My all-time favorite Skiing cover was a shot of a soaring hippie in skin-tight stretch pants splayed out against a cobalt sky in a joyous backscratcher. We made a T-shirt out of it. The pages were filled with images of beautiful women in braids snaking down mogul fields or basking in the sun in bikini tops. The ads featured western-looking dudes wearing nonironic mustaches, leaning against Chevrolet Impalas with their skis or enjoying peppermint schnapps from bota bags.
The vertical ceased print publication this winter, after decades of great story after great story.
By Marc Peruzzi, Outside Magazine
After nearly 70 years of publishing, Skiing magazine printed its final issue this winter—ultimately consumed by its milquetoast longtime sister title, the bigger and marginally more profitable Ski magazine.
If you’re confused about the difference between Ski and Skiing magazines and why a series of publishing houses would have bothered carrying both titles for the past 20-plus years, you’re not alone. I was the editor of Skiing magazine for six years, in the early 2000s, and even I was never clear on the reasoning. But for most of its long history, Skiing offered a unique and, at times, vital take on the sport.
Like many vertical titles, Skiing started out as a glorified regional newsletter for skiing purists interested less in the pomp and luxuries of the early days of the sport than in just getting out and ripping around in wool pants and leather boots. The magazine was big on instruction (the sport was young), gear, and new places to ski, of which there were legion in the years after World War II, as 10th Mountain Division troops returned from Europe and pioneered the West and hundreds of local hills sprang back to life in the Northeast.
In the winters that followed, Ski (still a separately owned rival at that time) focused on already stodgy ski racing and stuffy resorts, while Skiing focused on everyday skiers. The positioning nicely set up Skiing as a mouthpiece for what came next: the sport’s first truly American movement (as opposed to European-influenced racing), the Hot Dog era of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
As hair got longer in the Age of Aquarius, skis got shorter and the sport got fun. My all-time favorite Skiing cover was a shot of a soaring hippie in skin-tight stretch pants splayed out against a cobalt sky in a joyous backscratcher. We made a T-shirt out of it. The pages were filled with images of beautiful women in braids snaking down mogul fields or basking in the sun in bikini tops. The ads featured western-looking dudes wearing nonironic mustaches, leaning against Chevrolet Impalas with their skis or enjoying peppermint schnapps from bota bags. General advertisers wanted to be affiliated with the sensual, vibrant, rebellious, athletic-for-athleticism’s-sake movement as seen through the pages of Skiing. The sport, and the magazine, boomed. I still see one of Skiing’s ad reps from that golden era—he retired to Baja off the ad revenues he made, but he summers in Colorado. He and his mustache drive around Baja in a golf cart packed with ice-cold beers.
My favorite Skiing story from the early 1970s was written by Bob Woodward (the ski writer and the one-time mayor of Bend, Oregon, not the Watergate reporter). Neither flowery nor tension-riddled, the narrative simply documented Woodward’s extended road trip as a penniless ski bum wandering from resort to resort, sleeping in his truck, discovering new places to ski, and meeting kindred spirits. That story, and the magazine, captured what it was to be a skier in that moment in time. That’s not easy to do.
But skiing trends come and go, and the Hot Dog movement faded like your grandfather’s padded sweater. Powder skiing was the next craze, captured almost spiritually by Powder magazine in its early years. Blissfully, that subset never died. The extreme skiing of the 1980s followed, but the films of Greg Stump captured that movement better than any one print title. Then snowboarding came along, and the New York Times went so far as to say the sport of skiing was dead. (Yeah, and the Gray Lady also predicted Hillary would trounce the Mango-in-Chief.) For a time, Freeskier magazine rode a youthful wave of park and pipe skiers borne out of the demise of mogul skiing, but freeskiing is now a niche of a niche sport. Skiing participation has flatlined for 20 years. Snowboarding, sadly, is in decline. Backcountry skiing has the energy now, but its high cost of entry—dying in an avalanche—will meter participation as the larger sport awaits the next revolution.
Over the decades, Skiing’s relevance rose and fell with the trends and the times, but what ultimately killed it was its own success. As the sport of skiing lost its appeal to general advertisers in the late 1980s and skiing participation fell in the early 1990s, the gravy days ended, but the corporations that owned Ski and Skiing couldn’t let go. In their attempt to regain those car and booze ad buyers, they did what most mainstream magazines do: artificially inflated their circulations. Sign up for a coin-operated ski race or buy a ski pass to Vail, and you wouldn’t get charged for Skiing magazine again. Paid subscribers left, the general ads never came back, and now Facebook’s easily quantifiable ROI (return on investment) is taking a mortal swipe at what remains of the sort of brand building that magazines of all types were built on. It didn’t help that Bonnier Corporation, the multinational prior owner of Skiing before current owner AIM Media, stopped printing Skiing for a season in some reckless experiment in so-called desktop publishing.