1. Snowboarders are our best friend and your worst enemy.
Alpine skiing has fallen on tough times lately. Between 2000 and 2008, the number of skiers has dropped in the neighborhood of 12 percent, according to the latest data from the National Sporting Goods Association. Snowboarding, on the other hand, is growing more popular: The number of snowboarders has increased roughly 28 percent in the same period. That means ski resorts have to do whatever they can to attract boarders and keep them on the mountain.
Yet resorts know that mixing snowboarders with skiers can mean trouble. For one thing, the sports have a completely different rhythm. Also, snowboarders have a blind spot that skiers don t and a reputation, warranted or not, for being reckless. Even the resorts say they re on the lookout for bad behavior. We re very proactive and we have a fair number of ambassadors on the slopes, says Rick Kelley, general manager of Loon Mountain, a resort in Lincoln, New Hampshire. Their function is to deal with people who aren t skiing under control.
2. We fudge our snow conditions.
Ever wonder why one ski area boasts 12 inches of packed powder while another down the road reports just 4 inches? The reason is that the industry s measuring guidelines are merely that guidelines. And when the honor system rules, abuse abounds.
Dartmouth economics professors Jonathan Zinman and Eric Zitzewitz published a paper in 2009, titled Wintertime for Deceptive Advertising? indicating a fair bit of snowfall exaggeration going on at ski resorts. The professors gathered snowfall totals from about 400 ski resorts (from 2004-08) and compared those numbers with government weather data. They found that the resorts report 23 percent more new natural snow on Saturday and Sunday mornings with no such weekend effect in government-reported snowfall. Zitzewitz says simple incentive economics would explain the exaggeration: Resorts will try to attract skiers with higher snowfall amounts during the weekends because people are more likely to make impromptu daytrips then than they are during the week.
3. Climate change could run us into the ground.
A soft winter can devastate a ski resort. And since all signs suggest that climate change isn t going away anytime soon, ski slopes have responded by heavily bolstering their snowmaking equipment meaning a huge increase in expenses. Slopes are also cutting corners where they can on staff and supplies for example, fewer ski patrollers on the slopes with less than fully equipped portable safety kits.
But some resorts aren t thinking only of profit they re taking measures to go green where they can. Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort in Bend, Ore., for example, purchases 100 percent of its power from renewable energy sources, including wind, biomass, solar, small hydro and geothermal power sources a commitment that adds about 2 to 4 percent to its energy bill on an annual basis, says a spokesman. The resort is even considering adding a biomass plant, so it can generate all its energy needs on-site.
Environmental impact statements are run to minimize land damage when resorts install new lifts or add new terrain. Silverton Mountain, a one-lift resort in Colorado, purchased a used lift from a neighboring resort and salvaged handheld radios, furnishings, carpet, bar equipment, ski-patrol toboggans, rope, and bamboo, all headed for the dump.
4. Only suckers pay full price.
Local retailers can be a good way for skiers to find discounted lift tickets. The Ski Shop in Colorado Springs, Colo., will sell you an adult single-day lift ticket for Copper Mountain for $10 less than the on-mountain rate, and you ll save $7 if you want to ski Winter Park ski resort.
Sure, navigating the lift-ticket maze can be complicated: Prices typically go up and down half a dozen times each season and up by about 4 percent from one year to the next. But there are discounts to be had if you re willing to scout them out. For starters: If you re looking to score discounted tickets to slopes in the Northeast, visit www.cheapskiingguide .com, which offers links to ski deals in nine states, including Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York.
5. Our instructors need lessons themselves.
Elsa Suisman considers herself an intermediate skier and made that clear to the instructor she hired for a lesson on a recent ski vacation in Idaho. He brought me to an area that was way above my level, says Mrs. Suisman, who lives in West Hartford, Conn. I looked down and saw a vertical drop of moguls. The teacher took off, leaving Mrs. Suisman behind. She ended up falling and dislocating her shoulder, and had to be brought down the mountain in a basket by the ski patrol. She blames the mishap on the instructor, who was supposed to be the expert and guide on the mountain.
Of course, there are plenty of good ski teachers populating U.S. slopes, but there is no licensing or required training for any of them -- good or bad. The Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) is the group that sets the framework for educating and credentialing instructors. According to PSIA s web site, all it takes to become a qualified instructor is to register as a member. If the member wants to improve as an instructor, he or she can train and be examined for Level I, Level II, and Level III certification. More often than not, instructors aren t PSIA-certified at all, because they don t have to be anywhere.
