Here's an article that ran today in the Denver Post:
Youth ski dichotomy keys on tradition versus trendy
By John Meyer
Denver Post Snow Sports Writer
Beaver Creek - To hear the buzz that surrounds the freeskiing movement, you'd think traditional ski racing has become so hopelessly old school it ought to be sponsored by Geritol or Viagra, or maybe a hearing-aid brand. You'd think the U.S. Ski Team soon will have a following as big as curling because, according to the hype, kids in ski towns are hucking and jibbing, not running gates.
In a foul-mouthed interview with Freeskier magazine, to cite one recent example, high school dropout Tanner Hall recently scoffed at the difficulty of World Cup ski racing and predicted its demise. I gather he's some sort of star in the freeskiing movement.
'Sorry to all those racers out there,' Hall said, 'but in 10 years you guys ain't going to be nothing.'
Sorry, Tanner, but youth membership in the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association is up 4 percent over last year, and up 11 percent over three years ago.
NASTAR, the country's largest recreational race program, maintains double-digit growth.
A lot of kids are doing tricks in halfpipes, congratulating themselves on how hip and brave they are, but there are still plenty of racers. They're the ones who understand ski racing was extreme before extreme was extreme.
Hall is upset because Bode Miller makes more endorsement money than he does, so he ridicules ski racing.
'All they do is ski down one icy (expletive deleted) run,' Hall said. 'Put me in a downhill and I might not go as fast as Bode Miller, but I'll make it to the bottom. Put any of those racers in the pipe and they won't even go.'
Daron Rahlves, a free-spirited Californian who finished second in the World Cup downhill standings the past two seasons and has dropped into a halfpipe or two, read Hall's interview and was incensed.
'I'm like, are you kidding me?' Rahlves said Tuesday. 'If somebody is going to be talking smack, they should know what they're talking about. He's not educated, he's young, and he's in his own little freeskier world. It's great to expand the sport.
'It's something the industry must pay attention to, but jumping on rails to me is more like Rollerblades. It's not skiing. These guys are impressive, they work hard to accomplish these tricks, but it's the same thing over and over again.'
The men's World Cup tour is here for four days of racing in super-G, downhill, giant slalom and slalom beginning Thursday. The Birds of Prey downhill course is one of the most challenging in the world, and speeds in Friday's downhill are apt to exceed 80 mph. I don't know Tanner Hall and I've never seen him ski, but I doubt he could finish within 15 seconds of Rahlves on the Birds of Prey - if he made it down. I'd put his chances at 50-50.
'I want to see him strap on some 215s,' said Rahlves, who won the Birds of Prey downhill last year. 'He couldn't even turn those things.'
Ski areas are courting the youth vote by building bigger, gnarlier terrain parks, but the U.S. Ski Team doesn't seem too concerned.
'Kids being in terrain parks, riding rails, riding in a halfpipe, the freeskiing thing, all of that stuff is good because it gets young people involved in winter sports,' said Bill Marolt, chief executive of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. 'We want a bigger base of athletes, a bigger pool from which to choose our elite teams. I don't look at it as a negative, I don't look on it as competition, I just look at it as a way to help us market and promote our sport.'
Marolt and David Perry, chief operating officer of the Aspen Skiing Company which hosts the Winter X Games, believe ski racing needs to do a better job of marketing its stars.
'The stars of the X Games are exposed in a lot of new magazines, a lot of new media, ski movies, those kinds of things,' Perry said. 'That's why they're popular. The ski racers aren't getting as much exposure, which is unfortunate, because these are great athletes with compelling stories and they have cross-over appeal.'
Ski racing isn't dying. Miller is making it cool again. My kids can't wait to watch him race this weekend.
'Even though it's gone into a little bit of a dip (in popularity), I believe there's another surge coming,' Perry said. 'Everything is cyclical.'
John Meyer can be reached at 303-820-1616 or email@example.com
'That's what Punk is to me. The near final understanding that the world is ours, and that we only have to realize it to make it so.'