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Quick now, who knows what week it was Jan. 18-26? Given that there are weeks marking everything from AIDS awareness to green vegetable appreciation it’s understandable that most people can’t keep track of which special cause or group is being celebrated on any given week. But last week was something that people in Whistler should have been marking, it was National Ski and Snowboard Week. You weren’t alone if you missed it. Whistler Mountain issued a press release (which we neglected to print) saying it was celebrating National Ski and Snowboard Week with a number of activities, although most of them — like equipment demos, ski and snowboard camps and recreational races — already take place most weeks during the winter. A few years ago Blackcomb started celebrating National Ski and Snowboard Week with some special Nancy Greene Ski League events, but I don’t know if they still do them. And that’s the point; who knows about National Ski and Snowboard Week? Or more precisely, do any non-skiers/boarders about National Ski and Snowboard Week? This is a sport that needs to generate new participants. Only about 4.4 per cent of the North American population skis or snowboards. If it wasn’t for snowboarding, the percentage might have fallen in recent years. The average active Canadian skier skis just five days a season. More evidence: despite the optimism and hype surrounding shaped skis this year, pre-season sales of skis were up only marginally from last year, and still significantly below what they were in the 1980s. While the big ski areas, like Whistler, have grown tremendously in recent years, that growth has come at the expense of smaller ski areas, rather than through an increase in the number of people who want to go sliding on snow. The number of North American ski areas has been declining for years, which helps those ski areas that are still around (and will be around for years to come), but it’s a trend which suggests there should be a stronger grass-roots following for the sport. By comparison, when was the last time you heard of an ice rink being closed because there wasn’t the population base to support minor hockey or figure skating programs? What the ski and snowboard industry really needs to do is get more people out to try the sport, and National Ski and Snowboard Week would be the logical time to do it. Rather than programs that offer discounts or clinics for people who already ski and snowboard, why not offers to the non-skiing/boarding public to try the sport? Colorado, which recognizes the importance skiing plays in its state economy, took steps this year to expand its skier/snowboarder base. Every Grade 5 student in the state now gets a ski passport, good for three free days of skiing or boarding at each of Colorado Ski Country’s 23 member resorts. The decision to aim the passport program at Grade 5 students was based on research that found people who learn to ski at age 10 are most likely to continue the sport throughout their lives, and that Grade 5 students represent the beginning of the Echo Boom, a section of the population expected to grow by 10 per cent in the next six years. Now, was that a week that just passed or an opportunity?

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