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On the ground level, Metcalf points to rental equipment partnerships that encourage family participation by offering packaged pricing. Crested Butte, on the other hand, reintroduces the über-popular “Ski Free” program for 2007-08. Walk up to the lift ticket window starting November 15th and ski free until December 15th. Several resorts offer discounts at partner resorts, such as Intrawest’s Winter Park/Mary Jane, Steamboat Springs and Copper Mountain. Meanwhile the powder meccas of Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah, made up of Alta, Snowbird, Brighton and Solitude, now offer one interconnect pass that works at all four areas. In addition, most ski areas aggressively advertise asyear-round destination resorts by building a network of mountain bike trails and parks with man-made features.
But as ski areas implement strategies to boost visits, the most significant challenge facing the industry today is the dramatic change in climate and its obvious effect on the environment in which we recreate. And no one company within the industry seems to be shouldering a heavier load of responsibility of reducing its carbon footprint than Aspen Skiing Company. From running snowcats on biodiesel, to using wind power to run chairlifts, to ski patrollers building a solar ski shack, Aspen has been a lever of change.
Aspen Skiing Company has spearheaded the savesnow.org campaign to educate skiers and all people on climate change and ways to preserve snow and the powder experience. “I think for decades that manufacturers and resorts have conveniently ignored it,” Metcalf says. Fortunately, other ski companies are following suit with an assortment of environmental campaigns, including Patagonia, Stockli and Head. “The environment is the basis of the sport—the snow, the mountains, the experience,” Metcalf continues. “If any one of those pieces fell away, we wouldn’t have the ski experience. The industry has only recently woken up to the fact that they require the environment to be in good health to stay in business.”
Mike Douglas agrees with Metcalf on global warming and its alarming effects on skiing and the environment, but raises another glaring issue—obesity. “People are freakin’ lazy, man. Technology has made it so that if the weather is minus 15 and blowing snow, people stay in and play video games and surf the Internet and watch TV. You see it everywhere you go, especially in North America.” According to the 2005 World Health Organization’s latest projections on obesity, approximately 1.6 billion adults (15 years and older) are overweight. It truly has evolved into a worldwide epidemic. And vice versa in Metcalf’s case as he notes that modern-day technology distracts the youth and acts as a competitor to increasing skier visits. “Compared to seven years ago, we’re replacing real community with a virtual community.”
Sitting in a corner booth in a cozy Mexican restaurant, I attempt to warm my frozen toes from the Sun Valley night before while eavesdropping on two 20-somethings rehashing their eventful evening the night prior. As much fun as those two appeared to have over the weekend, I was equally as surprised by the success of the three-day spectacle. How did a town tucked into a remote valley far from any major highways pull it off so well? The Honda Ski Tour left an indelible mark on Sun Valley due to the vision of a few men and a person like Nelson who listened to the beat of the industry.
Honda Ski Tour Ski Cross competitor, ambassador and Ketchum local Zach Crist and his older brother Reggie played a vital role in the organization and production of the event and for good reason. “I’ve been involved in the sport for 15 years as a pro,” says Zach, a former U.S. Ski Team member and 2001 Winter X Games Skiercross gold medalist. “I’ve seen it done so poorly for so long, and it takes people that have seen it done wrong enough times to help do it right.” It’s leadership and awareness in this industry that follows the same cyclical pattern. The Ski Tour, which returns in 2008, rekindled interest in the ski industry. But who knows how long it can retain its momentum? For those purists of the sport, like Hattrup and Douglas, whose physical and social makeup is carved by skiing, they’ll somehow figure ways to reinvent their passion.