Speakout & Issues


I’m writing in response to an article in the SAM January 2014 issue by Patrick Torsell, titled “Where Are All the Moguls?”

As a proponent of the power tiller, I am one of the reasons for the disappearance of the mogul. The power tiller was needed to deal with all of the inclement weather in the East and skier traffic. The first high-power tiller started out with a one-piece tiller, the width of the grooming vehicle—at that time it was a Thiokol 3700. After seeing what a 16-foot straight tiller would do, I told Thiokol it had to flex, because we couldn’t groom the different contours of our trails with a 16-foot straight edge. I worked with Thiokol and helped them make the Flex Tiller, a two-piece tiller. Thiokol wanted to further develop the Flex Tiller into a four-piece tiller, but we settled upon a three-piece.

In 1981, the Thiokol Chemical Corporation’s grooming division was sold to an individual who eventually ruined the company. I also received a commission from Thiokol before it was sold to do a full-sized painting (16 feet by 10 feet) of a Thiokol 3700 with a tiller in 1981 for their booth at the NSAA show in California. When I started the painting it was known as a Thiokol 3700 Hydromaster. By the time I finished it it was known as a DMC 3700. The painting was at the show, but it was never shown. Mr. Delorean’s car, however, was.

The concept of the tiller has been improved on, but it is basically the same tiller concept for the past 40 years. It’s time to move on in the grooming world, or this generation and the next will never have the opportunity to enjoy good moguls.

One big impediment is that two different sports are using the same trails, and the moguls that are formed are usually no fun to ski or ride—so they disappear by grooming. When we achieve moguls that can be groomed in a certain rhythmic flow, we will see the return of moguls, to our guests’ delight.

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I recently talked to a ski area executive who said: “We want to do something on climate change but we just don’t have the money.” I can sympathize. Each year we need to replace snow guns, buildings, and lifts, and make repairs to aging infrastructure. With a limited bucket of capital dollars, mission-critical projects often get cut, never mind solar arrays or boiler retrofits. But that’s bidniss. The happy truth is that meaningful action on climate change—the single biggest threat to ski industry profits and longevity—is actually free.

How can this be? When most resorts think about solving climate change, they focus on cutting carbon footprint. Doing so is a great business move. At Aspen Skiing Company (ASC), our CFO recently asked why we had any incandescent bulbs at all, because replacing them is too lucrative to pass up.

But voluntary carbon reduction doesn’t solve climate change. Here’s why: humans emit 34 billion tons of CO2, the primary greenhouse gas, each year. ASC emits 30,000 tons a year. If we made some outlandish assumptions about the American ski industry as a whole—let’s say there are 500 other ski resorts and their emissions are all equal to the combined emissions of ASC’s four mountains—and let’s say we were so successful that we eliminated the carbon footprint of the whole industry—that would amount to 15 million tons of CO2, or .04 percent of annual global emissions.

In short, just as Captain Quint in Jaws needed a bigger boat, to fix a problem as big as climate change we’re going to need a bigger hammer. That hammer is meaningful U.S. climate policy, which will reduce emissions across the board, not piecemeal, and also provide leadership for China and India to follow.

And we need that hammer now. In the last 45 years, reports Rutgers University, spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has shrunk by one million square miles—an area the size of four Texases. Meanwhile, increasingly erratic weather, long predicted by climatologists—droughts that delay opening, winter rain on top of new snow in the Northeast, superstorms that have destroyed both roads to ski resorts in Vermont and Colorado and the very ski markets we draw from, disrupt our businesses in increasingly costly ways. Mammoth, and much of California, is in its third year of severe drought. At the same time, the cause of global warming—human emissions of fossil fuels—is well understood and not disputed by scientists.

Fortunately, it turns out that a bigger hammer exists, and it comes at a cost we can afford. The ski industry, because it is fun, popular, beloved, pressworthy, and an economic engine in many states, has political power, the use of which is free. And our participants tend to be enthusiastic, passionate, and often wealthy and influential. Our athletes—young and emerging stars like Danny Davis, John Jackson, Angel Collinson, as well as established leaders like Seth Wescott, Chris Davenport and Gretchen Bleiler—have tremendous social reach. They are all also climate activists. Therefore, our community is uniquely positioned to create the political will for meaningful climate action.

The way to do that is to speak out. We need industry CEOs and trade group heads to acknowledge the opportunity and threat climate change presents, and to do so at national meetings, in op eds and on social media, in Washington D.C., and through interviews. The message is simple: We can clean up pollution and ensure that snowsports will provide joy, jobs, profit and fun, forever.

There have been two primary barriers to such aggressive climate advocacy. The first is fear that government action will increase the cost of operations—why lobby for that? But government policy, through the EPA, is already partly in place, and along with cheap gas is forcing the retirement of coal-fired power plants nationwide. Meanwhile, many ski states like California, Oregon and Colorado already have aggressive renewable energy standards, and the price of power hasn’t climbed beyond historical averages. In fact, clean power is coming in at a lower cost than coal or gas. In Colorado, the state Public Utilities Commission reported that a recent wind power purchase would save ratepayers $100 million over fossil power sources.

