In 25 years, we’ll be in the hands of the next generation—the generation of kids that Protect Our Winters has been talking to at school. That gives me some hope that we’ll see some definitive change as a society. Our school programs lay it out: this is the world you’re growing up in, here are facts, here are solutions. We’re working to raise awareness in kids, working to get the next generation to embrace the outdoors and the mountains. It’s a simple concept, but a super important one.
I dream that in 25 years we’ll be fully embracing green tech, clean energy, energy independence and everything along those lines. But if our ski areas all go to solar and nothing else does, it doesn’t mean a damn thing. In a perfect world, ski areas and skiing and snowboarding come together and demand we make changes. Collectively, we could be a powerful force and have a big voice on Capitol Hill, with the ultimate goal being clean energy throughout every facet of life.
On the equipment front, we’ve come a long way. Jones Snowboards uses FSC wood cores, recycled sidewalls and bases, wood topsheets. The next improvements are going to be trickier; the big stumbling blocks are the resins used in laying up boards, the glues. In 25 years, there will be a spotlight on manufacturers environmental practices. In the future, companies won’t be able to get away with cost effective prices with no concern for the environment. Skiers and riders are going to demand environmentally produced product, and all products will fit this description. Sustainably harvested wood cores will be the norm, not a category.
In 25 years, the snowboard boot/binding interface will change—we’ll have other options. I would have lost a bet 20 years ago that that interface would be different. I am willing to re-up on that bet.
In 25 years, the backcountry segment will have grown significantly. It’s already happening. Sugarloaf, Maine, did a sidecountry expansion, Burnt Mountain. It doubles the resort’s terrain without a single new lift. It’s progressive thinking. Fifteen years ago, I’d ask, "Why didn’t that lift go to top?" Now I like it better if there is a half-hour hike. Closed gates need to go away. Resorts need to embrace the rich 40-year old who embraces powder and wants to go into the backcountry.
Everyone will have an airbag in 25 years and we won’t be bombing for avy control. We’ll have automated snow control, like on Teton Pass, but everywhere.
The next generation will be full tech and social media addicts, but eventually this trend will ebb and flow, and social media will be lame. We’re coming into time of snow decline, but it’ll be offset by punk rock kids who think going outside is cool.
A huge thing I dream of is that mountains will embrace snowparks. Right now parks are one-dimensional. I’d like to have skatebowl-inspired parks, like in Japan—surfy-snake enhanced groomers. You need to be really advanced to go high, but anyone can ride them. There will be quarter pipes cut into the edge of trail. Instead of smoothing out the terrain, it’ll be an enhanced cat track with playful elements.
I think as climate change becomes more and more evident, and as we respond to it with policy decisions like carbon taxation that makes long distance travel more expensive, we’re all going to be forced to slow down.
We’re also going to slow ourselves down as we recognize that living an ethical life means leading a lower carbon life to the extent that we can. We’re going to have to give up some of the craziness of the last half century: the growth, the doing way better than our parents (by faulty metrics), the me, the now, the constant movement, impatience, time poverty.
And what by necessity we’ll have to do is circle back to the things we care about: staycations where we build treehouses with our kids; walks around the neighborhood; sewing torn clothing; gardening. All this instead of jetting off to the next race, or lavish vacation, or training program so our kids become #1. We’re going to have to come back into ourselves, to do what Kurt Vonnegut said we are on earth to do: to fart around, and I would add, fart around with each other.
People fear this, but why? In the ski business, to me this means ending some trends that are killing us. Instead of the crazed need to be open by Thanksgiving, maybe climate change will force us to the sensible realization that it’s good business to open on December 15th and rely more on natural snow.
Maybe smaller, flexible, regional resorts that pulse open or closed with the storm cycles will take over in places where it’s clearly too much trouble to try to be open all the time.
Summer business—which resorts have never been able to crack—will flourish as people come to cooler, higher resorts to escape the heat. They might realize that they don’t need some big, crazy, mechanized thing or event or challenge to help them recreate; all they need is a pair of sneakers and a small pack.
And the result, I think, is that we will be happier. We’ll be doing what we were supposed to be doing in ski resorts anyway: resting, to paraphrase Wendell Berry, in the grace of the world, and being free.
Auden Schendler is the Vice President of Sustainability for Aspen Skiing Company, and author of Getting Green Done.
If we are honest, we see certain global trends that inevitably will impact skiing 25 years from now. Though that seems far into the future, as I look back over the past 25 years, it seems like little more than the blink of an eye. Those “inevitable trends” are global warming, electronics, gymnastics, and off-piste/back-country skiing. As important is the interplay that all four of those trends will have on one another.
