We don’t know everything, but that doesn’t stop us from acting as if we do. Here we hand out our first end-of-the-season awards to cheer and jeer all things skiing.
Adios to El Niño and hello to North Atlantic Oscillation
The disappearance of the warm currents in the western Pacific caused the deepest early-season snow at U.S. resorts in years, while North Atlantic weather patterns reintroduced Eastern ski areas to winter, paving the way for the best coast-to-coast skiing in a decade.
The Nathan Hall Jury
This group of 12 peers put reckless skiers on notice nationwide by convicting former Vail lift op Hall, 21, of negligent homicide in his 1997 fatal collision with another skier. Fast skiing is not the problem; uncontrolled speed is.
Massachusetts and New Hampshire Legislators
Elected officials did well by doing good when they leased languishing state-owned ski areas to private resort operators. Last year, Okemo, Vt., showed it could run Mt. Sunapee, N.H., effectively. This year, Ragged Mountain, N.H., operated Boston’s Blue Hills, giving city kids the backyard winter playground they deserve.
Olympic President Romney and his SLOC crew reinvigorated the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic effort with down-home energy and honesty. How can you not like Romney? When asked about the embarrassing timing of court depositions for ousted SLOC leaders Thomas Welch and David Johnson, which came out exactly one year before the opening ceremonies, Romney’s response was simply, “Bummer.”
United controls over half the flights into Denver International Airport¿gateway to the busiest ski state in the union¿which wouldn’t be an issue if the airline hadn’t jacked up its prices and run embarrassingly behind schedule for much of the ski season. Friendly skies, indeed.
Burke Mountain, VT., Community
For banding together to keep the lifts spinning at Burke Mountain, a Northern Vermont gem. Special kudos to Burke Mountain Academy for stepping in and ensuring the mountain’s future. Generations of skiers to come will be thankful.
Aspen Skiing Company
For publishing its first Sustainability Report, a candid, self-critical view of where the resort operator is making progress and doing poorly on its environmental efforts. Other resorts take notice.
This nation’s leaders have established its first mountain police units to patrol ski slopes and enforce strict Islamic laws on separation of the sexes. In recent years, ski slopes near Tehran have become popular meeting places for young singles to mingle away from the prying eyes of the police.
Big Sky, Mont.
For getting its priorities straight and giving employees the option of working four 10-hour days to free up more skiing time. Smart Management Lesson No. 305: A stoked employee is a good employee.
For giving recreational skiers what they need and want: softer boots with a little less performance but a lot more comfort, led by Lange’s introduction of the V9, an ACL-friendly rear-release boot. It’s about time.
U.S. Ski Team CEO and President Bill Marolt
We all thought he was crazy when he put 10 medals up as the 2002 Olympic goal for the struggling U.S. Ski Team. He still may be one buckle short of a ski boot, but nine months out the team does have a shot at double figures in Salt Lake.
Resorts such as Vail and Aspen can rationalize their decision to take free skiing away from 70-plus skiers because these seniors usually have the means to buy lift tickets and season passes¿but it doesn’t matter. If you’re still cranking turns at 70, you damn well deserve to ski free¿even if you’re Warren Buffet.
All-Mountain Shortie Slalom Skis
Rossignol was the first to de-fang its super-short, super-quick race slalom skis and offer a forgiving version for mmere mortals (the T-Power Viper; maximum length: 174 cm). Others ski manufacturers quickly followed. Now you can rip down the mountain on high-performance boards that your 14-year-old daughter would have laughed at three years ago.
Blue Sky West, Steamboat, Colo.
For transforming an old-time snowcat business (Jupiter Jones) into an operation that offers snowcat skiing for families and intermediate skiers, and not just the high-testosterone, big-vertical-feet boys. Powder to the people.
To the National Ski Areas Association for boldly developing a Sustainable Slopes Environmental Charter and for leading the charge to educate its members about the threat of global warming. It’s a good start.
This Natick, Mass., firm invented the Backyard Blizzard, the first portable snowmaking machine designed for home use. Its requirements are simple: a garden hose, an electrical outlet and temperatures of 25 degrees or less. Kids everywhere thank you.
Aspen Highlands, Colo.
For building exquisite employee condos at the new Highlands base village cheek to jowl to the Ritz-Carlton Club, creating a truly mixed community that moves away from the too frequent have-vs.-have-not ski-town neighborhoods.
The 38-year-old Slovenian ski instructor became the first person to ski down Mt. Everest, avoiding house-size hunks of ice, gigantic crevasses and the occasional frozen corpse. Karnicar skied 11,500 vertical feet from Everest’s 29,035-foot summit without de-skiing. He had a score to settle with the highest point in the world: Karnicar lost two fingers to frostbite on a previous scramble up Everest.
The binding gurus who run Marker endured difficult times and the sale of their company, but emerged this spring with a new binding that could change the way we ski. The Marker Piston controls rebound. Result: stability at speed¿and fewer yard sales.
The Skiing Industry
For finally realizing that it is the price, stupid, and offering discounted season passes, day tickets and instruction packages from Maine to California. Bogus Basin, Idaho, skiers, for instance, get four lessons, rental gear and a season pass for $199. If anyone complains about skiing being too expensive these days, deck ’em.
Snowshoe/Amtrak Ski Train
What’s to stop skiers from loving their mountains to death with SUV pollution and congestion? The good old-fashioned ski train, of course. Now D.C. skiers can nurse a cocktail and watch the scenery stream past as Amtrak conveys them to the slopes of Snowshoe, W. Va.
U.S. Ski Team racer Daron Rahlves
This dedicated pro and recently crowned world super G champion can race just as fast as Hermann Maier. And he possesses one quality that the Austrian star can’t fathom: humility.
For giving the big guys a scrappy dose of competition that has resulted in rock-bottom fares to key ski destinations, including Burlington, Vt., Salt Lake City, Utah, and, starting May 17, Denver, Colo. Round-trip fares as low as $98 (JFK-Burlington) make quick getaways eminently affordable. Hello, ski weekend.
Stowe’s Spruce Hamlet Expansion Plan
Here’s a vibrant, car-free village worthy of its setting, with tasteful architecture and a mix of uses (residential, retail, recreational). To win support, Stowe President Hank Lunde included, rather than antagonized, potential opponents.
U.S. Ski Team
For first blanketing its website, visited primarily by junior racers, with suggestive ads for a rum manufacturer, then having the gumption to pull the ads after numerous complaints.