Mountain Culture

The rise of nordic

8 minute read

Finally, we live in a world where technology allows us to share all the cool things we do with everyone we’ve ever met. It exposes people to a bunch of new things, and exposes things to a bunch of new people. It’s also made it easier to show off, driving millennials to take more frequent vacations, and to explore more obscure locations and experiences. The good news is, this desire to explore the world is starting to follow us home, leading to the possibilities of our backyards. And it’s changing the way we ski.


Let’s quickly go over a not entirely inaccurate history of skiing. Like 10,000 years ago, folks in northern Asia strapped crude planks to their feet using deer intestines and lumbered around on the snow with a gondolier’s pole for balance. Skis were born a tool. Not much changed until the 19th century, when leisure was invented and people had time to do things for fun, instead of just trying not to starve. Skiing was one of the things. Jumps were also invented at this time, probably.

In North America, ski jumping’s feats of old-timey daring were a popular spectacle. Who wouldn’t want to spend Saturday afternoon watching a bunch of mustachioed bureaucrats send it deep off a massive booter? Plus, before tv, this was solid entertainment, and it got people fired up on skiing. But jumping was, and still is, prohibitively hardcore. So, regular folks and their awkward cousins gravitated towards the other, less spectacular, side of the two-plank discipline: cross-country. What followed was a brief period in ski history where jumping, cross-country, and downhill coexisted, and used frighteningly similar gear.

Then chairlifts came and changed everything. Local ski hills flourished and the resorts of America’s destination ski industry emerged. Later, Warren Miller defined the sport aesthetically and helped make alpine the de facto form of skiing for a generation. The X Games made skiing and snowboarding cool for the generation that followed. Meanwhile, nordic on this continent existed on the fringe, for the nerdy or the impossibly scandinavian. This left two generations without much aspiration to get out on the “misery sticks.” However, I think it would be foolish to underestimate the robustness of a sport that’s been around longer than the wheel.

A perfect storm is brewing that will see nordic reach unprecedented heights. First off, alpine is too expensive for most young people, but they still want to ski. Second, sports like crossfit and those barbed wire obstacle course races have created interest for a new kind of “fun”: nordic is a masochistic good time. Third, barriers to entry are low, both physically and financially. Fourth, from an operational standpoint, nordic is simple. All you need is snow and some blazed trails, ideally some grooming. Finally, a decrease in car ownership among young people will make it harder for them to get to the ski hill, make the groomed tracks in your local park more appealing and conveniently align with discovering your backyard, which is cool. The stage is set for nordic’s return to supremacy.