If there isn't a more representative, and damning, headline of the state of skiing than this recent story from the Aspen Times: "Mountain Coasters are the big focus this year in Colorado ski country."
Ouch. Ski areas are understandably diversifying their revenue streams to be less dependent on winter as weather continues to be increasingly unpredictable, but that can come at the cost of investing in winter activities. Colorado Ski Country USA resorts are adding four roller coasters this summer, while only installing one new chairlift. Aspen, Steamboat, Copper, and Purgatory are all adding downhill rides. Eldora is the only ski area in the group adding an uphill one (a high-speed sixer to replace Cannonball and Challenge). (Arapahoe Basin, also part of the group, is adding 371 acres of challenging terrain and has plans to add a chairlift next summer.)
For its part, Vail Resorts, which already has its own roller coaster and is not a part of Colorado Ski Country USA (a marketing group representing 22 Centennial State ski areas), is replacing Chair No. 11 with a six-pack at Vail while Breckenridge is replacing the Falcon with a six-shooter. Beaver Creek is replacing the Drink of Water double with a high-speed quad.
Coasters are nothing new. Heavenly, Snowbird, Park City, Okemo, Killington, Jackson’s Snow King, among many others, all have them. Squaw recently proposed to get a zipper of their own. There is nothing inherently wrong with mountain coasters. They are all surely a good time. But their proliferation is indicative of a bleak reality for ski areas. Skier numbers are flat. Climate change will increasingly threaten winter. And so ski areas are thinking about how to become more than just ski areas, and less about skiing. And that makes us sad.