What’s the Solution to the Portrayal of a Bleak Future and Brilliant Past for Skiing?

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Gregg Blanchard -- March 26, 2014

For a while I’ve been intrigued by the idea that I’m going to call “last generation nostalgia” until I find a more official moniker. The belief that 30 or so years ago life, society, morals, and culture were all better. That any changes between then and now have been for the worse.

I’ll give you a really simple example from within the walls of our industry. It comes from a book called “In Search of Powder: A Story of America’s Disappearing Ski Bum.” Here’s an excerpt from the summary that sums it up pretty well:

“As a recent college graduate and fledging newspaper reporter in the Lake Tahoe area, Jeremy Evans became immersed in ski bum culture—a carefree lifestyle…at twenty-six, he suffered a stroke, he reexamined his priorities, quit his job, moved back to Tahoe, and threw himself into snowboarding. But while he had been away, the culture had changed. This book is Evans’s paean to the disappearing culture of the ski bum.”

This is one of many such odes to skiing of yesteryear. “If only [insert large resort name here] and the town were still like it was 30 years ago…” we reminisce.

This idea is very popular in our industry and has lead to new business models and ideals designed to reverse these effects. But when I moved to Colorado I went one step deeper. I started reading about the people who lived here before the ski areas.

Not the First Generation
It turns out, they had the same thoughts we do, each story being a paean to life the previous generation lived. But those times they yearned for? Those who lived through them thought the very same thing. And on and on and on. Though American Indians may hold the trump card in this debate.

But this gets tricky because nostalgia carries a hint of historical revisionism where certain details or lost, excluded or amended. In skiing’s case, the piece that gets overlooked as we romanticize the past is almost always inflation.

For example, in an analysis I did on ticket prices vs Disnland passes, I found that 25 years (about a generation) ago lift tickets cost an average of $28 in New England. But when you account for inflation, ticket prices have barely changed since the mid 1980′s. But that doesn’t fit their narrative, so they don’t print it.

Not the Last
On the flip side, we’ve been painted as an industry with a perilous future. Our back is against the wall. A very warm wall (and increasingly so) based on the science of climate change.

So if the media isn’t going off about $139 ticket prices (which, in truth, have very little to do with what Vail expects people to pay for a day on the mountain), they’re going off about snow’s status as an endangered state of water.

But humans are designed to notice exceptions and the media takes full advantage by showcasing not what is common and relevant, but what is strange or bizarre. So they publish the rare and, by so doing, skew expectations and reality.

I know people genuinely concerned I’ll die in an avalanche just because I ski. Why? Because avalanches, not millions of people smiling on top of the snow, get eyeballs…the currency of news. Because they’re rare.

What to Do
So today I’m asking a very similar question to Scott Meyer’s from February just on a larger scale: how do we supply the media storylines about our industry that give sensationalized topics a wide berth but still earn the traffic and eyeballs they’re hoping for?

What skiing stories have done so in the past? Especially in non-olympic years? What can we do collectively to produce stories that are just as appealing to a journalist as the doom-and-gloom approach of climate change, ticket prices, or avalanches?
What does it take?

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