Skiing Into the Future

By Billy Kidd

From Antarctica to Iran to New Zealand, Billy Kidd has literally skied the world. Since 1970, the Olympic silver medalist and world champion racer has not only been Steamboat’s director of skiing, he has been America’s premier spokesman on behalf of his sport. With his vast experience, he is uniquely positioned to consider what the next 50 years of skiing might bring.

Our sport will see many changes in the future, but the basic elements will remain the same: gravity, motion and freedom. Apply them to slippery slopes and you have skiing and riding no matter where you partake. Apply them to snow-covered mountains and you have heaven on Earth.

As we approach 2062, the gap between Olympians and Paralympians will close. Similarly, the performance gap between genders will blur. Adaptive skiers hold a key to the future of skiing: they are already utilizing bionic technology. At the London Olympics, South African runner Oscar Pistorius competed against able-bodied runners and raised the bar for adaptive athletes around the world.

Although some critics felt threatened by Pistorius’ Cheetah FlexFoot limbs, supporters noted that carbon fiber limb technology has not changed much in the past 15 years. They argue that Pistorius is a normal man with innate athletic ability, a competitive spirit, and a lot of drive. Those are the characteristics that have, and will continue to, inspire future athletes.

Guess what? You don’t necessarily need mountains – or snow.

Lindsey Vonn grew up skiing at Buck Hill, Minn., a 309-foot hill. She became the best skier in the world. In the future, any hill will do – even indoor ski areas, like the one in a shopping mall in Dubai. The ski world is expanding – one day we could have a Brazilian Olympic ski champion.

Global warming is one of the greatest hurdles that ski areas face in the future. As climate change makes snow coverage dicier in some places, plastic, like the material we have on Howelsen Hill’s jumps, will cover more trails. Snowmaking is often too expensive – and you don’t need snow to be a skier. The essence of sliding down the mountain stays the same – and that’s what is critical to our sport: past, present and future.

The best plastic I ever skied on was at a little ski area in Gatlinburg, Tenn. in the 1980s. It was like Astroturf, with a layer of little polyethylene beads spread over it, and an intermittent sprinkler system. You could actually carve turns on it, and skiers of all levels were having fun. The British presently lead the world with 154 artificial ski hills. In the future, I think they’ll exist everywhere.

This also enables ski areas to be in unconventional places, closer and potentially less cold weather gear-intensive for the sports’ growing number of fans. It will help promote diversity that has already taken root at Mountain High, 80 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, which earned a reputation as “the Ellis Island of ski areas” with roughly half its customers being nonwhite as of five years ago.

With the challenges of air travel, I predict people will increasingly rent the latest equipment. But for sheer comfort, most skiers will still own their own boots. I’ve been using the new Apex boots, which are changing boot design dramatically by being comfortable and warm – and dual sport so you can both ski and ride using the same boots. Plus, they use BOA Technology, a closure system designed in Steamboat Springs.

Helmets will become technological marvels, especially for racers. The competitors of tomorrow will visualize their run with the aid of a projector inside their goggles, feeding them information about conditions, speed and weather. All of us will enjoy full-face shields that keep out the wind, but still allow skiers to feel the cold air so they can bring all their senses into visualization.

Clothing will change too. New materials offer remarkably low thermal conductivity and can insulate from heat as well as cold. In the future, we’ll see weaves that expand when a skier is going downhill to allow ventilation, then contract on the lift to keep in warmth. They’ll be able to change color according to a programmable dial too.

Speaking of lifts; most will be covered, have padded seats and built-in charges to recharge personal media viewers and cell phones – and the once maligned “bubble” will be refined for good visibility just like the evolution of goggles.

From the start, beginners will learn on simulators resembling a video game in order to have their psychological breakthrough indoors without the cold and falling. Then they can move confidently onto the snow.

Within 50 years there will be an Olympic ski champion who is a Native American wounded warrior. In the finish line interview, she will thank Mother Earth, Mother Nature, and the Heavenly Spirits. And she will donate her winnings to the Nature Conservancy and Special Olympics athletes throughout the world.

“The further backward you look, the further forward you can see.”
— Winston Churchill

Reviewing the remarkable developments of the last 50 years of skiing helps to set the stage for what skiing might be like in the next 50. My look back takes me to Chamonix, France for the 1962 World Championships with my teammates Buddy Werner, Jimmie Heuga, Billy Marolt and our coach Bob Beattie.

How did I get there? A native Vermonter who skied at age 5 and raced by age 12, I continuously used skiing to avoid study hall. I made the U.S. Ski Team my senior year in high school, which then landed me at the University of Colorado with one of my heroes, Buddy Werner – the best skier in America, and sometimes the world.

My other hero was Andrea Mead Lawrence, also from Vermont, who won two gold medals in the ’52 Olympics in Oslo. In the slalom she fell down, climbed back up for a gate, and still won the gold. She never gave up. She was the fiercest competitor I ever saw. I wanted to ski like Andrea and Buddy.

1964 was the last time we used wooden skis and leather boots in the Olympics. The bindings’ release factor was when the screws pulled out of the ski. When I see old footage of those Olympic runs, it looks like slow motion.

The equipment has changed so much, but basic technique and race psychology are the same. We pushed ourselves to the limit, then looked for more speed. In Innsbruck, my teammate, Jimmie Heuga, won the bronze and I won silver in slalom. We were pretty happy to be the first American men to win Olympic medals in alpine skiing.

I missed the gold that year by .14 of a second. I spent the next six years trying to make that up. By the time I won the gold at the World Championships in 1970, I seriously appreciated the difference between bronze, silver and gold.

One of my contemporary heroes is 11-year-old Delaney Tyon, a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe from South Dakota. He’s the first Native American to become a national champion in ski racing by winning a gold medal in the NASTAR Finals. Rapid City’s TV station did a story about him and somebody sent me the clip. Not only did I see an outstanding young skier, but when he got to the bottom of the hill he stopped and thanked his family and those who helped him. When I also learned that he did well in school I remember thinking, “This kid could be the future of skiing.”

Suzy Chaffee, my 1968 Olympic teammate, and I are working together to build the Native American Olympic Team Foundation, which promotes skiing and other sports among Native American people. Skiing vs. riding – it doesn’t matter as long as you’re out there.

Many years ago I served on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. It gave me a chance to bring attention to skiing, both alpine and Nordic. Whether you ride on two boards or one, you’re helping change the course of health problems like obesity and diabetes. In traditional American sports, the older kids get, the less chance of participation they have.

But skiing is multi-generational, a good way to get exercise. It’s about personal challenge, and with skiing you can choose your own level of adrenaline to rock your world. That’s why the future of skiing looks so good.

Billy Kidd asked a few of his friends in the ski industry to join the conversation. “Everybody knows my background,” Kidd says. “Let’s see what the experts in fields from resort management to ski technology have to say.”

“Twenty-first century technology cannot change the essence of winter sports. There is nothing comfortable in being alone at the top of a stormy mountain preparing to negotiate the ever-changing icy terrain at blistering speeds. To be successful in this realm, one must be resilient, adaptable, tough. That is the past, present and the future.”
Deb Armstrong, Olympic gold medalist and alpine program director for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club

Nelson Carmichael at the top of his namesake/Photo by Deborah Olsen

“First off, I think during the next 50 years, we'll see a number of unique new resorts finally developed. Even better, though, zero-emission fuel cell-powered, airborne personal access vehicles, or ZEFCPAPAV's, will zip us anywhere we want to explore. Of course, new rules will be implemented, due to increased air traffic and avalanche hazards, but we'll get used to it. Secondly, equipment will become practically transparent and invisible as hard goods will become much, much lighter and without sacrificing performance. It will feel like we're only wearing fast shoes. Finally, clothing will self-regulate — deeming layering unnecessary, and we'll never be cold or wet again. Sign me up for another 50 years!”
Nelson Carmichael, Olympic medalist, Steamboat Springs

Billy Demong, 2010 Olympic Gold Medalist/Courtesy U.S. Ski Team/Sarah Brunson

“From Lake Placid, New York to Steamboat Springs, Colo., and Lillehammer, Norway, to Chamonix, France, I've seen skiing evolve from a winter-only sport to a year-round pursuit where elite athletes chase the white stuff around the world, and imaginative engineers find new ways to make snow and substitute it with porcelain and plastic. In the coming years, I hope we can band together to preserve and sustain our snow, one of our most valuable resources for water as well as recreation! So that in 50 years, our children's children will continue to break barriers!”
Billy Demong, Nordic Combined Olympic Gold Medalist, 2010, and World Champion, 2009

“A year-round community of students, at the secondary and college level, pursuing their studies in Steamboat while participating in a variety of elite sports academies. The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club will be the largest, but by no means the only such training center. {We may] see mountain and road cycling, lacrosse, even a rowing center.

Because of the overall quality of life in our community, we have a vibrant population of non-place-based employers and employees. Many of these businesses have a travel industry focus.

Steamboat is renowned for its restaurants, especially on-mountain. During summer, much as in Europe, guests hike or bike to a variety of on-mountain restaurants.” Chris Diamond, President & COO, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation

“I think skiing will be one of those sports that allows you to have self-adjusting gear head-to-foot. Clothes in sync with elements/environment, goggles not only with GPS and video but that change like the iris of your eyes for max visibility. If you don't get legendary Steamboat powder on a given day, there will be manmade-powder runs guaranteed to please — for an additional charge. There will also be a Billy Kidd hologram, on the gondi ride up, showing you how to ski with ease in waist-deep powder on the world-famous tree-ski run Shadows.”
Chad Fleischer, Two-time alpine Olympian, President/Founder Fleischer Sport

“Future-think wizards and management consultants didn't predict the explosion of freestyle and cross-country skiing in the 1970s, nor snowboarding in the 1990s. They were spontaneously introduced by skiers. In 50 years, the sport will be whatever skiers devise. All the ski industry has to do is to provide the equipment and facilities, and get out of the way.”
John Fry, “The Story of Modern Skiing”

“I believe the future of skiing is indeed very bright. The attention being paid to the quality of the skiing experience by the resort community is really extraordinary. The advent of shaped skis has made the sport easier to learn in the early stages and more exciting to experience for the accomplished skier. I only hope that the performance, comfort, and convenience of ski boots will catch up with the resorts and skis to propel a return to growth in skier participation in the years ahead.”
Denny Hanson, Apex Ski Boot Systems

“I appreciate your confidence in me to be able to think out 50 years. I actually am having a tough time thinking back 50 years. But here you go.
Actually in the next 50 years, I see a revival of skiing and snowboarding similar to the early ‘70s, due to the passing of the ‘legacy’ by us baby-boomers to our grandkids and the need and desire for families to be together in a healthy, exciting activity. There is no other activity like snow sports, where all levels of ability can have so much fun together. With the amazing development of equipment and grooming on the slopes, we can all have smiles on our faces while participating in skiing and snowboarding.”
David Ingemie, President, SnowSports Industries America (SIA)

Eric Larsen, polar explorer/Courtesy Eric Larsen

“The correlation between a warming climate and overall decrease in global snowpack is fairly direct; however, the most dramatic effects will be the increase frequency and severity of storms, increased droughts and overall instability in 'normal' weather patterns. Having a 'regular' or 'normal' ski season will be a thing of the past.”                                                                                                                   Eric Larsen, modern-day polar explorer polar explorer, dog musher, adventure racer and educator who led a skiing expedition to the South Pole in 2009

"Some of our biggest strides in becoming a Best in the World Team over the last decade have related to science - both in maximizing equipment technology and physical conditioning. As I look to the future, I see science and equipment technology continuing to play a vital role in elite athletics. But as a lifelong coach, I still feel it needs to work side-by-side with goal-setting and hard work, along with the motivational factor our great sport heroes bring to youth."
Bill Marolt, President and CEO, U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association

Skiing has always been the same since I made my first turn in 1937. Everything around skiing has changed dramatically, though, from uphill transportation to grooming, to slope-side condos, $110 one-day lift tickets and $1,400 skis! Economics are severely restricting entry-level skiers, but the search for freedom goes on. And on the side of a hill is where you can find it.
Warren Miller, filmmaker


Klaus Obermeyer, doing the old tip roll/Courtesy Klaus Obermeyer

“Steamboat Springs can be proud of producing 78 Winter Olympians in the past 50 years. I have personally been friends with Billy Kidd and Buddy Werner —both of them the greatest ambassadors for the sport of skiing in America and abroad. Steamboat Springs’ "Champagne Powder" will be the basis of a great future for skiing and boarding for the next 100 years!”
Klaus Obermeyer, founder of Sport Obermeyer

“I continue to be impressed and amazed by the resiliency of our industry. Then again there is no other sport or activity that provides unforgettable experiences in incredible mountain settings where friends and family gather to celebrate and enjoy the freedom of skiing and snowboarding. With this momentum, our industry is poised for another 50 years of making lasting impressions on people’s lives.”
Rob Perlman, senior vice president of sales & marketing, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp.


Johnny Spillane, 2010 Olympic Silver Medalist

“I'm really looking forward to seeing ski jumping and Nordic Combined in 50 years. Every year the jumps get a little bigger and the athletes get a little better. Its been fun to watch the progression as I have gotten older and I'm sure that in 50 years they’ll look at what we are doing now and laugh!
I would love to see Nordic Combined come back to the United States. Because the sport has grown so much in popularity in Europe, it's been tough for us to afford a World Cup competition. I only got to compete in one World Cup in Steamboat, but I can remember watching the generation before me compete every year and I would really like to see that come back. One of my main goals now is to help our younger skiers build off our success, become even better, and bring the Nordic Combined World Cup back to Steamboat and the USA!”
Johnny Spillane, Nordic Combined Olympic Silver Medalist, 2010, and World Champion, 2003

“One’s ‘thoughts,’ seen as neural activity, will ultimately control ski equipment, i.e., one will not just be wearing ski boots, thoughts will interact, in milliseconds, with one's ski boots and skis. Thanks to advances in neuroscience, electrical engineering and computer technology, ski boots and skis will be felt as an extension of one's neural system, not just an "add on." Advances of neuropsychology will provide the skier with greater emotional control over anxiety to optimize performance and will allow ‘cognitive maps’ (of ski courses) to directly translate into immediate neuro-based responses.”
Dr. Joseph Trzasko, Neuropsychologist, who has worked with Wounded Warriors
Neuropsychology's Contribution to the Future of Skiing

Delaney Tyon, 11-year-old NASTAR champion

Fifty years from now:
* health/fitness of skiers will improve
* equipment will be safer and more high tech
* technique will remain the same
* snowmaking will improve
* the spirit of competition will become stronger
*I will coach a Native American Ski Team that will dominate and rule the slopes!”
Delaney Tyon, 11-year-old member of the Oglala Sioux nation, gold medal NASTAR champion

“Half a century from now, skiing will be more colorful – and I don’t mean skiwear or equipment graphics. Snow sports will become more multicultural. Through immigration and population growth, what are collectively thought of as minority groups will become the majority. This will occur by 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Some of the country’s new immigrants will arrive with education from their countries of origin and will move easily into the middle classes. Other minorities are longtime residents who have moved up the socio-economic ladder. Whatever their provenance, they will be hitting the slopes.”
Claire Walter, veteran ski writer, author and blogger, Boulder