EpicSki › General Articles › When Did Ski Reality Become Irrelevant

When did Ski Reality become Irrelevant?

In our previous blog, "What Ever Happened to Moguls?", we discussed the unfortunate and rather perplexing demise of moguls as they pertain to the modern ski scene.  Could this issue be a symptom of a larger problem?  That being the growing disconnect between industry media/marketing and reality.



I’d bet most outsiders these days probably associate our sport with what they see on the X Games more than anything else.  There seems to be this relentless push to market our sport as “extreme”, when 99.9% of all skiers are anything but extreme.   This disconnect is notably evident in the lack of attention to things like every-day moguls and the converse over-attention to big air and deep powder.



Today it’s all about the glamor of big air, obese skis, and bottomless powder.  More attention seems to be paid to a ski’s ability to stomp cliff jump landings than negotiate a mogul.  Seriously?  So if you’re stuck with a one ski quiver like the vast majority of skiers, does it make any sense that our occasional little cliff huck or charge down a narrow chute should overly influence the ski’s design.  And while we may live for those deep pow days, Mother Nature dictates those rules and we’d be lucky to spend one out of five days in any season surfing boot-top or better.  I bet a space alien reading today’s ski media would probably figure snorkels and parachutes should be standard equipment.



Because of its name, we’ll give Powder Mag a pass.  But Freeskier, now there’s a name that conjures up all sorts of dreamy visions.  But the meaning of “freeskiing” has morphed away from simplicity to giant air, death defying steeps, or gangsta jibbing in inner city Detroit.  Freeskier does run some awesome pieces and I’m a fan.  This season’s “Highway Passes” is money and “San Juan Staycation” is absolutely captivating.  But my point remains, for good or bad, it’s an obvious decision on their part to celebrate a narrowly defined niche at the exclusion of the mainstream.  A decision that seems to be shared by much of the industry.


As a further example, there’s the glut of modern ski porn.  Today’s myriad of movies typically spend more time in the air than a commercial pilot.  Dizzying feats of airborne gymnastics have supplanted stuff we could all realistically aspire to do without leaving a suicide note.  All very intoxicating, but reality paints a different picture for us mere mortals.  Most of us expert skiers who actually have to cope with a day job will likely end up spending way more time negotiating bump strewn steeps than any AK spines or powder choked couloirs.


Watching some dude about to eat his knees in an impact crater (usually edited out) or race an avalanche certainly drops one’s jaw, but more out of primal fear than any kind of kindred association.  In contrast, I dare you to watch these vintage vids (actually made as fashion promos) and tell me you don’t feel yourself right there in the action with a big grin on your face.  And these weren’t filmed at some exotic location either, but  just a US resort on terrain that can be accessed with a daily lift ticket!



Speaking of resorts, we see more disconnect…  While everybody else in the industry is all about “going big and deep”, resorts seem to be in a polar opposite race to see who can tame their mountain the most.  In an effort to provide the most family friendly, nonthreatening, anti-adrenalin experience possible, they’ve got the winch cats out mowing down even the steepest terrain.  We can see both sides to this, but just like politics these days, everyone seems to be ignoring the middle.


We see a market driven by momentum and slowly losing traction while doggedly chasing the “fatter is better” craze right off the cliff.  Straight from Marketing 101 – create a dream, play on it ad nauseum, and subtly convince the customer he is something he’s not, and needs something he doesn’t.  Even some industry insiders quietly concede the hype may have gone too far and fear the sad result is folks buying skis based on fantasy rather than reality.



When asked what the most common mistake consumers make when buying skis, K2 CEO Tim Petrick said “I think too many people buy their gear from the standpoint of the snow conditions they would like to imagine they will be skiing rather than the reality of where they go up and down the hill on a regular basis.  From my standpoint, the most common mistake is buying a waist width that is more aspirational than realistic given the conditions you normally ski.  I really believe that we are doing a disservice in the U.S. market saying that everyone needs to be on a ski wider than 100mm in waist width. The wider skis are perfect if you live somewhere the added width is actually a benefit, but if you live in most of the country you will have a lot more fun with skis narrower than 90mm waist widths. Narrower skis are less work on hard snow and more fun.”



