Herman Smith-Johannsen is considered by many as the man who brought the sport of skiing to America. Born in Norway in the 1870s, he started skiing as a toddler. At the age of 24 he emigrated to the upper midwest and worked as a machinery salesman using skis to transport his wares. Johannsen moved to the Adirondacks in the 1920s and began designing nordic and downhill ski trails across the Northeast. He worked for the Lake Placid Club, Mont Tremblant, and Stowe Mountain Resort. Working with two other pioneers, Otto Schniebs and Hannes Scheider, he laid out trails on Marble Mountain, the first development on the slopes of Whiteface.
Wooden skis (left) aluminium skis (right)
Early skis were made of wood. Advances in ski technology included the cambered ski, invented c. 1850 and the Telemark ski invented in 1868. The use of hickory began in 1882; it allowed skis to be lighter and tougher. The use of metal was incorporated into ski designs in 1950 when Howard Head sold his new skis which consisted of a wood core sandwiched between two sheets of aluminum. The skis made turning and maneuvering easier making it a widely popular ski in the US and Europe.
In 1954, Dale Boison began to sell fiberglass skis in Santa Monica, California. The new fiberglass skis could be made shorter, making pivoting easier and were more durable in icy conditions. Since the transition to fiberglass skis, further advances have been made in skis, pole technology and boot technology.
In the early 1930s, the first ski resorts opened across the nation. Technological advancements and excitement generated by the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid helped downhill skiing grow. The first significant improvement was in 1934 when Bunny Bertram, a Vermont native, invented the first rope tow ski lift. Fueled by a Model T engine, the rope tow replaced the task of having to climb up the mountain in order to ski down it. Modern-day skiing came about in 1936 when the first chairlift was installed. This was a significant improvement as it increased the uphill capacity for resorts. The second major advancement occurred in 1954, when methods for artificially producing snow were invented.This new technology helped balance the sometimes sparse amounts of natural snow in the New York area. Without snowmaking, resorts were unable to compete against unpredictable weather patterns and some were forced to temporarily close operations during low snowfall seasons. Snowmaking has become increasingly vital to ski resorts and to the health of the ski industry. With increased costs and the increase in alternative entertainment venues, facilities started to offer skiers more than just good skiing, they began to offer restaurants, nightlife, non-skiing recreational activities, and additional skiing options such as snow tubing and night skiing.
Skiing: The Sport
1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY
The first alpine skiing competition was held in 1868 in Norway’s capital Christiania (now Olso) and won by Sondre Norheim. From there it spread throughout Europe and the US. The first slalom competition was held in Mürren, Switzerland in 1922.
The sport was brought to the world stage at the IV Olympics Games held in the 1936 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. In the debut of alpine skiing, men and women competed in the combined event which consisted of one downhill run and two slalom runs with the winner being the person with the lowest total time. In 1948, separate downhill and slalom races were added to the event list. In 1952 the giant slalom was added and in 1988 the super giant slalom (Super G) became an Olympic event.
The Lake Placid Games in 1980 marked the first use of artificial snow in an Olympic competition. The alpine skiing for the Lake Placid Olympics was held at Whiteface Mountain. Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark won the giant slalom and slalom for the men and Liechtenstein became the smallest country to produce an Olympic champion when Hanni Wenzel did the same for the women. Today there are five separate alpine skiing events held in the Olympic Games. They are downhill, super combined, slalom, giant slalom and super-G.
National skier visits from 1990-2012 have ranged from 46 million to 60 million. A skier visit, defined as “one person visiting a ski area for all or any part of a day or night one time,” is used to evaluate the overall performance of a particular season. The ski industry is affected by a number of factors including the amount of snowfall and weather during the season, the overall state of the economy, and disposable income. Given the number of challenges the ski industry faces, ski resorts have found innovative methods to compete and survive. A number of resorts, unable to keep up with the advancements in technology and rising infrastructure cost, have either merged or closed operations. Since the 1982-1983 ski season, 250 ski resorts have ceased operations nationally. New York State’s ski resorts, including those that are publicly operated, are in a very competitive environment. Of the 493 resorts operating nationwide in 2011-2012, New York accounted for almost 10 percent of the total with 50 resorts; more than any other state in the nation.
Skiing Industry Today
The Whiteface Lodge at Whiteface Mountain
Due to increased costs and the increase in alternative entertainment venues, ski resort managers have had to shift the focus of resorts away from being solely skiing destinations towards being a recreational destination. Resort managers are discovering that in order to continue to operate, their facilities must offer skiers more than just good skiing - people are looking for an overall package that offers restaurants, nightlife, non-skiing recreational activities, and additional skiing options such as snow tubing, and night skiing. To remain competitive, resorts in the Adirondacks have begun to make improvements to attract a large crowd.
During the 2011-2012 ski season, national skier visits increased by 5.9 percent to a record breaking 60 million visits. Relative to the rest of the nation, the Adirondack region has performed extremely well. During the 2011-2012 ski season, the Adirondack region attracted over 1 million visitors, which represents an increase of 10.8 percent from the previous season. Over the past 23 years, the Adirondack region has had a two percent average annual growth rate in skier visits per year compared to a 0.9 percent growth rate nationally .
 Snow Journal Desk. “2011-2012 Season U.S. Skier/Snowboarder visits could be record breaker.” 30 May 2012, http://snowjournal.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=547 For a complete list of sources please visit the link below: