The Future of Skiing: Roger McCarthy

The former President of Vail Resorts

Apr 15, 2013
Outside Magazine
Roger McCarthy whistler vail resorts

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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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