Global warming will fuel the growth of freeride and off-piste skiing as the best and most consistent snow will be away from and above the majority of the primary resorts. This quest for great snow, big lines, and the adventure that is increasingly lost in today’s world will drive the popularity of off-piste and big mountain skiing. That increased popularity will act as a catalyst for an increased reliance on gadgets in the form of avalanche safety, personal locators, and other forms of apparel and equipment that will offer you the requisite level of safety, comfort, and flexibility required by the much more demanding natural world beyond the civilized, lower altitude world of the resorts. That combined with an ever-increasing level of gymnastic training means that skiing will continue to up the ante and redefine the definition of possible.
Skiing’s future lies not in the resorts but in the landscapes that come into view from the top of a gondola or teleferique. It is that siren song that will drive the creative and passionate souls of the industry going forward.
Climate change. That’s going to change the face of this sport more than anything else. It’s frightening—the pace that we’re starting to see temperature rise. The traditional winter experience we all grew up with will be inscreasingly rare.
There will still be snowy places, but more often than not, skiing will be an artificial experience. Like what they’re developing in China, Dubai and the UK. Indoor areas will sadly become more normal. I wanna be optimistic about a snowy future, but I follow Bill McKibben on Twitter.
Beyond that, we’re starting to lose a lot of the mom and pop ski areas. Economically they don’t work that well anymore. Even big resorts like Whistler don’t like to see that happen. It’s where people learn to ski. Losing those types or relatively inexpensive experiences is not good. Passion and community is what drives people to skiing. Small resorts are where those things thrive.
Right now we’re seeing a move toward the backcountry. People want to get out and explore like never before. And I think part of that enjoyment is earning it.
In 25 years, the super rich are going to be skiing in the most remote and absurd places on earth. The average skier I'm less sure about. I think creativity is going to be the front edge of ski media rather than extreme action sports. We’re getting close to the limit of what people can physically do. Injuries in top athletes are more frequent and severe. Realistically a human body can only take so many flips off the ground.
The shift we’re starting to see is creativity. I feel like the front end of skiing is being increasingly driven by snowmakers as much as athletes and people willing to put a spin on the sport. It’s not going to be ski equipment but medical technology that changes how we ski, like stem cells that can finally grow you a new knees, grow you a new disc in your back. If that happens, the crazy bar will get raised again.
A while ago I got bored of Ski Porn. Telling stories with ski movies rather than just showing action is much more motivating for me. The beauty of filmmaking is that incredible work still stands no matter how long ago it was made. Good movie making is good movie making.
Twenty-five years from now, I have a feeling that we will have explored the earth top to bottom. That leaves our own minds as the last frontier.
In 25 years, I envision ski areas that double as energy centers. Virtually all ski areas have the ability to make their own energy from a combination of solar, wind, micro-hydro, geothermal and/or biomass. As energy costs continue to increase, this will become commonplace and eliminate the number two cost of running a ski resort.
The current paradigm of corporations and their focus on box amenities, real estate, and theme park attractions will be replaced with ski areas that get back to focusing on what is important, providing uphill transportation and on-snow recreation.
I envision many ski areas that are owned by their customers and the surrounding community. Much like the 50-mile diet and local co-ops, the concept of people pooling their assets together for a common good will be prevalent. What will precipitate that change? Many mom and pop ski areas being squeezed out. In the ‘80s, there were 800 ski areas in North America. As communities are facing closing ski areas, like June Mountain in California, Magic Mountain in Vermont, some mountains went local. Communities want to maintain ski areas. The current ownership structure is not working.
I’m not a doomsdayer, but the bigger a ski area is, the harder you fall. Vail is a great example. It owns ten ski resorts and controls 25% of the market. If something happened to Vail, it would have a devastating effect on the industry as a whole. As electricity costs go up, big ski areas are not going to be able to keep building and continue to make their nut. A big resort needs thousands of skier visits each day to break even. A huge footprint equals more susceptible.
Now we have the ski area enhancement act that allows any recreational activity to occur on US Forest Service public lands. Other revenue streams, other activities will offset the lack of snow. It used to be skiing was centerpiece and the base lodge was the amenity. Now it’s reversed. Food, roller coasters, waterparks and the rest of the village are the centerpiece and skiing is the amenity.
The world is shifting to a greener place. By the time today’s kids are adults—being sustainable will be commonplace. We’re at a crossroads, but it’s starting to matgreeter to people. Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts installed a wind turbine, and the next year they had a 15% increase in skier visits. Ski areas making a sustainability commitment are getting a following. Skiing, community, respect for environment is what’s important. We’ve forgotten about that. But we’re getting back to that place.