The second barrier to climate action has been that we’re all busy with the arduous work of keeping ski areas running, and therefore we haven’t been adequately educated on climate science and scale solutions. That’s why the industry “fix” for climate tends to default to greening individual resorts. Indeed, much of the Winter issue of NSAA Journal is dedicated to operational sustainability—including carbon footprint reduction. But there’s no reference to why we want to reduce our carbon footprint (beyond cost savings). It’s a Catch-22: the articles are about sustainability, but the actions described don’t address the scope and scale of climate change. So the resorts that implement the advice provided can’t be sustainable, because sustainability isn’t possible in a climate changed world.

Providing the necessary education and guidance on the scale of climate change—and what solutions actually address the problem vs. tweak around the edges—is the role of trade groups, and thankfully, many of them are finally planning speakers and programming that go beyond resort greening into the realm of advocacy and activism. Last year, NSAA coordinated 100-plus signatures on a climate petition that was sent to D.C. SIA hosted Rolling Stone’s Jeff Goodell, one of the top climate reporters in the U.S., for a breakfast keynote at the Denver Snow Show. Most encouraging, NSAA has booked climate activist and former conservative Republican congressman Bob Inglis to speak at its national conference in Savannah.

If, unified, we are able to exert this industry’s political power to solve the most pressing crisis of the modern era, our children and grandchildren will look back on our work with the same awe and reverence we all have` for the great snowy ranges of the world.

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It is with great sadness that we say good-bye to architect Henrik H. Bull, who died on December 3, 2013, at his home in California after an illness. Henrik’s work in the mountain resort industry began in the ’50s and ’60s—he was in charge of major projects at Stowe, Vt., Beaver Creek, Colo., and Squaw Valley and Northstar in California, among others. Henrik was also a contributor to SAM€ˆMagazine for many years, imparting his architectural wisdom for the benefit of the entire industry. An avid skier, Henrik was well known for his great style and speed on the slopes. He will be missed.

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Twenty years ago you could hardly find a ski area that wasn’t littered with moguls. They were everywhere. But by the mid-’90s, moguls were on the way to extinction. Many blame the advent of shaped skis, but the decline began before then. No, the true culprit was excessive grooming, made possible by the invention and widespread adoption of the power tiller.

Understand, I’m not against grooming. I’ve logged thousands of hours behind the sticks, and I would be more than happy to spend my entire industry career in the seat of a snowcat. However, I also love moguls and other natural elements of skiing (because that’s what moguls are: the natural byproduct of skier traffic). These two viewpoints are not mutually exclusive; they are complementary.

Granted, there were other factors in the demise of moguls as well. Nearly a third of the skiing participants made their way to single planks. Then came terrain parks. And there was the proliferation of shaped skis.

The main cause, though, was an industry-wide desire to cater to a perceived demand from our guests. We decided that skiers wanted more corduroy, and we delivered it. But many skiers also crave the excitement of terrain variations, and if given the proper opportunities to learn, they are ready and willing to embrace mogul skiing.

Many would argue that the perceived demand for grooming was real. I admit there’s some truth to that, fueled by all the factors above. In addition, as the Boomer generation has aged, some have given up on the adventure and adrenaline aspects of skiing. But perhaps not as many as you might think (consider the success of Aspen's “Bumps for Boomers” program). Yet most of this “demand” for groomers was simply a perceived demand from a small, never-satisfied group of skiers.

Real demand or not, we gave in. With the advent of the power tiller and the winch replacing the more cumbersome grooming implements of the past, we began grooming most (if not all) of the viable mogul terrain. What the ski industry took away was the option to learn mogul skiing at all, leading to the claim that no one even wants to ski moguls.

The State of the Sport
Now, in 2014, most bump skiers are 40+ year-old “leftovers" from the mogul heyday of the ’80s and early ’90s. Many younger skiers can’t link turns on the flats, let alone in the bumps, because they rarely ski outside the park. Many mountains now groom steeper terrain, leaving only the most difficult trails (if any) with moguls.

But there are a few places that stand out from crowd: Winter Park's Mary Jane in Colorado, Sugarbush, Mad River Glen, and Killington in Vermont, and Ski Sundown in Connecticut, just to name some standouts. At those mountains, you can find moguls on low-angle runs, intermediate runs, advanced runs, and expert runs. This is called progression, and it is absolutely necessary to the survival of the sport.
Herein lies the conundrum: if only expert mogul terrain is available, then how can intermediates and aspiring skiers learn to ski moguls? You can drill on the flats all you want, but you can’t learn to ski moguls on a 35-degree slope.

Mogul skiers must have a place to learn. That means moguls on intermediate terrain. At many areas, moguls will grow without any help. At smaller ski areas where there is not enough skier traffic to form natural bumps, seeding (with bumps formed by snowcat or skiers) is a great solution. With time, the skier base at these areas will become proficient enough at moguls that natural bumps will begin to form. In sum, mogul teaching and learning terrain must be developed.

