Last week a bunch of resorts decided to extend their seasons. Some are running the lifts all week, others just for a few more weekends, with Saturday and Sunday skiing only. This is a good thing. I’ve often wondered why resorts race to be the first to open each fall. Yeah, there’s probably some sort of tenuous glory in having one narrow, icy trail filled with people scratching their way down the hill on manmade snow up and running before anyone else. But even the most die-hard among us would admit that kind of experience sucks. Skiing in October? You can have it. I’m going to ride my bike.
But the announcement this week by Mammoth Mountain, California, that the resort would shoot for a July 4 closing date made me happy. Very happy.
Let’s be honest. I’m not going to jump on a plane and fly out there. But the fact that Mammoth, along with a smattering of other resorts including the Utah ski areas of Alta, Park City and Brian Head, announced extended seasons is hopefully the start of a trend.
Skiing and snowboarding, you see, are sports that have seen little growth over the past few seasons. With participation staying stagnant, the industry has been indulged in a whole lot of head scratching about how to increase the amount of newbies to snowsports. Well, let’s start with the evil truth about our sports. It’s cold out there. Sure, we can sell as many down jackets as we like, and I’m not about to decry the utter bliss of a powder day. But for never-ever skiers and riders, going out on a frozen hill, to freeze your ass off, while falling a lot onto the frozen ground isn’t the kind of thing that inspires joy. No, it sucks.
That’s why the industry needs to focus on the spring. At the end of the year, the snow is soft, the entire mountain has decent coverage and the deck scene holds promise for partial nudity and sun tanning. The days start late, when the snow warms up, and the après ski scene goes later, because the outdoor patios at the base of the mountains are warmer and get more sun longer. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? But it’s even nicer when you are just learning to ski. Because the snow is soft, it’s easier to learn. It’s warm and sunny, meaning less bulky clothing and mittens. And when you’re tired from doing the flying wedge down the green circles, you can hit the deck for a cold one, soak up some sun and enjoy the good life.
OK, so I’m not expecting Arapahoe Basin and Loveland, Colorado, to give up their spirited race to be the first to open next October. But, if you have a friend who has never been to the mountains and has never tried skiing or snowboarding, do them a favor and get them on the hill this April. Stash some beers or a bottle of wine along with some cheese and crackers in your backpack. Teach them the flying wedge and then hit a deck. You’ll be doing them, and the sport, a favor.