and a cold climate than the alpine version. However, when combining the inherent democratic aspect of cross-country skiing (in that it does not require the purchase of lift passes, lodging etc. -- you just go out the door and start skiing, as you would jogging) with the widespread Scandinavian/Nordic custom of doing this, it would be fascinating to delve deeper into as to why this is not more popular elsewhere in the world.

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As a skier for 60 years, it seems clear that increased cost and the greater time required to reach increasingly congested ski resorts has diminished the sports appeal . But for those like myself who maintain a passion for it, the solution has been to avoid the mega-resorts and instead support smaller, non-destination areas that offer more reasonable day and season passes that often cost less than $400 for a full season of fun - frequently on far less crowded slopes. From others I meet on the slopes, i know I’m not unusual in this trend. So perhaps the sport will manage to survive in spite of itself, in a more local and distributed form.

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interesting article :-)

in todays paper: https://www.derstandard.at/story/2000141871910/kitzbuehels-skitourismus-auf-schnee-gebaut

.. Insgesamt verbrauchen die Skigebiete in Österreich jährlich etwa 250 Gigawattstunden für die Beschneiung – mit dieser Menge Strom könnte man 56.000 Haushalte versorgen. Das geht aus den Zahlen des Seilbahnverbands hervor. Auch in Kitzbühel fließen jeden Winter bis zu 45 Prozent der benötigten Energie in Schneeerzeugung. ..

... Kitzbühel in Austria uses 45% of the electricity in winter for show production

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No water is used in the production of man made snow. It is just borrowed for the ski season. Come spring it provides much needed moisture to the area and runoff in the streams and rivers.

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Snowmaking does take water, of course, but that water is typically captured in small reservoirs on the mountain, or drawn from streams on or at the base of the mountain. Come spring that snow melts and flows into the same watershed from which it was originally drawn. There may be some minor losses due to evaporation or some minor transfers from one watershed to another, but most of the water ends up where it would have gone anyway, just a few months later.

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This misses a big piece of the puzzle, which is that, for a long time ski resorts were loss leader vehicles for land speculation in the surrounding environs - much of the land being owned by the resort builders. Now the land is developed, so what remains is to squeeze the existing customer.

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Aren't you describing a sport that, due to its reliance on natural location and need for natural cold temperatures, will by necessity become more exclusive and niche? Seems that Vail is just planning its business model based on the inevitable direction of the sport/market, not driving the change itself.

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I am fond of skiing in the Italian alps. Around Canazei there is the Dolomiti Superski cooperation where various owners of lifts share the income from ski passes. Canazei and the other mountain villages has a tourism history starting around 1900 with English tourists. And yes, skiing in the Dolomites is very dependent on artificial snow. In comparison a French site as Val Thorens has one owner, which gives it a very predictable, corporate feeling. I prefer the Italian model.

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I generally agree with the main thrust of the article. My only quibble would be that skiing is 200% more expensive than it used to be. As Adam mentioned Vail (and more generally the industry) has moved to a seasons pass model. So yes day passes are exorbitant and prevent people from getting into the sport. However, if you are an avid skier I would say costs have not risen that much. Sample size of one but when I was in high school in the late 90s my seasons pass to a little resort in PA was 700$. My current season pass to many resorts with unlimited skiing all over was 900 something dollars. So given 25 years of inflation my skiing cost has not really increased.

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I have lived in Stowe for the last 15 years. Over the last 5 years I have watched both Vail and Airbnb gut our town. Thanks to both, the ski-bum subculture is nearly dead.

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You mention Climate Change in terms of impact on skiing.

But what about the opposite?

Perhaps many people are choosing NOT to ski because of the enormous carbon footprint of the pastime.

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First of I 100% agree Corporations are destroying this country. The epic pass has destroyed skiing at these subscription mountains. We have decided to start visiting Dodge ridge and China Peak (medium to small-sized resorts). I doubt, however, that global warming has shaved off five days of skiing each decade. I want a link to the study that states this. I have been skiing since the 1970s and still ski and so do all my children. Skiing is a relatively new sport. Call it 80 years old (much older in Europe), and then only a handful of people were skiing (Walt Disney and his Sugar bowl resort opened in 1939); my father skied in Aspen in the 40s and talked many times about the mistake of not buying more land in Aspen. The sport, however, was fringe and only elites participated, and it was a fringe sport until perhaps the late 60s and 70s, which you could consider the golden era of skiing. ABC WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS contributed in some ways to the popularity of snow skiing, or at least it did for me. The problem was hockey and other sports made participation spotty for most athletes.

Then the 80s came along, and resorts were filing bankruptcy all over the world. Had it not been for snowboarders, who knows what would have happened to this sport? The notion that with something so fringe (low participation numbers) and so new (relative to climate change), we can somehow measure global warming and claim each decade we have lost five days is pseudo-science. If you asked most people when we started collecting data on snow storms and annual snowfall, I bet most would answer the late 1800s or the 20s or 30s. The reality is we didn't start until the 50s at just a small amount of locations (airports), and in some places, we didn't start gathering data until the 1990s. Stop fueling the global warming fearmongering by passing on bullshit data. There is no way we have any of this data, and if we did because of the invention of snowmaking, I could promise you ski seasons at resorts have been extended each decade, not shortened.

Thanks for letting me know about the young man's paper. I have added it to my list of things to read this weekend.

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In every appropriate location in the academic treatise, substitute "Disney" and theme park. The corporate model is the same.

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