Taking Action: What You Can Do
The solution is quite simple: groom less. Not only will more and better moguls form, but you’ll save on diesel, wages, and maintenance. The following list will help your area embrace mogul skiing while minimally impacting your corduroy selection:

• Let some bumps grow on steeper runs.

• Choose at least one lower angle intermediate run and allow moguls to form. Or, build them with a snowcat, or ski them in with marking flags.

• Try grooming half of a popular intermediate run, and leave the other half ungroomed. This is great for families and groups, so that mogul skiers and those who aren’t can ski/ride together.

• Host local/regional mogul competitions on natural moguls.

• Encourage ski instructors to introduce skiers—both young and old—to moguls on the easier pitches. Offer mogul skiing clinics and mogul-specific programs.

• Encourage staff, especially patrollers and instructors, to improve their mogul skiing. When guests see good mogul skiers, they are inspired to try the sport. Plus, your staff will have more fun and be true masters of the mountain!

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The last issue of SAM [July 2013] asked whether “Vice fits in ski marketing,” and then proceeded to answer the question as if the selling of recreational skiing began in 1970, rather than a hundred years earlier when the brilliant Swiss hotelier/marketer Andreas Badrutt conned the British to come to St. Moritz for history’s first actively marketed alpine ski vacation.

Skiing’s most rapid expansion, as the descendants of SAM’s founding editor/publisher would know, occurred in the twenty years leading up to 1970. Participation numbers in the 1950s and into the 1960s were doubling every five or six years. One might ask if it was cause or mere coincidence that this explosive growth took place when the sport was suffused with rampant sexuality. Resorts, for example, directed instructors to be available in the evening to entertain guests, and looked aside if they guided consensual female clients to their rooms. Bogner and others fashioned pants that exquisitely displayed the female (and male) buttocks. Boy meets girl was a primary motive of the ski weekend. Cartoons in the ski magazines found humor in guys leering at girls.

When the era of political correctness arrived, the magazines ceased publishing cartoons, along with fold-out spreads of beautiful girls. As for the famous, body-hugging ski fashion originating in the 1950s, it has been supplanted today by the bulky look. Snowboarding in the 1990s gave us a sort of asexual look; it’s difficult to discern whether the wearer is male or female. What is certain is that the sport is not growing at 10 percent a year as it did fifty and more years ago.

The author of your cover story on vice could have found these revelations and more in my book “The Story of Modern Skiing,” published in 2006. And for a continuing perspective of the changes in the sport, too, he and your editors can find pleasure in reading Skiing History Magazine. Go to for information on how to subscribe.

The writer is president of the International Skiing History Association, and a former editor of SKI and of Snow Country magazines.

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Can you think of another activity where the person pays $150 to $200 NOT to actually accomplish that activity? You pay for sky diving, you go sky diving. You pay for golf, and at least you get a pretty venue and a cart. But in skiing and snowboarding, newbies pay us this princely sum to...fall. Is it any wonder that the conversion rate in our industry is abysmal—85 percent of our first-time guests don’t come back.

During my time as GM at Mountain Creek, N.J., I spent three years researching the root cause of this low conversion. I started by identifying the guest expectation. We interviewed random people in NYC who had never been to a resort and asked them what they thought their first day would be like. They described a fun, intermediate experience. We found that first-time guests expected to perform well—that they would be able to “do it.” Most importantly, they expected it to be fun.

Now put these same people out in the cold, on top of a hill (no matter how small) and try and get them not to think about how they are going to stop at the bottom.

Learning to ski and snowboard isn’t easy, however there are ways we can shift this process to better meet guest expectations—fun first, skills follow.

With the help of Burton Snowboards, we implemented terrain-based learning at Mountain Creek. Terrain-based learning gives instructors the tools to provide a fun, unintimidating and sometimes fall-free first-time experience. Working together with the ski and ride school, we also designed a lesson progression that reduced variation and made fun our main goal. Making the first experience fun by introducing terrain-based learning resulted in a 48 percent increase in conversion.

What we found is that variation is evil. In the past, every instructor had his or her own method of teaching, and no two lessons were exactly the same. With terrain-based learning, the process is consistent throughout—every instructor follows the same lesson plan. This lesson plan has been specifically designed to make sure the students are having fun throughout the lesson while learning the skills necessary to negotiate the entire resort. Guests spend more time on their skis and snowboards from the beginning, and at the end of the day, they feel as though they’ve had a true, thorough on-snow experience.

Frank DeBerry, president and COO of Snowshoe Resort, W.V., said it best: “We have to remember to put the magic back into the experience.” The first day on snow needs to be entertaining and fun to inspire subsequent visits.

I’m currently working with resorts across the country to implement terrain-based learning programs that cater to each resort’s uniqueness. Together, we can help put the magic back into the first-time experience and create more skiers and snowboarders who share the love we have for snow.

[Ed. Note: Stay tuned for more on this subject in upcoming issues of SAM. For starters, in our July issue we will profile two resorts that have instituted terrain-based learning programs: Jay Peak, Vt., and Camelback, Pa.]

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