Speak-Out :: Making it Great Again! By John Fry
In November 2016, 16,000 fans attended a World Cup alpine ski race in New England, where love of the sport has never waned.
Last November was a transformative month. . . not only for politics, but possibly for American skiing. In politics, a neglected bunch of underemployed voters, largely unobserved and resentful of political correctness and diversity, had grown skeptical of the Establishment’s message and mission. The result was an electoral surprise.
A parallel with skiing may seem remote, but how about this? Two weeks after the election, more than 15,000 enthusiastic fans unexpectedly showed up at an alpine ski race. And as many came back the second day. Those kinds of crowds hadn’t shown up at a World Cup race in 50 years in the United States, since Jean-Claude Killy won all three races on Cannon Mountain, New Hampshire in 1967.
Who were these forgotten people who jammed the roads leading to the Superstar slope at Killington? Who would have expected such a throng?
Not the various organizations that have erased the word “ski” from their names, replacing it with the amorphous, somewhat inaccurate “snowsports” as part of a fruitless endeavor to unite skiing with a culture whose mission has been to replace skis with snowboards. Not the advertisers and publishers who have sought to cure anemic participation with images of young men recklessly hucking cliffs, doing aerial flips, in baggy clothing derived from urban street wear.
The thousands who lined the slopes and filled the stands at Killington, including children, came to see another chapter in the hundred-year-old sport of alpine ski racing. In the world’s top women racers they could observe athletic form to which they can relate their own technique, most obviously in giant slalom: carving turns, skis out from under the body, head and shoulders aimed downhill, going fast.
Nothing else on the slopes—freestyle, aerials, snowboarding—does this, or possesses such a rich history.
The surprise is where all it happened. Vacated by American skiing’s national organizations, which moved West, the Northeast is a region akin to the neglected industrial heartland, made famous in the recent election. It’s snow country’s Rust Belt. . .at least, figuratively. Over the past 50 years the Northeast has suffered the loss of hundreds of lift and rope-tow-served ski areas—up to 650 across New England and as many as 250 in New York, according to Jeremy Davis of the New England Lost Ski Areas Project (www.nelsap.org). Ski companies and associations headquartered in the East have folded or moved west.
However, in New England, the historic cradle of American skiing, love of the sport has never waned. The heartbeat is strong. If you include the amount of skiing they do in Colorado in the total, Northeastern skiers account for fully a third of national skier-days. They also purchase about a quarter of alpine equipment. They were the ones who thronged the spectator stands and the roads leading to Killington.
Credit Powdr Corp.’s Herwig Demschar (Austria) and U.S. Ski Team President Tiger Shaw (Dartmouth, Stowe), among others, for making the risky bet that World Cup racing, after an absence of 25 years, would be a success in the East. The crowds of spectators have also served to remind FIS officials that 56 million people live within a few hours’ drive of Vermont and New Hampshire ski mountains. Tops in TV ratings for ski racing are Boston and New York, the world’s media capital. The FIS should waste no time in putting the U.S. Northeast permanently on the annual calendar of World Cup races.
Looking ahead, too, ski areas may question why they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars building free-admission terrain parks, while charging guests to compete in NASTAR. An easy open-gated course enables recreational skiers to sense an approximation of what Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller experience, or what the world’s best women racers were doing at Killington on Thanksgiving weekend, exciting a thrilled public, and reminding us of the path to making a great sport even greater, again.
The writer's opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of the SAM Magazine. John Fry is a long-time ski journalist, NASTAR founder, member of the National Ski Hall of Fame and author of the award-winning "Story of Modern Skiing" (University Press of New England, 2006).