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Reinventing Cool

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Fortunately for skiing, Douglas and his fellow mogul team bumpers known as the New Canadian Air Force (Shane Szocs, Vincent Dorion, J.F. Cusson, and J.P. Auclair) conceived the idea of a twin-tip ski. Instead of a flat tail, twin tips had a turned-up, rounded tail matching the tip—hence, twin tip. The new design allowed for an avalanche of creativity and avenue for fun with skiers now being able to take off and land jumps backwards. In addition, skiing backwards presented daring skiers with another on-hill challenge. According to Douglas, six of eight companies rejected their twin tip proposal in 1997. “They didn’t think it was a good idea, so they didn’t want to invest any money in it.” Eventually, Salomon accepted their proposition and produced the first industry-wide twin-tip ski called the 1080. Dorion started taking off and landing backwards while Szocs, perhaps, impacted the youth the most by hosting freestyle summer camps in Canada’s Whistler as the director of High North Ski Camps. And for his efforts, Douglas was dubbed the Godfather of Newschool, the new breed of skiers breaking away from traditional alpine skiing (racing and moguls) and combining the influence of snowboarder to freestyle twin-tip skiing.

Fast-forward to 2007 and The Honda Ski Tour wouldn’t have rocked Sun Valley without the twin-tip innovation. Certainly skiercross does not necessitate twin tips, but the two-sport tour would not have even come close to occurring without the rapid craze in freestyle skiing in the last decade. In fact, it’s possible that ski area year-round growth and resort development would not prove to be sustainable without the surge of interest and subsequent money young daredevils have poured into the ski industry. Tanner Hall and Simon Dumont, two of the megastars in skiing today and Honda Ski Tour competitors, would not have a stage on which to display their mastery. “Similar to snowboarding in the ’80s,” Metcalf, the former editor of Powder Magazine from 2002 to 2004, tells me, “The Honda Ski Tour is legitimizing the efforts of all of the innovators of the past.” And the influential Nelson, no stranger to smart business, knows the audience that needs to be excited in order to achieve growth and success.

“It is the younger demographic you want to stoke to create new audiences, ’cause that’s who I was as a kid. The sport grows when kids get fired up.”

Walking on recently placed cobblestone bricks with my skis perched on my shoulder, I crank my neck skyward to view the construction of another gabled hotel in Telluride’s Mountain Village. Although ski area base villages attempt to distinguish themselves from the next, they all seem to resemble each other. Chic coffee shops and high-end bootfitter shops greet the heavy-pocketed visitor. Meanwhile, other boutique retail shops line the street level as massive, A-frame condos rise upwards to mirror nearby peaks.

Despite a gradual increase in skier numbers, operating ski areas have been in a steady decline for the last 20 years. According to the NSAA, only 478 (sometimes due to weather) ski areas were in operation in 2005-06, some 200 fewer than in 1986-87. During those rough years of the late ’80s and ’90s, ski areas went bankrupt allowing for companies like Intrawest and the American Skiing Company (ASC) to scoop them up. Ski resort conglomerates focused their efforts off the hill by emphasizing real estate development. This, of course, bulldozed several ski communities replacing palpable mountain character with high-end timeshare condominiums. But, as of late, due to timely community planning and corporate awareness, ski areas have shifted their investment attention to the mountain. Implementing high-speed lifts and opening and expanding once closed-off terrain, ski areas such as Vail, Crystal Mountain, Big Sky Resort, Schweitzer Mountain in Idaho, Telluride, and Jackson hope to increase gross revenue by on-hill improvements. Big Sky, Crystal and Schweitzer debut new lifts for the ’07-’08 season, while Vail continues to expand into the back bowls and Jackson eagerly awaits the return of a bigger, red aerial tram for the 2008-09 season.

But talk to any public relations or marketing coordinator at a ski area and the number one priority is introducing new individuals and families to the sport. And for most families and kids that do not reside near the mountains, that can be tough to achieve, especially considering the costs involved—gear, lift tickets, lodging and transportation. “The biggest challenge for us,” says Crested Butte communications director April Prout, “is bringing new people into the sport. You have to market to families and make it fun and easy. Once you get the kids hooked, you have mom and dad.”

Terrain parks and halfpipes, which now exist at nearly every ski area in the world, including in Europe, derived from snowboarders and the popularity of the Winter X Games. Places like Taos and Sun Valley, two traditional ski areas, recently built a terrain park and halfpipe, respectively, acknowledging the need and demand. These playgrounds, comprised of small and big jumps, street trails, picnic tables and fiberglass boxes, attract the youth and fulfill a massive niche in the industry. So much so, in fact, that two deep-rooted snowboard companies, Mervyn Manufacturing’s Lib Technologies and Palmer, entered the ski market within the last two years, each producing two different models of a limited amount of skis. Even snowboard companies, who once rebelled against anything skiing, recognize the augmentation and attraction of skiing as the two countercultures continue to seamlessly merge into the same or, at least, the similar.

For the average skier, Hattrup cites the technology and the complete redesign of a ski’s shape as a key component to the industry’s efforts to reinvent itself. “I used to ski on 207 cm GS skis, and now it’s rare for anyone to ski something longer than a 190.” Without a doubt, the evolution of the hour glass-shaped ski made it easier for less experienced skiers to have more fun. Instead of long, stiff skis, the novice or holiday skier now selects from a quiver ranging from 160 to 180 cm skis with a much wider platform allowing for easier turn initiation and off-piste domination. >>>

 

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