I think the real mistake here would be to blame the consumer after barraging him with nothing but a nonstop diet of Benchetler and his bros.  These customers certainly aren’t making these flawed decisions in a vacuum.  Although Mr. Petrick admits that “we are doing a disservice” and goes on to extoll the virtues of narrower skis, I for one, won’t hold my breath waiting for any meaningful change in direction from the K2 marketing department.


Even the iconic Glen Plake says “everyone should quit glamorizing powder skiing” and there are signs this may already be happening.  Skiing Mag recently wrote that next year’s freeski trends include a move to narrower, more versatile boards.  “The most important trend  in ski sales going into the 2014 sell-in season is that consumers are  pulling back on waist widths“.  If this is really happening, it is more a testament to independent thinking consumers, than to any real reversal in marketing.


Look, I’m not saying to completely abandon the current marketing direction.  Freeskiing represents an ongoing evolution.  We all know how important it is in this digital age to stay fresh, trendy, and cutting edge, but maybe we’re losing some of the forest through the trees here.  Would it hurt to reign it in a bit and take a fresh look?  There exists a spectrum, and somewhere in the middle lies “Joe the Fogotten Skier”.  On the bell curve, Joe is the middle, the foundation, and the bread and butter resort skier.  What is it that he or she really aspires to?  Is it to jump a higher cliff, nail that double cork, or just learn how to get through those damn moguls?



So howbout we give Joe some media to not just awe him, but truly inspire him, and guide him to the best tools available to help him become a better skier and maximize his enjoyment of this great sport?


John "fritzski" Fritz

EpicSki Special Correspondent


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Comments (12)

