The Small Season: Why 2020 might give skiing the right-sizing it needs

The ever-growing size of the ski industry is colliding head-on with the year 2020, and it’s going to be better off for it. 

In the 1920s and 30s, skiing began its rise as a leisure sport in North America, growing slowly as a vacation option for the wealthy, but entering the cultural mainstream in the decades after. It’s the growth of the sport over the last 30 years, however, that has turned ski areas into plus-sized, American-style theme parks. 

Skiing needs a right-sizing and 2020 might deliver it.

In popular ski areas all over the west, day ticket prices have blown through the $100 mark, even breaking the $200 threshold at Vail last season. At the same time, resorts are blowing out their base areas like they’re playing SimCity, adding thousands of hotel beds and the dining options, movie theaters and dance clubs to entertain those guests. 

On the hill, skiers and riders are taking 8-pack, heated chairlifts thousands of feet in 10 minutes as lines swell behind them on the ground. 

Skiing has gotten huge over the last few decades. After years of growing bigger and bigger, the sport is as inaccessible, expensive and crowded as ever. So, we have to ask ourselves: Is bigger better? 

Resorts with gondolas and trams face unprecedented challenges this year while smaller ski areas stand poised for pandemic resort riding.

It feels strange to pull silver linings from a pandemic that’s taken so many lives and ruined so many others, but it might stop the ski industry’s seemingly endless growth and I think we’ll all be better off for it. 

I promise this is not a “soul-skier”, “f*** Vail” virtue signally take. I just think the industry needs a right-sizing in order to make it a more accessible product. 

I think 2020 will be known as “The Small Season.” It’s the year when smaller ski areas will attract guests looking for toned-down experiences. Without the ability to use mega-lodges, 100-person trams and on-mountain dining, I predict guests will flock to the parking lot-and-chairlift resorts that need the customers and can provide the right day on the hill for this moment. 

For “The Small Season” this year, I’d recommend getting a local ski pass, or trying somewhere new. If you’re hoping to find your way into the backcountry, go smaller and limit your risk so paramedics aren’t wasting medical resources at a time when the healthcare system is already strained. Go spend at your local ski shop, too. 

Ultimately, the behemoths of skiing are going to be fine, but a pandemic-altered ski season should support the smaller ski area, ski shop and skier. 

Bigger can sometimes be better in skiing, but we could all use a Small Season this year.

Thanks for reading! Did you like this column? Send us your feedback or ideas to midwestskijournal@gmail.com.

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