This is not the beginning of a partisan smear campaign like the seminal “CHENEY SKIS IN JEANS” bumper stickers popular in Jackson Hole in the early aughts. Once upon a time, years before President Donald Trump subscribed to the human-body-as-depletable-battery school of exercise avoidance, he was a skier. His children fondly remember racing dear old dad to the bottom.* Years later, they told an interviewer that Father Trump would shove them over if they attempted to pass.
No, what follows are just the facts: Trump is a clear and present danger to skiing as an industry. His bombastic speeches and immigration policies are worse than January rain when it comes to the dollars and cents and powder days that support the sport.
In a Wall Street Journal essay last month, Aspen Ski Co. President and CEO Mike Kaplan blamed the “xenophobia radiating from the Oval Office” for the dip in Mexican tourism the resort saw last year. Visits by this demographic—a core market for all the major Colorado ski resorts—fell by 30 percent. Think about it: If Mexico’s president called you a rapist and a drug dealer and said he was going to build a wall and make you pay for it, would you book a trip to Cancun?
In response to that tourism falloff and the Trump-propagated national intolerance, Aspen—which has hosted Gay Ski Week and the National Brotherhood of Skiers for years—has launched an ad campaign for the resort built around the slogan, “Love, Respect, Unity, and Commit.” The idea came from an earlier essay Kaplan penned for the Aspen Daily Times titled “We’re Still Here,” where he spoke for the reasonable folks in the ski town who care about things like, you know, the international community and the environment.
According to the Alliance for International Exchange, over 70,000 J-1 visa holders added $509 million to the U.S. economy in 2016.
It’s not just tourism dollars that have taken a hit: resorts risk losing employees, too. A few weeks before Kaplan’s Wall Street Jounal op-ed, sources reported that Trump was considering axing J-1 visas—a program that allows students from all over the world to work U.S. ski area jobs in the name of cultural exchange.
You might cry, “But wait, Americans should take those jobs!” Problem is, far fewer American college students with dreams of ski-bumming now take the time off from school. And with unemployment rates hovering just above 2 percent in destination ski towns, there aren’t enough warm bodies to bump heated chairs, flip grass-finished burgers, park the college kids’ Audis, and scrub the foie gras from the mountaintop toilets.
Losing the J-1 visas would be a raw deal for the ski resorts. According to the Alliance for International Exchange, over 70,000 J-1 visa holders added $509 million to the U.S. economy in 2016. “It would be worse than the drought,” Andy Wirth, the president and COO of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, told the Denver Post, equating the loss in workers to the three low snow years that nearly ruined California skiing. “We cannot, as an industry, have Trump sign that two months before we open.”
But there are even bigger, more existential threats, as the ski industry knows well. Human-caused climate change has already cut weeks from both ends of the ski season, and by most scientific reckoning, it’s playing a role in those debilitating January thaws, too. Trump and his deputies, such as Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, have all to one hot degree or another claimed that climate change is either an outright hoax or that the jury is still out on whether humans have contributed to it. That was enough for Trump to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, our best hope at keeping winter white.
Face it Frosty, Trump hates winter. He’s more of a humid bucket of KFC in a golf cart kind of guy. And his ire might just be personal.
Evidence for this can be found in an anecdote Trump’s first wife, Ivana, told Michael D’Antonio for his 2016 biography, The Truth About Trump. Back before they were married, Ivana reports, the lovebirds took a ski trip to Colorado. Ivana, who had been a ski instructor in her native Czechoslovakia, hadn’t yet revealed that she had mad skills. The Donald took off down the trail, then stopped to encourage her on.
“So he goes and stops, and he says, ‘Come on, baby. Come on, baby,’” Ivana Trump told D’Antonio. “I went two flips up in the air, two flips in front of him. I disappeared. Donald was so angry, he took off his skis, his ski boots, and walked up to the restaurant. ...He could not take it. He could not take it.”
To be fair to the president, that description might be embellished. (For decades, Ivana falsely let it be known that she was a first alternate on the Czechoslovakian ski team. Fake news!) And unless she was skiing with ballet ski poles, I’m not sure how she could have pulled off four flips on a low-angle groomer. But, whatever, we should cut Ivana some slack: years later, she would learn of her husband’s affair with Marla Maples after a confrontation with the mistress at an Aspen Mountain day lodge.
Skiing cost The Donald his pride and, perhaps even more important, some alimony. Skiing is screwed.
*Keep trying kids, you’re getting there!