Vulnerable Adult Learners.
There is a general hunger, amidst a Covid-battered public, for our extreme sports. I am a surf journalist, of course, and have plied my trade on the ocean’s edge but oooooeee. If there ain’t ten times as many utter VALs (Vulnerable Adult Learners) in the water. 20 times. It’s a dangerous disaster of people not knowing what they’re doing, clogging already tight breaks.
Making life hell.
In the mountains, my birthright, things are downright out of control. Utah is in the midst of its deadliest avalanche season on record. Experts blame Covid creating a severe hunger for our extreme sports, exorbitant resort costs driving these VALs to the backcountry, a tough snowpack.
One of the hottest commodities last spring, just after coronavirus outbreaks shut down ski resorts, was climbing skins. As hard to find as toilet paper and hand sanitizer, stores couldn’t keep the long strips — lined with nylon or mohair and attached to skis for easier uphill traversing — on the shelves. Online outlets had them on back order.
Diegel said that was a natural extension of a trend that has developed over the past decade. Though alpine ski growth has mostly remained stagnant since the late 1970s, backcountry touring has experienced a surge of interest, propelled mainly by gear that made accessing and skiing the backcountry both easier and safer. But it also gained momentum from a backlash against the expense, hassle and restrictions of skiing or riding at resorts.
Between the start of the 2016 season and the 2019 season, Snowsports Industries America reported sales of alpine touring equipment and backcountry accessories grew 81%. In a report last month, SIA’s Nick Sargent said alpine touring sales swelled by 104% between August 2019 and March 2020. And that didn’t include splitboards — a snowboard that can be split into two planks and used like skis for uphill travel — which he said added another $5 million in sales nationwide.
“There wasn’t much that was needed to push people over the edge, but the whole COVID thing pushed people over the edge,” Diegel said. “Some people bought puppies and some people made sourdough bread and some people bought a lot of backcountry gear that they’d been thinking about buying for a while anyway.”
But how to fix? Shame VALs severely? Sort a modern way to clip tickets?