Recently, my friend and former ski journalist Charlie Leocha (And now president of Travelers United) sent me something that made my jaw drop. It actually was more shocking than the $269 one day lift ticket at Steamboat, harder to fathom than photos of long lift lines at Vail Resort properties and more amazing than the fact that ski and snowboard athletes at the Beijing Olympics were performing on snow that was shot out of guns.
The synopsis of an article, originally published in the Wall Street Journal, stated that the total cost for a junior ski racing career can top $500,000, according to a 2019 survey by U.S. Ski & Snowboard of ski clubs, academies and colleges. Say WHAT!?
The growing perception that skiing and snowboarding are inching toward only being attainable by the wealthier segments of the U.S. is compounded by the cost of developing elite athletes who can perform on the world stage at high profile events like the Winter Olympics. Mikaela Schiffrin may have been the only skier expected to medal, but she didn’t. At least the U.S. took home one when Vermont’s Ryan Cochran-Sielge won Super G silver 50 years after his mother – Barbara Cochran – won gold at the 1972 Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan. It didn’t hurt that Cochran-Siege’s family owns a ski area in Vermont. But, one Alpine ski medal for the U.S. tells you something.
Sophie Goldschmidt, Incoming President and CEO of U.S. Ski & Snowboard admits that things are a little out of control. “Cost is an issue for attracting and retaining athletic talent, and we need to continue to find ways to keep costs down in this country,” she said recently. “Without government funding in these sports our athletes are reliant on the support of donors, sponsors, clubs, resort partners, volunteers and our larger sport community to make it possible to pursue their dreams.”
Well, good luck with that approach. Only about three percent of the U.S. general population of 329.5 million skis or snowboards. The most recent statistics from the National Ski Areas Association indicates that about 10.5 million people ski or snowboard at a rate of a little over 59 daily visits per year. That’s an average of 5-6 days of skiing or snowboarding annually with season pass holders likely spewing that number since, once the pass is purchased, one can participate indefinitely while the season lasts. Wonder how many recreational (especially non-season pass holder) skiers and snowboarders (the vast majority) would be willing to plunk down a significant amount of money to help someone else’s kid become a world class skier or snowboarder?
Hopefully, some are willing to step up to the plate or U.S. Ski and Snowboard will have some major issues moving forward. As former two-time Olympics Alpine medalist Andrew Weibrecht said, “We’re going to run into trouble as a country.” Weibrecht won the Super G in 2010 and 2014. He recently became active in skiing governance because of his concerns about rising costs. “The pool is going to become so shallow that it’s going to become difficult to find the most talented athletes.”
Has it already?