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Giving Thanks for Online Ski Forums

Jamesj
By: Jamesj
Posted 11/25/13  Last updated 11/26/15  954 views  10 comments

 

Giving Thanks for Online Ski Forums

by Jim Kenney

 

Intro:  If you’re reading this there’s a chance that like me, you have an appreciation for online ski forums.  Pardon my bias, but I think EpicSki is one of the best.  I was first drawn to EpicSki about a decade ago for the stoke; that is, trip reports, photos, and video.  I couldn’t believe the nationwide/international reach of the place for first hand resort accounts, travel advice, and instruction talk.   I also found the site to be an amazing source of info on gear and all manner of cost savings with members (like Gear Reviews Editor Philpug) proffering more snow toys than an army of Santa’s elves.  It was like getting a new ski magazine in the mail every day of the year.

 

After you follow EpicSki or any good forum for a while it’s the warm fuzzy feeling of a trustworthy community that tends to keep you coming back.  In 2005 I started a thread on EpicSki about where to get a good après ski meal near a ski area 3000 miles from my home?  Answers began to magically pop-up on my computer screen within 15 minutes.  Cirquerider was the poster with the most useful input based on his local knowledge.  One week later after a Heavenly day of skiing with my kids we enjoyed an inexpensive and timely dinner at the restaurant he recommended.  He’s still here (Chief Moderator and Site Operations Manager) and so am I (Travel Correspondent).  We finally met for real last winter and had a good time skiing together, but the neighborliness between us was germinated online many years before.

 

I’d like to extend this discussion beyond EpicSki and talk about Online Ski Forums in general because they are numerous and vibrant, often serving devoted niche audiences while fostering boundless grassroots enthusiasm for our great sport.  I don’t have the background to layout an exhaustive history of internet discussion boards and please forgive me if I omit or mischaracterize your favorite ski-related forums.  This is merely a humble attempt to paint the landscape with a broad brush and reflect on the value of online ski forums.  I will cite the handful of forums I am most familiar with to illustrate various points.  Perhaps this discussion will be a springboard for member input and further retrospection on the topic.  I encourage anyone to post comments at the end of this piece with their opinions on ski forums and how to maximize their utility.

 

Online Forums draw participants from throughout the US and foreign countries including Steelers Country - Seven Springs, PA (Photo by Jim Kenney):

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Scope:  The range of online forums addressing North American skiing and snowboarding is pretty amazing.  Just a sampling from my own limited knowledge includes the following “communities”:  EpicSki for all types of nationwide info with a good dose of gear and instruction talk, TGR for trip reports from elite athletes and hardcore ski bum chat, AlpineZone for all things Northeastern skiing, FirstTracksOnline for good scoop on Utah/points west and a great daily ski news feature, NYSkiBlog for NY state discussions and outstanding feature writing on mountains less traveled, DCSki for a fine focus on mid-Atlantic skiing, SkiSoutheast for the surprisingly avid deep south community, and NELSAP/Snowjournal for fans of lost ski areas and Northeastern skiing. 

 

The list goes on and on.  Other forums I am less familiar with, but know have active followings include SkiDivas for all things lady skiing, Newschoolers for park rats and more, Killingtonzone for discussions on Killington and elsewhere, PAskiandride for Pennsylvania info, and SKIVT-L for Vermont discussions including backcountry. Also, English speakers can learn a great deal about European skiing from the UK based Snowheads forum.

 

Powder Day with DCSkiers at Timberline, WV (Photo by Jim Kenney)

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Origins:  For the purposes of this article I am using the term “forums” loosely, but what I mean are interactive online places where people discuss ski topics, as opposed to newsletters, online magazines, blogs, or websites where folks read about ski topics in primarily a receive-only mode.  Sometimes the line between the different worlds can blur, especially since the internet allows readers to comment on many articles.  Adding to the blurriness, many interactive ski forums are hosted as additional features by blogs, magazines, or other media websites.

 

Back at the dawn of email and the internet in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s there were email lists and Usenet Newsgroups that fostered interactive discussions on any topic under the sun, including skiing.  Email lists could be unwieldy for ongoing discussions and could splinter into unwanted topics.  SkiVT-L is an example of an email based listserv style discussion method focusing on all aspects of Vermont skiing. It began in 1988 and remains quite active to this day in an updated version. 

 

Newsgroups were more like a hybrid between email and current online forums.  Discussions were threaded, but initially not moderated.  Rec.skiing.alpine (RSA) was a notable example of a skiing-focused newsgroup that began around the same time as SkiVT-L.  In the “wild west” days of the early internet a lack of moderation and poster etiquette eventually doomed RSA to flame wars and cyber attacks.  It fell out of favor, but a less active form of RSA is still present on the web.