Great article!   Hero skiing has taken over the ski movie industry and the media is following close behind.  Its interesting watch the Greg Stump movies from the '80s an seeing them ski moguls and runs at actual resorts.  That kind of skiing is now only seen online in average joe movies or resort promo videos.
Your the man...can't agree more... I have a pair of darksides, a pair of obsettheds and a pair of sidestashes but ski many more days on my Aftershocks and Atomic Theories and old Atomic B5 as they are much more fun to ski on on -piste and in the moguls.  Way too many intermediate skiers are on wide powder boards and frankly ski terrible on them... skied Mary Jane last weekend, Bob Barnes old stomping ground and compared to 20 years ago I didn't see any strong bump skiers ... it is becoming a lost art...no one knows how to ski them anymore...probably because as a generation we are all getting older... I was in Nelson Carmichael's bump clinic at Steamboat the other weekend and did not see 1 decent mogul skier...so from the standpoint of the general public not to many folks all that interested...at Jane the bump trails on a busy weekend looked empty... that was terrific for me as the bumps are rounder and no one to run into!   I have skied for 55 years and the best gauge of a really good skier is can they rip it in moguls.  Great comments above...thanks!
Great article. 
Well written article.  I think there may be some market niches that the industry is pursuing that are growing faster than the general market.  Two of those niches are terrain parks, (seems like that is where all the kids hang out these days), and the backcountry.  Although I suspect that the whole backcountry scene is a rather small percentage of the overall market, it seems to be growing rapidly, based on the anecdotal evidence that I see.  And of course the primary thing that these skiers are looking for are powder and/or steeps.  The other dynamic that skiman19 mentions is age.  The generation that grew up enjoying the moguls is getting too old and overweight.  Our knees and backs won't  take it and so we are forced to carve the groomers, (not that carving groomers is a bad thing).  I think all of these are factors that may partially explain the industry direction, but certainly not justify it.  What isn't fully explainable, other than sales people and/or customers getting sucked into the hype is why a person that spends 80% + of their time on groomed runs ends up with a pair of 100mm+ skis.  For me that would be a waste, but I guess as long as they are happy, then I'm not gonna judge them.
Great article. As you might guess from my handle, I am in the love-the-bumps camp.
One major factor you did not mention is the Instructor-PSIA component. I know this is a controversial point to make, as many EpicSki members are PSIA. However, PSIA does NOT teach bump skiing. Period. Ever watch a ski area instructor ski the bumps? Chances are you see that stooped, legs apart, PSIA-sanctioned technique applied to the bumps. Talk about forcing a square peg into a round hole. There have been countless arguments on this and other sites about whether there is a "right" or "best" way to ski bumps. Whatever your opinion, what I see from most ski area instructors is neither right, nor best. Why? Most of these guys simply don't know how to ski bumps using technique that is most efficient, fastest, and frankly most aesthetically pleasing. So if the instructor doesn't know how, how can we expect your average skier who takes an occasional lesson to learn good bump technique. There are many camps and other venues for learning this technique, but it is generally not easy to track down. 
This instructor outright disdain for good mogul skiing technique is more or less in "conspiracy", for lack of a better term, with the ski resorts, who then go and mow down every square inch of the mountain possible with those darn groomers. If you can't ski it, then don't let the rest of the world know you can't, is basically the mindset here. 
The solution? That's hard to say, but I honestly believe there's a demand from intermediate skiers to improve their bump skills. Letting low-pitch runs bump up at resorts would be a start. Hiring more instructors capable of skiing and teaching good bump technique is another step. Changing the mindset of the PSIA? Now that would be a miracle. 
Another concerning aspect is the possible fallout this extreme campaign may be having on skier safety. The New York Times recently ran an article entitled Ski Helmet Use Isn't Reducing Brain Injuries. It states:
Although skiers and snowboarders in the United States are wearing helmets more than ever — 70 percent of all participants, nearly triple the number from 2003 — there has been no reduction in the number of snow-sports-related fatalities or brain injuries in the country, according to the National Ski Areas Association.
Experts ascribe that seemingly implausible correlation to the inability of helmets to prevent serious head injuries like Schumacher’s and to the fact that more skiers and snowboarders are engaging in risky behaviors: skiing faster, jumping higher and going out of bounds. “The equipment we have now allows us to do things we really couldn’t do before, and people’s pushing limits has sort of surpassed people’s ability to control themselves,” said Chris Davenport, a professional big-mountain skier.
Experts agreed on one element underpinning the trend: an increase in risk-taking behaviors that they said the snow-sports industry has embraced. In recent years, many resorts have built bigger features in their terrain parks and improved access to more extreme terrain. “There’s a push toward faster, higher, pushing the limits being the norm, not the exception”.
The bigger issue, some experts said, is addressing a snow-sports culture that celebrates risk and challenging the snow-sports industry to re-evaluate its role and responsibility in propagating risk-taking. “There’s this energy drink culture now, a high-level, high-risk culture, that’s being marketed and impacting the way people ski,” said Robb Gaffney, a sports psychiatrist. “That’s what people see, and that’s what people think skiing is, but really, that’s the highest level of skiers doing the highest level of tricks.”
Fantastic article! Also, the previous one " Whatever happened to Moguls?" is great; especially the bump pictures.  I figure at least one of those pics is from Sun Valley?  I downloaded that iconic pic of the great Wayne Wong onto my computer.
Me, I have NO interest in skiing moguls anymore- I ain't in my 20's anymore.  HA
great article,  I have just spent the last 6 years building up my Quiver as they call it and still will not go up without my 185 GS Rails.  There is only one way to do the Moguls and that's straight over the top of them on a good stiff set of GS skis .  Mogul competitions ! if there are any left now should be based on time only down the bumps as this would separate the hard skiers from the skaters.......... 
Kind of cool to see that the two videos of 'old school' are from buddies of mine, Bob Legasa @Freeride here, and Dan Herby. Both are former US Freestyle ski team members and Volvo Ski Team alumni. Those are a couple of my weekend ski mates. Nice to see them still being relevant!
Interesting article and with a lot of "reality".
But if you are a younger skier, you always need to be able to dream.
Even if you never get out of the Mid-west and never get anymore air than off that rock over in the trees it is fun to imagine and frankly, I ski because reality can suck. ;)
This hits the nail on the head, the industry has been doing the average skier/boarder a dis-service by pushing the extremes.  I did see a comment concerning PSIA and would note that the new alpine manual that came out last year addressed many of those concerns. 
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