Blood on the Rails

Welcome to the Future: Can bros on boxes save the sport? Photo: Devon Balet/

We asked our readers whether the future of skiing and snowboarding was at the resort or outside the resort. And the answer got complicated. So we have broken our head butt response down into two parts. This issue, young gun Mike Rogge faces off with crusty vet Peter Kray over whether new-shcool urban and off-resort ski parks are going to save (and grow) the sport…

Urban Assault

Peter Kray went to St. Lawrence University, which means he loves a good Hot Toddy, a thick L.L. Bean catalog and the impression that he’s an “outdoorsman.” Me? I went to a state school. The skiing sucked and the only “crew” I knew was the group of shredders I drove hours with to Jay Peak. When we didn’t have the means to drive all that way, we hit rails and homemade jumps in a friend’s backyard. My fondest hazy memories of college were our attempts to ski the unskiable. And it only made us want to ski more.

Over the last 20 plus years, much has transpired in the schussing world. Skiers learned non-aerialist tricks in “snowboard parks,” influencing groms to form their own “parks” at their home ski area, backyards, local streets and anywhere a slippery surface could be found or created. The definition of the term “out of bounds” has evolved way beyond the sidecountry.

Today, one can ski anywhere—from the indoor slopes of Dubai to the inner city of Boston to the North Face of the Aiguille du Midi. But don’t get it twisted (or twister spread-ed)—it’s the regular-ass skiers that will save the sport, not all the backcountry bounders on brand new AT gear.

According to the latest SnowSports Industries of America (SIA) numbers, there are seven million skiers in North America. The most startling statistic in SIA’s report? Eighty-three percent of first timers never return to the slopes. Their problem? “It’s cold, frustrating, dangerous, expensive, too far, feet hurt,” says the group polled. And who can blame them? Strength and confidence are acquired attributes, the price of gas is sky high, and the ’90s ski vacation is as much a myth today as the term “travel agent.” Oh yeah, ski area cheeseburgers cost $16 and parking will set one back $20 and two miles from the lifts. So what’s the solution? We need to bring skiing to the masses and rebuild the sport’s foundation.

Enter New York City’s Winter Jam, an event originally held in Central Park then later relocated to Brooklyn for 2011. The Saturday snow shindig encourages New Yorkers to give downhill skiing a shot from the safety of their own borough. And regardless of how many times the hardcores spout that we don’t need these “gapers,” we do. Along with Denver’s Ruby Hill rail yard and Maine’s Peyson Park, these free skiing (not to be confused with freeskiing) locations are exposing people to a future of downhill bliss that they otherwise might not have seen. With a little luck, they’ll grow into weekend warriors and ski bums that’ll settle into resort towns across the world and ensure a viable future.

The buzz word over the last five years has been “sustainability.” (If you’re in New Mexico, like Peter, then the buzz word is always “meth.”) For skiing to be sustainable a new crop of skiers must emerge. They will not magically appear from a Chamonix crevasse or a secret stash in Vermont. They’ll rise from the parking lot of a major metropolis and save those of us plundering powder hundreds of miles away.

Mike Rogge is the associate editor of Powder. He lives in Southern California but still tells everyone he’s from the East Coast.

Old Guard

Wow. Did someone from Powder, the magazine that celebrates the soul of skiing, just take me to a stats class? I show up all ready for the stoke and shred discussion, but instead I have to sit down with the accountant and a presentation on PowerPoint. Maybe I should have brought my calculator to crunch all the variables, but to paraphrase Chevy Chase, after new snowfall and total vertical, when it comes to skiing, “My understanding was that there would be no math.”

Not that I don’t think Mr. Rogge has a point. The fact that freeskiing is blowing up from the city parks of Manhattan to the tiny hills of Minnesota, giving every kid with sticks a chance to grind rails and wear lime green pants half way down his ass is awesome news for every ski retailer in America who didn’t bet his whole accessories budget on belts. And with slopestyle and halfpipe skiing set to debut in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, we haven’t seen the half of it.

But to argue that just because more kids can slide sideways down the escalator at the Paramus Park Mall is going to result in a whole new generation of ski bums is like saying that more people are getting laid because of the accessibility of porn on the internet. Actually skiing big mountains is like having sex with someone else. You either are really doing it, or you really aren’t.

I would argue that what we’re really seeing is a whole new level of urban-based specialization in the sport. The same way U.S. aerialists like Trace Worthington and the late great Jeret “Speedy” Peterson could make your head spin with all their in-air oscillations, it never really got the masses’ asses off their collective couches. And the same way I actually learned how to snowboard on Ruby Hill with a bunch of bros in high school, none of us are still doing it (riding, that is).

But a lot of us are still skiing. Why? Because our parents took the time to drive us—and keep driving us—to the slopes. And that’s the part of your argument where I think there’s still a connection you’ve missed. Your article on the dryslope skiing craze in England in Powder was one of the best things I’ve read so far this year. You just never told me how all those young Sheffield skiers are going to finally transfer their emerging talents to the real-world stage of the Alps. Unless Harry Potter and all of their Hogwarts bros are just going to ferry them over on broomsticks after the next Quidditch match.

Peter Kray is Elevation Outdoors’s editor-at-large. He thinks Tim Tebow could slide rails.

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