 

Around Y2K, plus or minus a few years, the current crop of online ski forums began to emerge.  EpicSki went live in 1998 as a collection of personal reflections and vacation photos with a primitive discussion forum.  But founder “AC” had created something that took on a life of its own. It was a concept that filled a need and in a format that drew writers, photographers, illustrators, and computer experts offering to contribute to the site. Soon everyone from skiing newbies to celebrated industry gurus began to participate in the EpicSki forums on a regular basis.

 

The online version of Powder Magazine also hosted a discussion forum during this timeframe.  That community of posters eventually migrated to the TGR forums around 2003.  The TGR site remains prominent today.  Paula's Ski Lovers and TelemarkTips are two additional examples of early ski forums.  Paula’s remains active.  TelemarkTips operated from 1998 to 2013 and recently closed due to waning operational interest and discord among participants.  DCSki is a website focused on mid-Atlantic skiing and is a poster child for the evolution of online forums at the regional level. It began in 1994 as an email newsletter and morphed into a robust online magazine that continues to host an active discussion forum.  NYSkiblog seems to be one of the newer magazine/forum start-ups.  I believe it has roots in earlier forums and is another fine example of snowriding stokage at the regional level.

 

A Community that Posts Together, Eventually Skis Together - Sugarbush, VT (Photo by Jim Kenney)

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Culture:  Contemplating an informal survey of online ski forums it appears that successful sites depend on some form of discussion etiquette agreed to by participants.  Common forum posting guidelines include the Golden Rule, courtesy, respect, privacy, no spam/porn/profanity, while compartmentalizing political, religious, or inflammatory off-topics.  Whether this is self-policed by peer pressure or enforced by designated moderators with the authority to ban abusers, some form of online “law” seems necessary to keep humankind’s baser instincts in check.

 

In the pseudo-anonymity of the internet (is anyone truly anonymous?) there is a free and useful flow of opinion and views, but for some there is also the temptation to unleash the inner beast.  Resist this.  My personal motto is, “always post like you’re speaking to someone face to face.” You never know when that person you just disrespected online is the one that could have given you a guided tour of their awesome home mountain on your next vacation. 

 

I think a coed-mix of participants is healthy for online decorum and some forums are better at this than others.  Diverse forum membership seems to cut down on the “locker room/who’s got the biggest skis” mentality and fosters civility, not to mention equal opportunity storm chasing. There is no denying that vanity posts (I plead guilty) about skiing or ski trips fuel many fine forum discussions.  A dash of ego and a dab of humility make it all go down easier. Also, unless you’ve got an Olympic medal hanging around your neck, NEVER assume you are trading online barbs with a lesser skilled snowrider.  From personal experience skiing with various forum members, I’ve found that people spending time online to discuss skiing in the month of August tend to have a higher likelihood of being zipperline bumpers, high speed tree dodgers, or PSIA certified instructors.:)

 

EpicSki Mother’s Day Support Group - Arapahoe Basin, CO (Photo by Trekchick)

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Benefits:  Besides the aforementioned stoke, trip info, gear advice, and discount alerts, online forums can be a great way to network for fun or advancement.  Personally, I’ve developed a lot of ski buddies over the years from forums and we all know the economies of scale that come from skiing with friends.  I can think of three marriages I’ve seen as a result of ski forum interactions.  The stuff people share can extend way beyond snowriding to include bereavement of lost loved ones and coping with life threatening illnesses.  Forums tend to become all-purpose support groups for those that hang around for a while.  In many ways they are the cyber version of the brick and mortar ski club my parents joined when I was young.

 

Maybe it’s because all the younger folks are on Facebook and Twitter, but sometimes I shake my head at how closely the demographic of some ski forums match my own circumstances.  There are a whole lot of us middle class 45-65 year old dudes going online for our virtual ski fixes.  However, the nature of ski forums makes them open to everyone and when the season gets underway participants of all ages and backgrounds may post for info, advice, or conditions reports.  If some social networks seem to facilitate an existing metropolis of relationships, online forums feel more like entering a village to make new friends.

