April 21, 2013

Skiing in Maine: It's best to keep a balance between 'sport' and 'business'

By Josh Christie

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With all the news of declining visits and flat growth, there are bright spots. Some particularly promising stats have come from Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month, an annual drive to bring new people to the slopes with discounted beginner packages.

The initiative, started in 2009, brought 153,000 new folks to ski areas in January -- an increase of 50,000 over 2012, and a far cry from the 20,000 participants when the program started.

The huge number is an encouraging sign. It suggests that while there are deterrents -- travel, expense, weather -- the desire to participate hasn't disappeared.

Here in the Northeast (and Maine in particular), where skier visits and participation have declined less than in other parts of the country, we're incredibly lucky to have a mix of different models serving skiers and snowboarders. From corporate ownership to community management to partnerships like the MRA, Maine is in many ways a laboratory for the ski business. Groups like Winterkids get kids started skiing, Gould and CVA turn them into world-class athletes, and Ski Maine strives to make skiing more affordable for everyone.

My father has confided to me that the easiest way to get disillusioned with the sport of skiing is to get too caught up in the business of skiing. Digging into the wax and wane of annual or decennial ski stats, it's easy to see where this sentiment came from. So I'll leave the deeper analysis to experts.

Happily, if you're looking at the skiing, it would be hard to call this season anything but a rousing success.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. Josh can be reached at:



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