6. We re blowing snow and a lot of hot air.
Ski resorts are forever bragging about their snowmaking capabilities. Heavenly Mountain Resort in Nevada claims that it s home of the West Coast s largest snowmaking system, while the web site of Maine s Sunday River boasts about the resort s 1,900 snow guns. The trouble is, snowmaking equipment rarely creates first-rate conditions.
The weather needs to be quite cold around 28 degrees for man-made snow to be any good. Above that, it s gets tricky. If you have very low humidity, you can pull it off. But you need to put that much more energy into the equipment to generate the snow. It gets expensive and the snow quality is not as good as what you d get in colder temperatures, says Charles Santry, president of Snow Economics, which manufactures and sells snowmaking products for ski areas and homes.
7. Skiing is getting more dangerous all the time.
There s no doubt about it: Skiing can be hazardous to your health. And it s especially tough on the knees. Though the incidence of debilitating knee injuries among skiers has declined by about 40% over the 15 years ending in 2005-06, the risk of serious knee sprains is still double what it was in the early 1970s. At the current rate, about 15,000 sprains of the anterior cruciate ligament can be expected in the coming season according to Vermont Safety Research and the Department of Orthopeadics and Rehabilitation at the University of Vermont, organizations that compile data on skiing and snowboarding injuries.
And the ski resorts shoulder some of the blame. Part of the problem is that many resorts have made a push toward grooming their trails, or removing piles of powdery snow to make the runs smoother and sleeker; that makes for more action-packed skiing, but also can increase the chances for knee injuries.
8. Beware of scenic trails.
These days many ski resorts are beefing up their offerings of wooded trails. Killington, a Vermont resort, has added 16 wooded trails in the past six years, says a spokesperson. Indeed, beautiful runs that take you through picturesque groves of pine trees offer that natural ski experience so many people are drawn to the mountains to experience.
But there is a substantial downside to communing with Mother Nature on these scenic runs. The principal cause of death these days to skiers and snowboarders is impact, says Jasper Shealy, retired professor emeritus at the Rochester Institute of Technology who studied ski injuries for 30 years. He notes that there have been approximately 38 skiing deaths across the country per year, a statistic that hasn t changed since the 1980s. Many incidents happen when a skier hits an obstacle often a tree. If you find you can t resist the allure of wooded trails and who could blame you stay alert and try to take it reasonably slow. Shealy strongly recommends the use of a helmet. Just don't expect it to save your life if you impact a tree at typical maximum speeds on-slope about 27 miles per hour, he says.
9. So sue us you ll never collect.
Robert D. Ahearn, a personal-injury lawyer in Quincy, Mass., says he has just about given up taking on any ski-related injury cases. Every season he gets 12 to 20 inquiries, and only about 25 percent of those are worth even an initial investigation. Even then They re not worth pursuing because I know I can t collect on them, Ahearn says. It s next to impossible. That s because in nearly every skiing state there s a statute indemnifying resort operators from injuries to skiers that result from the inherent risks of the sport. Unlike amusement parks, where you re strapped into a ride, this is a participant-controlled activity, says defense attorney Peter Rietz, who represents many of the Colorado ski resorts.
Are there any cases that Ahearn might seriously consider? Only the most extreme. There really has to be some gross negligence on the part of the resort, he says, like a huge tree has fallen in the middle of the trail and has not been removed. Or if there was some negligence on the part of an employee that caused injury, like if a ski instructor is skiing backwards and runs into someone, he says. But those cases are tough to come by, Ahearn says, and there are still no guarantees, since any case against a ski resort is just very difficult to win.
10. Welcome to Rocky Mountain high.
While most people consider hot chocolate the treat of choice while skiing, there are plenty of folks on the slopes who have other preferences sometimes including marijuana.
Why not just a stiff martini? Because pot gives thrill-seeking skiers and snowboarders a pleasantly altered and controlled high, says research scientist Benedikt Fischer of the Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia at the University of Victoria. It s a feel-good substance that makes them more receptive to central experiences, like the things they see around them, the visual experience of being in nature. The problem is that controlled high or not, smoking marijuana makes skiing less safe--and there s nothing feel-good about a couple of broken limbs and a trip to the ER.