 

No Generation Gap on the Snow - Mad River Glen, VT (Photo by Jim Kenney)

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Although I’ve never had any first hand involvement in ownership, I would suspect that online forums and message boards are not exceedingly profitable and for this reason may be somewhat dismissed in the history of the internet.  But should they be dismissed by the ski industry?  It is my humble opinion that online ski forums present a valuable grassroots voice.  We are the avid 15-150 days a season skiers/boarders.  We are the focus group, influencers, pulse of the market, early equipment adopters, purveyors of stoke, and ski trip advisors.  I think forums present plenty of opportunities for industry-consumer synergy given a necessary boundary line between honest brokering and product marketing.  We don’t want to be hoodwinked, but we don’t mind first shot at a new product or exclusive bargain.  I get a kick out of the occasional undercurrent of rivalry between different ski forums.  Membership is often overlapping, so it’s like we’re critiquing our own multiple personalities?

 

Returning to EpicSki as an enduring example of a ski forum, site managers tell me that in October 2003 it had 5,000 registered members. That was about the time I started as a “lurker”.  Despite some occasionally overwrought ski technique debates, as a longtime recreational skier I felt the participation of many professional ski instructors gave the early EpicSki considerable credibility.  Through inevitable membership and management turnover EpicSki has remained a vital place.  The site has grown in all metrics as it modernized over the years.  Today's membership roll tallies over 43,000.  Mountain News Corporation (publishers of OnTheSnow.com) purchased EpicSki in early 2013.  I'm hoping this brings sufficient financial standing to keep the site stable and around for a long time into the future.  So far there seems to be no objectionable corporate interference in the free flow of discussions.

 

EpicSkiers Celebrate a Wedding Day on a Powder Day - Northstar, CA (Photo by Bob Barnes)

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I can’t tell you the difference between Web 1.0, 2.0, or 3.0, but I think online ski forum communities will persist through all that stuff as long as they continue to provide valuable information and stoke in a supportive environment. What we’ve seen from forums that have succumbed over time is that bad content drives out good.  A living, breathing forum should always include unbiased, diverse, and passionate opinions, but for it to remain relevant it must cultivate credibility, civility, and most importantly - good times.  If we keep our virtual house in order, then when the snowflakes begin to fly we’ll all be better informed, better inspired, and better equipped to maximize our collective slopetime.

 

In my humble opinion online ski forums are at their best when they are all about spreading the love of skiing.  2013-2014 will be my 46th ski season.  I caught ski fever a long time ago, but I’m personally very grateful for all the cool stuff that comes my way via ski forums.  They have undoubtedly restoked my fires and enriched my skiing experience in the last ten years.  And who doesn’t love that every month of the year finding someone to talk skiing with is just a few key strokes away?  I’ll close with a quote from Mark Twain that kind of captures the marvelous multiplying effect online forums can have for this sport of ours.  “Grief can take care of itself.  But to get the full value of joy, you must have somebody to divide it with.”  Happy Thanksgiving all!

 

 

Comments (10)

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Nice piece, Jim.
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Great observations, Jim. Me being here talking to you online is just proof of your thesis. Jim and I meet at a Mid-Atlantic Gathering after exchanges online. Our get togethers are always among the of the highlights of the season.  I've made it out to a few National Gatherings and though not a yearly regular like so many I meet, I know that I'll be attending again when circumstances allow. That is the best of what an online community can do. The friends I've made here and the times we shared are really what keeps me coming back and motivates me to help build this community.
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Nice piece.  It really is a community. 
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Definitely found an online resource like epicski great for arming myself with as much information as possible. Finding yourself in the back-seat? No prob, you can do a quick search and find a dozen different little tricks to try next time you are on the slopes. Don't know proper lift etiquette (how do you bring your backpack on?). No biggie, you can just ask some of the veterans and avoid making yourself look like an ass.
 
It just takes so much of the guess-work out of some of the little things enabling you to have more fun-time on the slopes, and gives us something to do when we can't get out there during the warmer months.
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Thanks, that called it out like it really is, and my thanks to everyone for doing their part in making this an enjoyable forum to visit.
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Good article, well presented and written and true.  Most of us that have been here for awhile have a deep appreciation and connection with epic and the members.  Personally I really appreciate Epic and the benefits I have received and the few I have given.  A place for real skiers.
 
 
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Thanks for this post. I agree that epicski is a great resource. Just bought new skis after using my old ones for 13 years. Of course, I checked with a lot of shops and demo days but having this resource got me information from non-biased folks. Also, it's just nice to browse and learn new things about the sport and locations. Thanks to all!
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Thanks for the post -- snd thanks to the team for filling those endless, snowless summers (not to mention other seasons).  Best wishes for the holiday!
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Thanks for featuring this. 
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LIKE JIM SAID

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