Midwestern Variety

John R. LaPlante

If variety is the spice of life, I’d like to point out six ways in which we have variety in the world of snow sports: venues for lift-served skiing and snowboarding; alternatives to downhill skiing and snowboarding; events; personal stories; technical and business issues; and media platforms.

Variety of venues for lift-served skiing and snowboarding

Historically, NASJA has focused on lift-served terrain. The ski areas in the Midwest may lack the vertical of resorts in the Rocky Mountain west, but that isn’t so say they’re identical. Compare, for example, Mt. Bohemia, a remote, backcountry-like experience in Michigan, to Hyland Ski and Snowboard area, a freestyle-friendly hill from which you see the skyscrapers of downtown Minneapolis. And while Bohemia’s accommodations are, in a word, spartan, Boyne Mountain offers high-end lodging. In short, you’ll find variety within the lift-served world of the Midwest.

Variety of sports available

The Midwest has a lot of options for downhill skiing and snowboarding, from resorts located in major urban areas to those at more remote locations. But we can enjoy snowy goodness in many other ways as well. There’s Nordic skiing, skiing with dogs or horses (skijoring), and telemark (free heel) skiing. Then there is the related phenomenon of ski jumping. Don’t forget animal-powered locomotion. Dog mushing and skijoring put some animal power into the equation, but still call for significant human involvement. Thanks in part to “fat bikes,” mountain biking isn’t limited to dirt trails. Throw in sledding/tobogganing, snow tubing, snowshoeing, snowball fights and of course building a snowman and you’ve got plenty of activities. Some challenge, while others are more likely to be simple fun. Speaking of simple fun, how about some snow angels, anyone?

Variety of events, for viewing and participation

While it’s certainly possible to enjoy snowy goodness on your own, the Midwest has plenty of fascinating events where people come together. Minneapolis hosts the City of Lakes Loppet, the nation’s largest urban celebration of Nordic skiing. Western Wisconsin hosts the American Birkebeiner, a world-class marathon for Nordic skiers. In the canine version of running on the snow, we have the UP 200 (Michigan) and the John Beargrease (Minnesota).

Early in the 2013-2014 season, Minneapolis was one of the few cities to host the Downtown Throwdown, which converts an urban parking lot into a place where snowboarders can demonstrate today’s equivalent of yesteryear’s hotdoggers. The Birmingham Rail Jam, meanwhile, has established its place on the snowsports calendar in metro Detroit.

Whether it’s NASTAR and recreational racers, or the Olympic hopefuls who train at Buck Hill and at other locations, downhill ski racing is prominent, too.

Variety of personal stories

The small child who thrills in sliding on snow for the first time. The mature adult who takes a snowboarding lesson because it’s on her bucket list. The wounded veteran who is using adaptive skiing as a way to come to terms with his new life. The racing mom who follows her ski-racing daughter from event to event. The dog musher who decides to leave the rat race behind and start a business training dogs and giving tourists rides. The mountain biker who finds a new solace by taking the bike to snow-packed trails.

Wherever you turn, there are people who have used snow-based recreation as a way to improve their lives.

Variety of technical or business stories

While snow is natural, human imagination and discipline are on display on the snow-based world. Snowmaking, which supplements natural snowfall, is a work of science, engineering, skilled labor, and hard work. Business owners must use their creativity to attract customers who are increasingly offered other forms of recreation and amusement. What constitutes an acceptable, inherent risk in skiing, and what responsibilities do resort operators have? In a world of people, legal questions shape what we do, for good or ill.

Variety of media platforms

People have used a lot of means for telling stories to each other: Oral tradition, parchment, the printing press, the telegraph, radio, and now because of smart phones, a world wide web of information in the palms of our hands. Traditional media gatekeepers such as newspapers and specialized print magazines have been supplemented by enthusiasts, amateurs, and the self-employed. Yet through it all, we play show and tell, showing people aspects of the snowy world, and telling them some part of it.

Looking forward

So there you have it: Six ways of looking at the variety within the world of snowy goodness, and this is just a scratch on the surface. If we are to expand the reach of NASJA, we should keep this variety in mind. There’s a lot to consider, but if tap into the energy and creativity this variety represents, we can find new members, new experiences, and new benefits for all of us.


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