RealSkiers: Our Dystopian Future As Ski Shops Disappear
In 1985, there were 727 lift-served ski areas in the U.S. Today that number is 427, a decrease of 40 percent.It’s a staple of science fiction that life in the future will be even more of a mess than it is today. Two of this summer’s biggest blockbuster movies, Elysium and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, take a dim view of mankind’s social evolution from this point forward. The only bright spot is at least one possible future includes Jennifer Lawrence.
The evidence of our future unraveling is visible today in climate change, the degradation of our political institutions and the ongoing attrition among the ranks of specialty ski retailers. This past week another longstanding ski shop, Reno Mountain Sports, announced it would shutter its storefront by summer.
It shouldn’t surprise that owners might want to opt out of retail after a 40-year run, all in one location. What’s odd is that no one materialized to opt in. Reno will be reduced to one specialty shop and a smattering of chain stores for which alpine skiing is hardly the focus.
All across America, the ranks of specialty ski retailers have been gradually thinning since the early 1990s. The same could be said for Donald Trump’s hair. Both phenomena are unsettling to observe. While the Donald’s hair defies explanation, the erosion of specialty retailing is worth examining, particularly for those of us who love the sport of skiing.
Let’s flash forward, sci-fi style, to our world 50 years from now. No one really uses the old word, “skiing” anymore. Everyone’s a “rider” now. “Skiing” was so elitist! Now that we’re all riders, ski gear costs less and lessons are… well, who needs lessons?
Skis sold without their own built-in bindings are unheard of. Domini, domini, domini: we’re all certified binding technicians now! If you don’t know your setting, just use the handy “Golden Zone!” It’s good for all adults who don’t qualify as “walking donuts.” Remember our jingle: “If you ski in control - and you’re not shaped like a roll - you’re Golden!”
In the future we have single-buckle boots that pin the rider in a forward stance but leave the foot unrestricted. They’re so accurately designed, the customer can easily find their own pair just by guessing their shoe size. No more wasting time and senseless expense to get an accurate fit and a responsive shell when self-service works just as well.
Skis are so simple to buy, it’s crazy. The ski selection kiosk at BoxCo makes finding the right model so easy! Just enter your data: You’re a guy? You like going fast? You ride the whole mountain? Here’s your 170 all-mountain ski! Sweet! It’s made by the same manufacturer who makes every other ski sold in the Non-Polluted World, so you know it’s right for you!
The mescaline dispensary that occupies the largest space at the Hook-Me-Up Mall was once a ski shop, or so local legend has it. The former owner’s son now rents a space beneath a staircase at the Trump Water Palace and Riding Emporium, quaintly identified on Forest Service maps as Mt. Mansfield, where he tinkers with the funny old boots the geezers still wear, trying to coax another season out of a technology that disappeared years ago.
If this sounds like a dystopian future less plausible than The Hunger Games sequel, consider that when I was working in product development at Salomon in the mid-1980s, one design consideration was the ability of a product to sell in the self-service environment of the hyper-marché. Point being, smart manufacturers will find a way to survive regardless of which distribution channel remains standing. In any future, skiing will continue as an activity. But it may gradually cease to be a sport, at least as practiced by a broad swath of the public.
No doubt it’s a leap from the closing of yet another fine specialty shop to “The End of Skiing as We Know It,” but consider this: If, in the Age of the Internet, it becomes impossible for a specialty shop to sell skis at a profit, then they can’t afford to maintain highly trained, veteran employees. Good boot fitters, already rare, become extinct.
If you aren’t fit properly in a proper boot, you can’t really ski. It’s not too hard to fill in the rest of the spaces.
Photo: Abandoned lift (RealSkiers.com)