The Future Is… The Past

Some perspective on our October issue from a former editor

Editor’s Note: Neil Stebbins was the editor of POWDER from 1975 to 1986.

In case you missed it, the title of this essay was the theme of the October ’16 issue of POWDER.

And a fine issue it was.

The Intro set the stage with a warm and romantic personal vignette, which was followed quickly by Les Anthony’s thoughtful, one-page paean to fun.

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The heart of the issue, however, was all about the sad state of skiing in America and the need for change. One after another, a collection of smart, well-written observations drove this point home—the demise of the ski shop, skiing’s lack of racial diversity, the sport’s desperate need for growth, a skewering of the rich, and how cool it is to be poor and happy as a ski town local.

The implied conclusion—since no single feature had all the answers—was skiing needs to be more affordable, welcoming, and accessible soon if it is to live long and prosper.

Then the issue ended with an Apparel Guide where you could add a nice jacket and a new pair of ski pants to your winter wardrobe for a mere $1,100. If this huge 26-page section was meant to be ironic, the irony was way too subtle for this unfashionable aficionado.

But I can tell you, everything mentioned above is exactly what we wrote about back when POWDER wrote my paychecks and we assessed the future of skiing—40 years ago!

Really, our past was very much your present.

Fun was generally regarded as frivolous, unimportant, a childish waste of productive time.

Charismatic mom-and-pop ski shops were in jeopardy—facing larger, fancier competition.

Racial diversity was limited to the few Black Skier Weeks we covered every couple of years.

The growth in winter sports was monopolized by the popularity of snowboarding.

Ski area localism was alive and well.

The larger issues—the complaints about exclusivity, affordability, and growth leveled so sincerely in the October POWDER—those are hardly what I’d call news.

The poor ridiculed the rich. The rich endured the poor. Everyone had something to bitch about if they lived in a resort town. Racers laughed at freestyle events. Freestylers thought racers were clock-wound robots. Wide skis were unknown and nobody—I mean NOBODY—skied on boards shorter than 200 centimeters.

What’s changed? In the great ski-scheme of things, not all that much.

Skis are a bit shorter and wider now, which is good.

And, of course, prices for everything are much higher now.

Ski movies feature a lot more jumps and air-time.

More women ski and ski really well.

Hike-to-ski is common and lots more people are doing it.

Heli skiing is still the best thing money can buy, but it’s still mainly for the rich.

And gear designers are nearly all as timid and slow to make changes as they were in the ’70’s.

The larger issues—the complaints about exclusivity, affordability, and growth leveled so sincerely in the October POWDER—those are hardly what I’d call news.

But it’s been a while.

You tell me. What’s really changed?

Are lift lines any less frustrating?

Are beginners any less hilarious?

Will global warming turn the Rockies into the Sahara, or New England into Florida North?

Is the cost of a week of skiing for a family of four any less of an economic hardship than it’s always been?

Maybe prices will magically decline and the sport will grow fast enough to make everyone selling something happy.

But be careful what you wish for.

In my other sport—surfing—gear prices are easily affordable and waves are free. You don’t need to pay ransom prices for resort lodging, lift tickets, lessons, or food. But there is another cost. One that is killing the sport. The popularity of surfing has made every American surf break a pressure pit of competition due to the ever-present crowds—some places, even at night! On a good swell, you can paddle out, surf for three hours, paddle in, and never have caught a single wave to enjoy without someone else on it.

Young groms dream less of surfing with their friends than surfing better than their friends, beating them to a contract, fame, and fortune. And, where once the need for constant approval was considered psychotic, the Selfie Lifestyle Rules!

Progress, I guess.

Or maybe just a normal human need to feel special and think the past was different from the present—quaint, uncomplicated, and irrelevant.

After all, who wants to think The Future Is… or might be… in many important ways… fundamentally the same?

Read more about The Future Issue here.