Skiing should be more enjoyable--and more enjoyed -- this year than ever before. Major improvements in area facilities, highways, and equipment, plus the impetus of last winter's Olympics portend an increase in the sport's already phenomenal growth rate of 25 per cent each year.
Within a half-day drive from Cambridge, ten new chairlifts and as many new T-bars were installed over the summer. Except at the most celebrated areas, life lines last winter were smaller than in the past, and the recent construction spree should be sufficient to meet the anticipated increase in demand.
Furthermore, steady progress on the interstate highway system -- especially in New Hampshire and Vermont -- has meant that travel time to the major ski areas in the Northeast is constantly being reduced.
With almost a half-million skiers on New England slopes last winter, it is clear that skiing must now be classified as a mass sport. While the 1960 Olympics at Squaw Valley established America's ski terrain as equal to Europe's best, the 1964 games proved that American skiers were on a par with the crack Europeans. Olympic publicity in 1960 boomed interest in the sport the following winter, and there is every reason to expect the coming season to benefit in the same way.
Equipment for mass sports can be mass-produced, and American production techniques have finally caught up with the demand. The best recreational ski equipment -- from poles to parkas--is now American made. No longer must the fashion-conscious snow bunny pay $75 for stretch pants that won't develop baggy knees after one day's wear. American metal skis that, will last for years now cost little more and will perform much better than Austrian woods which are liable to break or warp. In short, the initial investment in ski equipment has been reduced to a reasonable figure in recent years.
There must be a nagging fear, however, in the minds of skiing's entrepreneurs, that the boom may contain the seeds of its own destruction, for so much of the appeal of the sport in the past was esoteric. A skiing holiday was a kind of retreat and the jargon and attire proved to be gamesmanly ploys back home. But now that every street urchin has a quilted parka, this sort of appeal has been irrevocably lost. The question is: how much of skiing's popularity has been due to the sport itself and how much to the ancillary institutions that have grown up around it? And furthermore, now that some of these institutions are being threatened by mass participation, will the sport still retain its appeal?
Even if skiers are no longer able to spend conspicuously, they will probably still continue to spend, because nothing has yet diminished the wild beauty of a ski run, the challenge of modern technique, or the elan of apres ski -- three of the most rewarding aspects of the sport. The parallel christie is at once more attractive, more fun, and less dangerous than the stem turn; it facilitates controlled skiing on steep slopes as well as quick linked turns on narrow trails.
Apres ski thrives on mass participation, and as skiers throng to the hinterlands, nightclubs and movies have begun to materialize in even the stodgiest rural hamlets. Bustling skiing communities with their own peculiar mores have sprung up within sleepy farm towns.
Unquestionably, the character of skiing has changed in recent years and will continue to change as the number of participants increases. The basic appeal of skiing, however, seems to be immutable, and should provide for the steady growth of the sport in the forseeable future.