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I grew up learning how to ski on Connecticut's local mountains, which look more like hills. A few times each winter, my dad, younger siblings, and I would make the four-hour trek up to Vermont where we would stay at a friend's house or bed breakfast.
Then, I went to college in North Carolina. While I happily welcomed the warmer temperatures, I was only able to ski twice during my four years down South.
Most people my age have similar stories when it comes to snow sports. Even if you had the privilege of learning young, the trips soon became more and more infrequent.
Over Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, I went skiing at Okemo Mountain in Vermont and saw three ways the snow sport industry is struggling to attract — and keep — new participants.
Ski resorts are struggling with a shortage of lift operators due to national hiring challenges. Jan Woitas/picture alliance via Getty Images
Skiing and snowboarding experienced a rise in participation among younger and more diverse demographics in 2021, likely thanks to the flexibility of remote work. But as more boomers retire from the sport, the industry is desperate to attract and retain the next generation of skiers.
The main problem: most young people can't afford it.
Skiing has long been known as a sport dominated by the white and wealthy — over half of snow sports participants make over $75k a year and over two-thirds are white.
First, there's travel and accommodation expenses. Like most places, the housing market in mountain towns has boomed over the past two years as remote workers chose the outdoors over urban centers. The cheapest Airbnb near Okemo Mountain costs $103 a night, with the majority of homes falling between the $200- to $400-per-night range.
Then, you have equipment. A basic pair of skis, poles, and boots cost around $40 a day — more if you want a demo or advanced set. Snow pants, a ski jacket, and goggles can be hundreds of dollars each, but last multiple seasons.
The biggest splurge is chair lift tickets. If you're a frequent skier, the best bang for your buck is a season pass. The Epic Pass cost $783 (down from $979 last year) and allows access to over a dozen mountains partnered with Vail Resorts around the world.
If one person in your group has an Epic Pass, you can get discounted day tickets as a guest or "buddy." At Okemo, this brought my ticket down from $130 to $99 a day.
"Going to buy a lift ticket at the window is kind of like going to the airport and buying a ticket for that day," Adrienne Isaac, the director of marketing and communications for the National Ski Areas Association, told New York Magazine.
But unless you plan in advance and do your research, the ticket-window may appear as the only option for many Americans.
Most big mountains are in remote areas where you definitely need a car to get around. I was pleasantly surprised to spot The Hampton Jitney parked at Stratton Mountain 45 minutes away. Its winter route takes you from New York City to Stratton and costs $37 each way.
Still, unless you're staying at a ski-on-ski-off condo right on the slopes, you'll need a car to get to the mountain — and preferably one with four-wheel drive.
Thanks to our employers' remote work policies, we were able to leave for Vermont on a Thursday evening and return on a Sunday afternoon. For folks without that option, journeying away from the local mountain is tough to schedule.
Time is of the essence once you're on the slopes as well, as highlighted in viral videos showing incredibly long lift lines (which we thankfully did not experience).
On Friday, we skied from 10 am to 4 pm with zero problems. But the next day, we had to cancel our tickets due to dangerously cold temperatures of -15 degrees, showing that even the best-planned trips can be easily foiled by mother nature.
Gen Z skiers who infrequently participate in the sport "are more inclined to believe that snow sports are hard to learn, dangerous, and too cold" compared to their peers who frequently ski, according to the National Ski Areas Association.
In other words, sliding down a mountain sounds really scary until you try it.
The same idea goes for navigating trails and weather conditions, as well as knowing how to dress for the weather. All in all, information gaps cause skiing and snowboarding to appear more intimidating than most other outdoor activities.
The good news is that social media is helping inform the broader public about the sport. A quick scroll through #SkiTok shows tips and tricks on how to properly turn, what layers to wear in freezing temperatures, and Olympic medalist Shaun White reacting to a snowboarder's jump.