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The Future of Skiing: Roger McCarthy

Racing drove ski design. We’ve had that get turned upside down. If you want racing skis now, you have to special order them.

I wonder if in 25 years, terrain parks will hold on to the level of traffic they see today. My sense is that they will decline in use and popularity. We’ll still see them in comps, but in the same way that we don’t see moguls comps anymore or aerial comps or bump comps, it'll peter out. The focus will be freeskiing and new frontiers—an explosion of backcountry equipment.

It used to be that you knew the people wearing AT gear. It was six guys on patrol and a bunch of hardcore locals. Now AT gear is becoming more and more prevalent. The sidecountry has exploded. What’s interesting is, really, less is more.

Twenty years ago the ultimate conquest for a ski area was to pound a lift into a peak. In 25 years, backcountry access will be more important.

In Europe, no one goes into the backcountry without a guide. It’s the opposite in North America. It’s the brave and educated out there. In 25 years, we’ll see guided experiences surge in popularity. There will be more backcountry huts in the mountains of the west.

The quality of ski equipment, clothing, and boots will improve. Twenty-five years ago, skiing at the resort in AT bindings would have been taking your life in your hands. Now you can get AT bindings with DIN 15! All the guys in the movies are skiing AT gear and doing amazing things. Where were these skis and boots of today when I was skiing 120 days per year on Whistler patrol carrying 25-30 pounds of explosives on my back on 210 GS skis? We’ll see weight reductions with anything on our feet and anything we have to carry. Who knows where camber will go.

I think the single biggest challenge to the health of the ski industry is cost. Vail’s day ticket is $119. And the equipment is outrageous. Skis boots poles goggles—the cost to get into the sport is a huge. The number of people a chairlift can move up the hill used to be 1200 per hour. Now we can move 3000 people per hour. But it’s $7-$8 million for a high-speed quad. In the future, lifts will become more cost-effective, which will make skiing more accessible for more people. And it will be easier to get to the lift from the parking lot. No more awkward walking in ski boots.

The ability to try things and do things in the park is a reflection of the level of safety of equipment. We haven’t seen that in backcountry. It’s just starting. And the frontier of what’s available is extraordinary. Will there be tech to tell us what’s safe? What’s not? In today’s world, experience is teacher. In the future, technology could surpass experience.

Roger McCarthy is Councilman in Whistler, British Columbia, and the former President of Vail Resorts.

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The Future of Skiing: Mike Hattrup

When I think about the future, I think about Shane McConkey. One of the projections he would have given you—which I chuckled at, like I chuckled at camber and reverse side cut when he suggested those—is shocks on skis. Shane McConkie wanted mountain bike-style shocks on skis so that he could land big airs. “I want to jump off a cliff and land it—boom,” said Shane. I thought rocker was niche when Shane came up with it—now you can’t buy a K2 without rocker.

In 25 years, I don’t think skis will look much different. I said that 25 years ago and I was wrong. If I keep saying it, eventually I’ll be right—right?

Materials will be more high-tech, lighter. Climbing skins are going to be gone. You’re going to flick an electrostatic switch that makes your skins stick to snow like your tongue to a chair lift. Air bags are going to be the size of beacons. Beacons will be gone. Airbags will have beacon capability, and airbag tech will be heading towards lifting you off the ground so an avalanche can float under you.

Access lifts are going to be everywhere. They may or may not be part of a ski area. They’ll go to where the snow is.

Climate change will be happening, but like JP Auclair shows in All I Can, you don’t need that much snow to ski, just enough to land on. We may see urban ski parks. Maybe skiing opens up like it did in the '70s—you don’t need a lift ticket. You can ski in your backyard. You can cycle it. Urban ski parks can double as pump tracks or skate parks in summer. That will open up skiing, keeping youth entertained and involved. We could have resorts totally dedicated to that. In the Midwest, skiing already sucks. But it could become the ski park mecca. People are going to be booking trips to the Midwest because they have the most badass ski parks.

Ski boots are due for an overhaul—they haven’t changed in 40 years. Boots will be carbon fiber full custom. The boot will get wrapped around you as you stand in the shop. The tech will keep adding fiber until the boot has the stiffness you want. Bindings will be all but gone they’re so minimalist—maybe magnetic. The DIN will be a magnet. There will be one magnet on the heel you can turn on and off so you can tour.

