Me, Myself, as Mommy: Back in my day … winter fun was much more affordable
I haven’t enjoyed winter for 30 years, not since I was a kid in Clinton City. Our neighborhood had this old train track perched on a hill that eventually went over a “road”, so a tunnel was created. It was a magical part of growing up in a rural area before the Starbucks, Kohl’s and Lowes; instead, we had road-side asparagus, fields and a condemned overpass. I use the word magical because no doubt the whole setup was dangerous for us kids, irritating for our parents, both essential ingredients for a great childhood. Each time we scaled those tracks, it was an adventure. Clinton City has since pulled out the tracks, knocked down the underpass to make an actual road and create the Rio Grande trail. A great decision, but one that destroyed a delightful oddity of the area.
These tracks were a highlight of an otherwise dreary season. Dozens of kids would line sleds up at the top of this rocky hill, freshly painted with snow, and literally dodge moving cars at the bottom. One kid I grew up with was the Scut Farkus of the neighborhood, terrorizing and entertaining us in tandem. He would literally try to get drivers to swerve off the road to miss him as he darted across the street on a lubed-up sled. I can even remember him lying in the road as the fire engine carrying Santa mazed through our hood. I wonder if he made it to adulthood …
Now that I’m old, I go sledding with my kids strictly to keep them from being kidnapped or suffocating one another in the snow. I have a love-hate relationship with this season. I love being left alone; I hate being cold. I have a bad winter attitude, one I don’t want to pass on to my children as cold temperatures are a fact of Northern Utah life.
When each of my children hit kindergarten, we enrolled them in ski lessons. My husband is an avid skier, his wife is an avid watcher, meaning it’s important our kids learn to ski so he has someone to go with and I relinquished all guilt over my sour winter attitude. Northern Utah, especially in the ’90s, got lucky with podunk resorts like Power Mountain, Snowbasin and Nordic Valley. Now these resorts are world class, including the ski schools. The patience these instructors show as small bodies litter the bunny hill, both from falling and from pouting, makes them worth every penny. Two of my kids enjoy the snow, the littlest has too much of his mother, choosing to stay in the lodge with the snacks and boiler.
My family’s enjoyment does not come cheap. Winter sports are quickly becoming out of reach for so many middle-class families. Yes, I’m going to pull out the phrase “in my day” because in my day, a single pass to Nordic Valley was $7; now it’s 10 times that price. Nordic, in my day, also had a shanty for a bathroom, maybe three lifts and shared the same appeal as a busted train track. It makes sense the cost would go up, but Nordic continues to be the most affordable resort in the area. I’ve also heard Powder Mountain is still trying to keep prices low so any person can enjoy the once public mountains. Skiing is no longer just a hobby, it’s a financial commitment to any family looking to make it a centerpiece to their winter life.
This doesn’t seem to be putting a damper on the number of people skiing or the revenues. Snowbasin is looking to expand with a hotel, more lifts and a village to bring in those tourists, costing millions and most likely pricing out the locals, if that isn’t already the case. One thing I’ve learned, expansion and progress are inevitable; all that can be done is a little delay. Snowbasin is certainly getting the word out on the once unknown resort with “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” shooting multiple episodes at Earl’s Lodge as a centerpiece to the deranged women fighting over a “Finsta” account. If Snowbasin is working to get this type of coverage from a major network, showcasing it as a high-end resort, it’s clear they’re leaving the local consumers behind, aiming for a wealthier clientele.
Skiing is no longer the sport for middle-class families; instead, our mountains are becoming the playground for the wealthy. I can remember my parents — one a teacher, the other a mailman — taking us four kids skiing a couple of times a year (I sat in the shanty drinking hot cocoa, similar to what I do today). That same trip — between the passes, rentals, gas, parking, food and clothing — would cost at least a grand today. Your teachers and civil workers would need to make some major sacrifices for a day on the slopes. If it sounds like I’m complaining, it’s because I am. At this point, even if I wanted to take up skiing with my family I wouldn’t, just to save us a few hundred bucks.
The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) follows trends of affordability and found that while resorts are basking in record-breaking revenues, the landscape of enthusiasts is dwindling. An entire generation is growing up without the experience of winter sports because their parents can’t afford to take them on the slopes. For many, their attitude is certainly on board with the notion of fewer people on the runs; for me, it’s just sad. Most of the resorts in our area currently offer student rates. At Nordic, they even have kids skiing free. These programs make me excited at the notion resort owners can see a problem with their demographics. Even so, NSAA says attendance of those making under $100,000 dropped 25%. The median income of customers was $172,000 while the median income for this country is $78,442, according to CNBC. As a side note, those on the lower end of the economic scale in the U.S. make an average of $25,624 — you know, the cost of a season pass to the resorts in Park City.
Why does it matter if an entire generation of kids don’t learn to love winter sports? Mental health is an easy one for me to understand, as it’s a struggle for me year after year as I slog through overcast skies, cold and dirty air. I want my kids to look forward to the snow, especially as teens. Making snow sports unaffordable to these families means we lose an entire group of future environmentalists. If kids can appreciate what our mountains, forests and water give us, they’re more likely to protect and sustain the environment. This is why snapping into a pair of skis, a snowboard, snowshoes or even a sled is so much more than good, clean fun; it’s a lesson in preservation.
Looking back, my parents shouldn’t have been irritated by my fascination with the death-trap train tunnel; instead, they should have appreciated how easily entertained I was (am). The tunnel didn’t cost them anything but constant concern for my life. It appears it takes more than rubble to keep my kids entertained. So while I look forward to another season of fireside beers at the bottom of a run, I will dread the money spent. Will it always be enough?
Meg Sanders worked in broadcast journalism for over a decade but has since turned her life around to stay closer to home in Ogden. Her three children keep her indentured as a taxi driver, stylist and sanitation worker. In her free time, she likes to read, write, lift weights and go to concerts with her husband of 17 years.