‘Back in the day’ skiers used to look back up the hill admiringly at the men and women who skied with effortless ease through demanding terrain. The one who put in nice rounded carved turns on hard pistes; the bumps skier whose knees moved up and down like pistons, whilst staying in rhythmic control; the powder skier putting in beautiful S’s in fresh snow. These skiers were admired and revered. Many a seasonnaire or regular would want to ski like that. Not only was the skier great to watch but the skier himself (or herself) was loving the sensation of being in harmony with the mountain. He or she was in an almost Zen-like state which was all consuming.
Today one can look back up the hill and watch. Hundreds of skiers clattering down the hill at great speed, with the sole intention it would seem of breaking their latest speed record on the iPhone app, barely missing each other and finally skidding to a wild uncoordinated halt at the bottom of the chairlift. Can these skiers be having fun? Can these skiers be approaching that Zen all-consuming experience?
So what has changed? Why is the atmosphere on the mountain so different? Sure things move on, of course there is progress, but is it always for the better? Can progress slowly strangle the golden goose that kept skiers coming back for more?
The main innovation of course is with the equipment itself. Today you can buy all types of ski: rocker, fat, mid-fat, all terrain, all-mountain, the list goes on. The common denominator is they make all dimensions of the mountain more accessible than ever before. With a lot less experience, the skier can go to places that were inaccessible to all but the very skilful before.
At face value this sounds great. We can all ‘ski’ powder, we can all ‘ski’ the piste … and sadly most bumps are flattened by the resort management.
However recently there seems to be a few different murmurings within the industry. The consumer is less happy and less satisfied then they used to be. Odd you might think, with all this innovation making it easier? Ski shop owners are beginning to hear the term ‘bored’. There seems to be less of a sense of accomplishment than before. Previously it took skill, time, practice and indeed lessons to master certain terrain. Now that terrain can be charged down quite easily with relatively little experience or effort. Are we getting that same sense of achievement? Are we getting near that deserved well-earned state of Zen? Or are we just in some semi-skilled high speed traffic jam?
Has the pendulum begun to swing the other way? By making the mountain more accessible has the ski industry created a fast food fix which is great in the short term but long term ultimately you can only have so much. The clients used to come back time and time again enjoying the process of attempting to reach that skiing Nirvana. Have those days gone? Are they ever going to appreciate what skiing, like good food, is all about? Or is the future just a big Mac and chips?