With the competitive circuit of skiing kicking off this week at the Grand Prix, there’s a necessary pause that must be taken. Over the last year, there have been significant moments in the life of our sport–benchmarks that will be noted in the history books for years to come. But the most significant would be freeskiing’s Olympic debut.
Thanks to this inclusion, our sport is one that is forever changed. While it may seem that things are carrying on like normal, the truth is that the presence of the Olympics is much like the role of carbon dioxide in our lives. Despite being seemingly undetectable, it’s there. We can continue to carry on with it, but the overarching abundance of it could blindly incapacitate our sport at any time.
It’s clearly an exaggeration to say that the Olympics could kill freeskiing, but it has the ability to rip out the very soul of it. (And isn’t a soulless existence a death sentence in and of itself?)
As the season proceeds, we can’t deny that we are looking at our athletes and sport through a new lens. It is almost impossible to ignore the labels and notoriety the mass media has given to the chosen few of our kind.
In a previous post, I questioned who would suffer and who would thrive in the harsh yet stunning spotlight. Less than a year later, it seems freeskiing athletes have only racked up positive accolades…. but fame is an ever-draining hourglass of sand, diminishing as the calendar moves forward. Despite time being an opportunity for one to flourish, it is also a void that can be filled with failure.
As we look at our athletes’ Russian voyage, we have to examine what they walked away with. Some brought back the ultimate souvenir in the form of a medal. Some, on the other hand, are recognizable for other endeavors.
Gus Kenworthy is a prime example of this . While Gus did an amazing job in aiding the American sweep in men’s slopestyle, he was seen in grocery stores, doctors offices and mailboxes within the pages of People magazine for a different thing altogether:
Of COURSE Gus’ actions were notable, and not to be discredited, but did anyone outside of our winter-loving world talking about his winning run? To put it in perspective, I don’t think he was featured in Elle Magazine or on ModernPet’s website for his switch triple.
While no major disruptions have occurred to our sport since Sochi, we will have to use this season as the barometer to see if it was worth it. Will the public have a better understanding our passion for the winter? Will they watch our contests or invest their dollars in our collateral?
And do we want them to?
Is this the year we see the general public infiltrate the mountains in higher numbers? Ahh the double-edged sword of becoming mainstream.
I hope our culture never changes. I hope the core of skiing that I have come to know and love still stays strong. It is without doubt that with time, comes change, but I still know that people I met through skiing will be people I call friends for life. Every time I see them, the hugs are strong, the smiles are infectious and the laughs are genuine.
It remains to be seen who will be swept up in the current of common culture. I wish all the success in the world to all the athletes, but also hold back from being too eager. I want our sport to live on. I want it to keep breathing deep, fulfilling breaths–to keep filling the lungs of new skiers with the icy air we have become addicted to. I shudder at the idea of any sort of toxin infiltrating the nirvana we are all connected by.
It’s not elitist–it’s just true.
I hope that whatever reputation our stars earn, they are reflective of their skills and talent. I can appreciate what something like the Olympics has done, but worry that instead of making skiing more welcoming, it has made it more divided. There will always be niches within skiing, but do we really need to add the opinions of the uneducated to the conversation? Are we excluding the next generations’ potential stars by thinking this way?
Skiing is meant to be loved, enjoyed and ultimately shared. There are few things that make you fall asleep with a smile in the way that an amazing day on-hill with friends does. Should that joy remain exclusive? No–that’s just ludicrous.
BUT the idea of skiing becoming more corporate (than it already is,) isn’t something I think I can stomach. You can already see where things have changed. As I already mentioned…a skier in People magazine? Excuse me? It isn’t just that either. The sponsorships have become less intertwined with skiing and more focused on big money. I can’t necessarily blame the athletes, as even those working the 9-5 want to make it to the next step and bigger paycheck.
I just hope that we all hold on to our sport for as long as we can before we have to succumb to looking back and reveling at the glory days. I shouldn’t be in my twenties and be sighing with jealousy of what was rather than the excitement of what is. Sure, I could change my tune…but I know I am not the only one who ponders the same curiosities.
Our sport won’t be leaving the Olympics any time soon, so our best bet is to stay true to what we know and love. Embrace those eager to learn about our sport. Support the skiers who represent us well. And, and the end of the day, honor the brands that you know honor the core of what skiing is–and was always meant to been–about: