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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Ski Tourism and the Love-Hate Local-Tourist Relationship

By Claire Botsy

beautiful ski viewIf you have never lived in a ski town you may not be aware of the effect that the ski tourism industry has on the respective area. Packing up the car for a weekend on the slopes may have you excited for getting back on your board, hitting up your favorite pizza joint in town, and staying at your usual abode in the mountains.  All of these ceremonial expenditures, from your lift ticket purchase to your apres ski pint at the pub, affect more than you know. 

Some may be confused why there was strong opposition and support alike by locals in the Reno/Tahoe area when the U.S. did not put a bid in for the 2022 Winter Olympics. To not do so would be denying the area's chance for fame and world-recognition, re-establishing the area as a winter sports mecca that rivals the Alps of Europe and the Andes of South America as well as more business for everyone; and to do so, to bring the Olympics back to where they were held in 1960, in what is known as Olympic Valley, would change the area irreversibly. 
But, while outsiders may see ski tourism as an asset to an area, many disagree, and have come to even resent ski tourism in their home towns.

Ski tourism has many different facets, many advantages, many disadvantages, but it undeniably becomes the face, or rather fa├žade, of an area. Disgruntled locals sometimes tend to develop a certain aloofness when it comes to tourists, scrounging up names for them to deride them on the mountain and mark their stools at the neighborhood dive bars. This territorialism stems from the fact that without the tourists, the ski towns wouldn’t be what they are, whether they would be better or worse off is debatable and an argument that no one can win. 

There is a dependence on tourists’ fickle fancy for winter sports and their desire for indulgences when they finish a day on the slopes. From massive operations, ski resorts namely, to local businesses as modest and unassuming as an outdoor clothing store, almost all depend on the surges of business they receive during the winter seasons.

ski tourism and localsWhile many winter destinations double as equally appealing summer vacation spots, the summers are not always as profitable as the winters. Weather is rarely consistent and bad weather means no work, a cruel punishment Mother Nature bestows without reason or notice. Seasonal work is not uncommon, usually it is the norm, and being able to secure year round work is a feat in itself. Every seasonal worker is familiar with the awkward month or so at the end of one season before the next season starts where there is no work: the winter snow has melted and resorts have closed, but the summer sports haven’t quite kicked off yet bringing in the summer tourists.

Many areas have suffered after ski tourism was absorbed in cheaper areas. The Black Forest (Schwarzwald) in Germany for example, used to be a very popular destination amongst European skiers, however, with plane tickets being cheaper than taking a train people opt to go to larger mountains further away offering more terrain and apres ski activities. The small towns suffer in varying degrees, usually causing locals to take on several occupations just to get by. Old ski jumps are left abandoned and events are held at larger ski resorts. Restaurants and inns are affected as well, closing when they don’t receive enough local business to subsidize the loss of the former ski tourism.

It seems as if everyone is in some kind of love-hate relationship: the local with the weather, the worker with the tourist, the businesses with everyone. Everyone is depending on something that is nearly impossible to predict and it drives everyone involved crazy. Ski towns are amazing examples of interdependent and colliding dynamic environments, all constantly changing to meet new demands and accommodating as best as possible with what they have to offer.  Understanding that there is stress present where people go to destress gives us insight into how ski towns operate and the fated love-hate relationship you will have with them.