Recently the adventure sports magazine Outside asked some of the most influential people in the US Snow Sports industry how they envisage the Future of Skiing. They ranged from freeskiers and free thinkers like Glen Plake and Mike Douglas (film director), to big businessmen like the VP of Aspen Resorts, Auden Schendler and ex-President of Vail Resorts, Roger McCarthy.
Earlier in April we saw the US snowsports industry gather at the Mountain Travel Symposium in Snowmass, Colarado, for a forum on what is next for the snow-sports sector.
Iglu Sales Director Adam Johnson gives us a synopsis of what these legends think will happen to the snow business in the coming decades, along with some predictions of his own about the future of skiing.
Skiing has developed enormously in the last 25 years with so much improved technology and resort expansion. What stands in the way?
- The number one issue raised by all the experts was about sustainability. Resorts need to look at being energy self-sufficient within 10 years or be crippled by costs. This is already the main issue being addressed by all the major resorts as they look to reduce their energy costs and take advantage of their local circumstances such as high winds at altitude, strong sunshine, and hydro-electricity from all that water.
- Costs need to be controlled in other ways and the future of terrain parks looks troubled. Terrain parks are very expensive and the current trend for bigger and bigger jumps, rails and pipes has to end. It is becoming dangerous and only accessible to very few hard-core park rats. Better use of natural terrain that is cheaper to maintain make more sense.
- We need fewer, larger and more efficient lifts that go higher to offer more terrain possibilities, on and off piste, from one uplift.
- Summer seasons need to exploited more. With global warming, summers will become unpleasantly hot in many lower places and the cooler air of the resorts will be very attractive. Summer attractions like amusement parks, white waters sports, mountain biking, music festivals and hiking can add 20 to 30% new income to underutilised resorts, as resorts like Morzine and Chamonix are already doing.
- Snowmaking is expensive and uses up valuable water resources in some areas that can’t spare it. While it is helpful to keep home runs open I don’t think we can rely on this to keep the industry going. Let's just go skiing when and where it snows says Glen Plake.
- The future is off-piste and backcountry freeriding. The explosion of new technology for skis, boots, clothing, and safety gear has made the backcountry more accessible to anyone moving up from intermediate level. Resorts need to look at opening up sideways to allow access to more backcountry terrain. This is something the USA and Canadians have embraced far more than the Europeans. Twenty-five years ago hardly anyone ventured out of sight of the pistes. The proliferation of big back country style skis and snowboards means that many skiers and riders have little interest in the pistes. They want the thrills of steep off-piste skiing and the fresh snow that can be found off the beaten track. The European obsession with Kilometres of piste is going to backfire if they don’t embrace backcountry. I personally couldn’t care less how much KM of piste a resort has as long as it can get me high enough to find good quality snow as far from the crowds as possible. To me it’s all about metres of vertical and hectares of steep skiable terrain. It’s about time Europeans started measuring their resorts properly and talking about terrain rather than piste.
- The industry needs to attract new skiers and snowboarders. This means more indoor ski centres in the cities to get customers hooked and then larger free beginner ski areas in every resort. The cost of taking up the sport has to drop or we’ll never get this generation taking up snow-sports in sufficient numbers to sustain the industry.
- The technology of safety equipment and location devices is going to make big gains. Carrying airbags will become the standard and they will be smaller, lighter, larger when inflated, and much cheaper. Avalanche beacons and Ski Apps will become much cheaper and more accurate, probably mobile phone connected to heads-up display helmet based. This tech has to keep up with the enormous demand for backcountry skiing.
- There will always be snow but we will search further afield from the traditional ski countries to find the best of it. Russia, Nepal, Georgia, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Alaska and China (Tibet) will feature high and snow-sure resorts that will dominate skiing in 20 to 30 years time. Even Greenland and the South Pole will become potential destinations. Much of this skiing might be Heli or Snowcat based but this will become more mainstream.
- Mike Douglas thinks that ski films will get much better at telling stories rather just film gung-ho maniacs jumping off ever more improbable cliffs. I totally agree with him. I’m a bit tired of the standard shots of super-skiers who drop lines that are not accessible to those of us without personal helicopters. Why are there no real films that include skiers anymore? Even the new James Bond doesn’t ski. Until Daniel Craig gets on skis he won’t be a proper Bond for me.
By Adam Johnson, Sales Director at Iglu.com