Is industry pricing policy leaving the average skier out in the cold?

Skiing, probably the most organized and profit-oriented recreation in the entire winter sports industry, is fun. That's why so many people have taken it up in the past 20 years. It really requires only three basic ingredients for survival: snow, hills, and a modicum of common sense.

So far, the hills have remained, but both snow and, in some parts of the skiing establishment, common sense have seemed in short supply. Staring at unsold inventories and unpaid bills in the wake of poor snow years may not make for clear heads in the ski industry. A little sense of perspective might that end is this final comment of the season dedicated.

"People want to ski," a Maine ski area operator told me last December. He was seeing a growing number of old lace-up boots in the base lodge as dropout skiers were attempting a comeback. They weren't going to be buying a lot of expensive gear right away. But even with only a few trails open by the grace of snowmaking guns, they were giving it a try.

Now, after a relatively poor snow year in the West, and before who knows what economic uncertainties, two ski company representatives have been quoted as follows in the March issue of Ski Business, a trade paper: "We don't even try to sell inexpensive skis anymore.

"The guy who might have bought a $150 package no longer can afford to ski in the first place. It's become an affluent market."

With that kind of thinking, can the $500 ski and $25 lift ticket be far behind?

Meanwhile, probably the most exciting series of World Cup ski races in history took place in Aspen earlier this month (two Americans won), with hardly any US television coverage and little print coverage. Yet this past Sunday there was an inane bit of "celebrity ski racing" on NBC's John Denver Celebrity Pro-Am Ski Classic that was as lacking in entertainment as it was in conveying anything about skiing.

It's interesting that much of Europe got to watch these World Cup ski races, just as it's interesting that so many Europeans can be found enjoying the mountains in winter. Not all of them are on even $150 skis. Some just enjoy walks in the mountain air.

If most Americans' winter weekends are to be spent glued before the tube in pursuit of two days of continuous armchair sports, the least they could be provided is something approaching the real thing. Then, maybe more of them might venture outside for a slide or a schuss -- or at least a wal k in the fresh air.

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