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Skiing is Toast

Well, it’s official: Skiing has sold its soul to the devil. There’s now a Taco Bell at the base of the Gad II lift at Snowbird, and a cappuccino stand when you get off the gondola at Squaw Valley. When you can buy a breakfast burrito without stepping out of your bindings, the signs of the apocalypse are indeed upon us.

Damn, damn, damn. Whatever happened to the real alpine experience? To bota bags and sandwiches wrapped in wax paper? To tailgate parties in snowy parking lots? To granola, by God?

Yes, the world of skiing has changed, and not for the better. Wimps! That’s what we’ve bred—soft, cappuccino-drinking wimps!

Hey…speaking of cappuccino, a tall, frothy, hot, cappuccino would taste pretty good right now. Yeah, that’d be just the ticket. Cappuccino…cappuccino…as Homer Simpson would say, “Ooohhhhh.” And you know, a soft chicken taco wouldn’t taste too bad, either. “Taaacooo.”

OK, I’ll admit it. I’m a fast-food–eating-cappuccino-drinking yuppie scum just like the rest of ’em. I almost choked on my chimichanga when I heard about Snowbird’s Taco Bell, but the first time I was skiing there and found myself hungry at the base of Gad II, I skied right up and bought myself lunch. I ate it on the lift and hardly lost a minute of ski time. I was happy as a clam.

But now I wrestle over the moral dilemma of those stupid tacos. The idea of a fast-food restaurant at the base of a lift on one of the hardest core mountains in the country is distasteful, if not disgusting. On the other hand…there’s nothing like a little treat to keep you going on a powder day.

Back and forth the arguments go. It’s good, it’s bad, it’s good, it’s bad. You may feel strongly one way or another, but, frankly, I don’t think there’s a right answer. Skiing is full of contradictions, and this is just one of them.

We created this “State of the Art” issue because the margins of skiing are being pushed back every day in dramatic and fascinating ways. From Andrew Sawyer’s gnarly solo mountaineering descents to the outrageous G-forces in a modern downhill turn to the new computer programs that help predict avalanches, the edges of skiing are truly state of the art, and we simply wanted to share that with you. Along the way, however, it became clear that something else was going on: that important issues were being raised about what skiing is and where it’s going.

The story that does that most acutely is Leslie Anthony’s piece on the state of the art in resorts. Resorts are in the midst of sweeping change. A handful of large resort companies are buying ski areas at a rapid pace, creating what Anthony calls “megopolies”—mega-monopolies. These resort giants have so much money and power that they are changing the resort landscape in dramatic and permanent ways, and not just in their own neck of the woods, but across North America.

Skiing has become a sport of convenience. High-speed quads, enclosed lifts, blanket grooming, Taco Bells…no question, there are fewer sharp edges than there used to be, and, no question, that’s where skiing is headed at an accelerating pace. Because that’s what the huge bell-curve bulge of intermediate recreational (and the accompanying dead presidents) want.

I want to leave you with two points. First, it’s politically correct and easy for hard-core skiers to criticize this “softening” of skiing. It’s a piece of cake to take a whack at tourists and intermediates. Setting aside the issue of whether elitism is right or wrong, from a purely pragmatic standpoint this is the incorrect thing to do. Whether you like it or not, intermediates and tourists spend far more money than experts, and that jingle keeps the lifts running. Stick you nose in the air over Vail’s foofy Two Elks restaurant, but don’t forget that it may have paid for the access gate to the East Vail chutes.

Second, I don’t normally use this page to encourage action because I think most people are going to do what they do whether I suggest something or not. But because so many smaller, independent resorts are being gobbled up by corporate titans, the risk of losing what’s important to us is great. I want to encourage—no, urge—you to speak your mind about what you want at resorts. Less grooming? More trees? Open boundaries? Don’t just criticize—write or call your local resort. Write the National Ski Areas Association (133 S. Van Gordon St., Suite 300, Lakewood, CO 80228). Hell, write to us. Just don’t sit on your butt eating tacos.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 23.4, December 1994. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

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