Starting in the late Forties and stretching into the next three decades, skiing experienced a boom unequaled in the sport's history. The synergy of movies, magazines and advertising was contagious. People everywhere were suddenly excited about getting out of the house in the winter. New skiers were taking to the hill in droves and new ski resorts were being built every year. Imagine going skiing today without places such as Vail, Killington, Alpental, Park City or Squaw Valley. Squaw Valley is the only resort from that group that is old enough to have already celebrated a 50th anniversary.
A lot of the growth was attributed to the post-war economy, to the invention of the metal ski, plastic boots and to snow grooming. Some marketing gurus credited the success to the Olympics at Squaw Valley in 1960, the first televised Winter Games, and to winning American ski racers such as Andrea Mead, Billy Kidd, Jimmie Heuga and even the Mahre brothers, to name a few.
Other experts cite the advancement brought on by the invention of safety bindings, now known as "release bindings" because America has become such a litigious society. And then there's the contribution of manmade snow, which used to be called artificial snow before the marketers again won the name game. (Do you ever think about the women who run snowmaking machines at night so they can ski all day? Should manmade snow sometimes be called woman-made snow? If not, why not?)
Still other people credit the growth of skiing to the cheap land that developers bought next to the new ski resorts to build condos on. They got it cheap because whoever built the resort couldn't afford to buy it after sinking all their money into the lifts. Today, environmentalists blame the ski resorts for excessive growth, when in reality the fault may lie with the developers of the adjacent land who over a period of years have built the ugly mountain strip malls along both sides of the highway leading to the resort.
I have a different, rather simple theory on why skiing boomed then-and why it's since gone bust.
I believe it rests solely on the bodies of the ladies of the Fifties and Sixties who wore Bogner stretch pants. That's right, I credit the growth of skiing during those years to Maria Bogner and her invention of stretch ski pants.
Let's face it, sex sells, and anyone who was in reasonable shape could put on a pair of stretch pants and look as sleek and attractive as a model in the James Bond movie. Those pants did wonders for the female figure and made it all the more worth viewing. Sports Illustrated sells untold millions of copies of its swimsuit edition and yet the magazine doesn't publish a ski edition of any kind. That's because when any woman who would turn heads on every beach in the world puts on today's ski clothing, she looks like a sack of cats on the way to the river. (That goes, for men, too).
By the time fashion designers pile on layers of waterproof breathable fabrics, sew leather on the shoulders so you can carry your skis and then stuff in feathers for insulation, even a Sports Illustrated model would look like a taxicab with both doors wide open. For that matter, put a helmet on most skiers today and you can't tell whether they're men or women.
I know most of you are already calling me sexist, but someone invented men and women and fortunately there is a difference in the way we are shaped. I, for one, really appreciate that difference.
"Skiing is healthy and romantic in a very special way," explains my wife Laurie, who spent 25 years running a ski shop and a ski school with 105 instructors. "We were never looking to glorify sex or treat women (or men) as sex objects. Skiing is about freedom and the mystical chemistry that happens between a man and a woman on the mountain. It's an adrenaline rush that is healthy, thrilling and sexy at the same time. Stretch pants used to be a part of that experience. So why don't people dress the part today?"
Over the yearss, I've made ski movies featuring beautiful women in a lot of exotic locations. That doesn't get done much anymore-and the ski industry is wondering why there is a lack of growth. What would happen to a Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition if they dressed all the models in bulky, head-to-toe swimsuits?
In March, there will be a massive trade show in Las Vegas where the newest of everything to do with skiing and snowboarding for the winter 2002 will be on display. Is it possible that some of the designers or the owners of the fashion companies are as old as I am and have forgotten what attracted them to winter sports in the first place? I don't think it was the grunge look. Maybe, but if that is the case, why is Cosmo so successful at the supermarket checkout counter? When I stand in line to pay for groceries, I've yet to see a copy of a ski publication at the checkout counter.
If the ski industry took a page of success from Maria Bogner's very attractive stretch ski pants, maybe the current trend of decreasing skier days could be reversed. A stretch fabric similar to the one that Maria Bogner once used is available today-except in a much stronger, more sophisticated and technical form. Independent laboratory tests reveal that this new stretch fabric can reshape anyone's figure into a better silhouette than ever before. This should get more people out onto the ski hill where they belong-and in shapes that will make everyone's ski day a little happier.
And what about snowboarders? Statistically, you are under 30 years of age, so if you really like the baggy, grunge look, have I got news for you. There's something missing in your life, and it's called the opposite sex.
Warren Miller is the author of several books. Contact him at Warren@warrenmiller.net