Layering is going to go away. You’ll put on your outfit and it’ll temperature regulate automatically. It's gonna be heat capturing, one-piece stretch suits. There is going to be so much tech in your helmet it’s going to be sickening. Your goggles and helmet will be like the dashboard of your car. Your beacon, airbag, camera—everything is going to be on your helmet. It’s going to be like a Navy Seal helmet with infrared vision that allows you to see through fog and see your buddies under the snow. It’ll give you insulin levels because everyone will have diabetes. Hopefully it won’t pull your head off. There will be a few lawsuits early on where people’s heads do get pulled off. Blizzard of Aahhh's will still be showing in ski town bars—like a black and white film. The shit people will be doing will be twice as crazy as it is now.

Mike Hattrup is the Global Director for K2’s Adventure category, former mogul specialist for the US Freestyle Ski Team, and an AMGA ski mountaineering guide.

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The Future of Skiing: Chris Davenport

In the nineties, with the advent of twin tips, heli-skiing, and an explosion of new media, things changed a lot for skiing. In the next 25 years, I see a slowdown in the evolution.

Backcountry skiing will continue to be a big growth segment. Skiers will be doing more hut trips, touring, and heliskiing.

Technology will evolve from a safety perspective. Airbags will lift you off the slope so an avalanche can pass under you, and after a minute you’ll float gently back down to earth. Avy beacons and search technology will be integrated into your cell phone—in fact all your gadgetry will be incorporated into one device. In 25 years, you may be able to put 10 terabytes of information onto a chip implanted into your ear under your skin. Any information you want will download from your mind to a device in your hand that can tell you everything, totally changing the decision-making process.

Right now we have archaic “skins” on our skis to climb mountains. Why not have a ski with a flip switch that changes the polarity of a ski so that it grips?

It’s conceivable that in 25 years, we’ll have our own drone helicopters to transport us to the top of a mountain. Mini remote-controlled drones are used now to carry cameras on ski film shoots. In 25 years, there could be one that hooks to your pack so you can fly yourself  to the top. Then you remote-control land it at the bottom of your run and ski down. It’ll be battery operated, zero emissions. 

In the future, there will be less focus on snowmaking. We’ll wait for mother nature to create snowfall and go play on what she gives us. It will be like surfing.

If you look back through the ski history publications at the experiences people were having, what we’re doing today in so many ways is much the same as 50 years ago. We’re skiing to get away from everyday life, the static of the world, enjoying being together with friends. Just because the technology changes doesn't mean the sport will.

Chris Davenport is one of the world's top big mountain skiers.

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The Future of Skiing: Glen Plake

Skiers don’t need sushi and disco and all these ridiculous services. I hope the public steps up and says: “Too much money is being spent on parks and pipes—I want my ski area back.” Snowmaking and parks and pipes add a lot of cost to ski areas. We can reduce the price of tickets if we can reduce ski area costs. Maybe in the future the only thing a ski area will do is provide a lift and a lodge for people to get warm and get a sandwich. All this other manipulation of snow—the snowmaking, the grooming, the shaping into features—will stop.

In the 1970s, people said, If you don’t make snow said you won’t be a ski area open for business. Now resorts make tons of snow and the numbers are still dropping. I call bull on it. If we don’t get one natural snowstorm, nobody goes skiing. So why waste all this time and energy?

In 25 years, we need to realize that skiing isn’t a winter sport—it’s a snow sport. You ski when there is snow. People will ski in spring—March, April. There won’t be snow in “winter.”

It would be nice to get back to some basics. I think skiing has to remain a natural experience—I am not a fan of urbanizing the sport. I think that people in the cities are not going to start walking around the city in ski boots looking for rails. They want to get away from urban areas and go enjoy nature.

Glen Plake is a freestyle skier and member of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.

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The Future of Skiing: Klaus Obermeyer

Let me tell you, we need more skiers and snowboarders on the mountain enjoying our sport—that is the most important piece. We need to band together as an industry—all brands, resorts, shops—to increase participation in winter sports. Then, in 25 years, we celebrate! Resorts will have dedicated more of their beginner-level terrain to be open free of charge, brands and shops will have partnered together on programs that encourage more people to get out and enjoy winter. People will be able to take their families skiing without spending their life savings.

My crystal ball tells me that skiing will expand, with many more participants then there are today. Skis will be even friendlier than they are now. Snowmaking ability will have improved to the point that, even if you live in Africa, someone will be making good snow.

Skiing will always depend on perceived snow conditions. If snow conditions are perceived as good, people will come out of the woodwork to ski. Snow is the most important thing. With no snow, trying to sell skiing is like trying to sell boats next to a lake with no water in it. I’ve tried that, and I know it doesn’t work. Now snowmaking is like life insurance. And it’s getting better and better.

Climate change is questionable. I would not worry too much about our snow sports in regard to the climate. There will be more skiing in Russia after the next winter Olympics. And more skiing in northern China. There will be snow somewhere.

Klaus Obermeyer is the founder of Sport Obermeyer.

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