Okay, let me see if I've got this straight. The Middle East, an area of the world that isn't going to see a speck of snow unless some sheik decides he's importing a few truckloads to satisfy a wild urge, is the biggest obstacle I have to deal with in getting my ski fix? Where's the justice in that?
Fact is, gas prices, and the whims of the sheiks and princes that lord over OPEC (don't get me started on George W. and his Texas oil cronies), have a huge influence on how often my family and I ski and ride this winter. Unlike our esteemed NESJ editor, we don't live in the heart of ski country, tucked away in New Hampshire's White Mountains. Instead, we make our home in Hamilton, on Boston's North Shore. And the trip to some decent incline (no disrespect to Bradford Ski Area intended) got considerably more expensive when gas jumped to $2 per gallon. Are the dollar signs at the pump insurmountable? No, probably not. Are they a hindrance? Absolutely.
Now, here's the really absurd twist – I used to ski a lot more while earning a lot less. Guess adult-size responsibilities – mortgage, kids, bills, college funds – will do that to you. And, admittedly, that odd ski-to-salary condition of mine relates as much to elevated expectations as it does to the sticker shock attributed to gasoline and lift tickets. Unfortunately, however, the discount bus caravan/ski ticket packages aren't a viable option anymore (I'm not ready to subject my impressionable youngsters to that potential debacle … at least not yet). Neither is hitchhiking to the mountain, sleeping in the back seat of your buddy's VW with double-stuffed sleeping bags, bumming for unused tickets, or subsisting on a diet that consists of doughnuts, coffee and "are you gonna finish that?" cafeteria seconds.
Yeah, yeah, I can just hear all those folks who pride themselves on being "real skiers" boasting about how nothing gets between them and their turns. Well, let me tell you, I was a real skier once, before "real life" somehow got in the way. And spiraling gas prices, I assure you, will be the proverbial last straw for a lot of ski nuts. It's a lock that we'll be expected to absorb some of those "crude oil" costs in a higher lift ticket price, since energy is the Numero Uno expense for ski areas, and probably a small bump in our lodging costs as well. So, with my family of four, at more than $50 a whack for lift tickets on the weekends (still a relative bargain, to my mind), I'm looking at a daily bill that exceeds $200 just to get up the hill. Now add all the ancillary costs, such as the gear, on-site day care, lessons, the aforementioned lodging, etc. etc., and it doesn't take an Einstein to realize the drain a day on the slopes takes on the family budget. Many of us were already on the fence, so the "incremental" argument doesn't wash. The accumulative effect, capped off buy bloated gas prices, is demoralizing at best, and a vacation killer at worst.
Making things a bit more dicey, finance-wise, is that we recently opted to buy a secondhand SUV, a nice Mitsubishi Montero, to haul our crew. It's another one of those mid-life circumstances. With two young daughters, the trusty Subaru wagon was great for our little nuclear family (aided nicely by my patented anti-minivan device, a Thule cargo box). But once the girls wanted to bring friends, the Subaru quickly became too cramped for comfort. Spoiled by the confidence-inspiring feel of all-wheel drive, my wife and I quickly ruled out a front-wheel drive minivan. The answer was the "Monty," which gets a respectable 16 city/24 highway mpg from its peppy six-cylinder engine (as opposed to those single-digit ratings of some 8-cylander behemoths). But that's still a step down from the Subaru's 22/29 combo, and when 87 octane cracked the $2 plateau this summer, I cracked too.
On the other hand, if I can put my New England-centric mindset on the shelf and think globally for a second, hefty gas prices are forcing me to shift into conservation mode, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. We're car-pooling with other families more often, and planning to take advantage of ski house offers (a great nod to yesteryear, and one I wholeheartedly endorse), not to mention more economic multi-day trip packages. And I guarantee, we'll be among the first on the mountain, and the last to leave, since my Depression Era mentality (my wife's term, not mine) is going to demand that we get our money's worth. But the one-day ski trip, sadly, is quickly becoming extinct in the O'Connor household. And the price at the pump is accelerating its demise.