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Reinventing Cool

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The ski industry has enlisted several industry-changing ideas. From the mogul craze in the late ‘60s and ‘70s to the neon clad days of the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Will the Ski Tour be the next big thing to hit the ski industry?

For 20-somethings eager to evolve Sun Valley’s pedestrian rep amongst modern-day ski towns, last winter’s Honda Ski Tour and its crop of Winter X-bred spectators and athletes, live music and street performers, dreams became reality. The fan base was not limited to testosterone-filled youngsters. Rather, below-zero temperatures greeted baby boomers with children bobbing on their shoulders, longtime Ketchum residents, gated-community denizens, and grade school kids dreaming of becoming the next Zach Crist or Simon Dumont or maybe even Tommy Lee. The skiing and music might not have completely warmed the toes, but it reinvigorated the soul and ghosts of America’s first legitimate ski town.

Indeed, it felt different. It was the first stop of the inaugural tour in a town that hadn’t seen a professional ski competition since 1979. Sun Valley ski icons Averell Harriman and Dick Durrance must have stirred with nostalgic glee in their graves. Sun Valley, of all places, hosted a halfpipe event. Fans three rows deep lined the pipe despite arctic-like temperatures. They watched the world’s best halfpipe skiers soar and spin in front of ABC cameras under stadium lights. “Sun Valley was hungry,” Casey Puckett, the Sun Valley Honda Tour skiercross champion, told me later. So was the ski industry.

As Honda Tour co-founder and extravaganza-host extraordinaire Kipp Nelson asserts: “Skiing used to be considered old school and lame; snowboarding is definitely the new thing within the last couple decades; and the new, new thing is skiing again. People are discovering that skiing is cool again.”

Whatever “cool” denotes these days, the youth and mountain culture embraced the Ski Tour. In its perpetual struggle to reinvent itself, the ski industry came alive, stoking Gen-X and Y rather than solely focusing on the saturated affluent parent demographic—an all too common tendency in an industry attempting to shake off its stale past. Additionally, it recharged long-time bastion settings of skiing legend and lore like Sun Valley and Squaw Valley, by attracting puffy-coated mountain town regulars and, more significantly, tourists unfamiliar with the scene. But have Nelson and Ketchum’s own Crist brothers discovered the solution by rekindling interest in a rather fickle business? It’s certainly a snowball rolling in the right direction. The temporary fix has recharged and quelled concerns of rising ticket prices, resort conglomeration and global warming.

Continuing a spike and fall trend resembling an electrocardiogram, national skier visits declined 6.5 percent in the 2006-07 season, after a record number of national skier visits in 2005-06 with a total of nearly 59 million visits, according to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) Kottke National End of Season survey. Since the NSAA began recording the annual report in 1978-79, six of the best seven seasons (skier visits-wise) have occurred since 2000. Despite a five percent increase in lift ticket prices, which tended to price out some interested customers, gross revenue has grown 22 percent in the last five years. So how is the ski industry staying afloat and operating with such undulation?

In 1990, skiing was hurting. Neon one-pieces and terms like “extreme” were lame and outdated. Marketing campaigns for ski companies and ski areas spotlighted the rich and their furs off the snow and pedestrian trends on snow. Long-time purists and people with money were the only ones who seemed to identify. >>>


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