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Modern Technology: Snowmaking, Bindings and Helmets Keep You Safe on the Slopes

By Dave Potter

We just skied through another holiday season in which we must give thanks for modern technology. Holiday Valley has stayed open since Thanksgiving even though Mother Nature was less than cooperative.

We’ve endured long periods of warm weather with a few soaking rains thrown in. But thanks to enough below-freezing weather, state-of-the-art snowmaking equipment and a talented mountain crew, we’ve enjoyed some great skiing conditions. If we had the same weather conditions back in the day, we would have had only about five days of skiing this year.

Some of us are old enough to remember when we were thankful for any flake that fell from the sky. Our skis were as high as our wrists held over our heads — and straight as an arrow. Our skis had bindings that were safety in name only. And if you fell and you were fortunate enough to have the bindings release, they were still attached to your foot by means of a run-away strap. This ensured that your skis could pummel you as you slid down the slope. And your boots were usually uncomfortable and cold. Boy, have we come a long way in the area of sports equipment!

As much as we sing the praises of modern technology, I’m still amazed at the people I see on the slopes that are still “living” in the past. Every year, I still see people on the slopes skiing on gear they bought back in the ‘90s or earlier.

It’s not a fashion or performance thing. It’s a safety thing. It’s one thing to still love the 210 cm skis that you bought back in college, but the bindings on those old boards are no longer safe by today’s standards.

Last weekend, as I was skiing with “The Usual Gang of Idiots,” I was reminiscing with the older members about the number of times we have torn older bindings clean off the skis. We all had stories about doing it. It’s amazing we’re still able to walk, let alone ski. Today’s bindings, while not perfect, do a much better job of protecting the owner.

Old boots are another thing. If they still fit great and you’re still happy with the performance, fine. But turn your old favorites upside down and look at the sole. Is the wear excessive? Think about how many times you’ve trudged through parking lots, up and down stairs, and walked around the lodge. Your boots and bindings make up a system. If the boots are worn where they meet the binding, the system won’t function. I’ve seen boot heels so worn that they couldn’t even engage the heelpiece.

The one piece of equipment that most skiers back in the day didn’t have is a helmet. As a racer, we were required to have one on for speed events. But once we finished our run, off came the helmets and on came the hats.

I’ll admit that I didn’t start wearing a helmet on a regular basis until I started to teach my children to ski. I didn’t feel right making them wear one if I didn’t have one on, too. But once I started to wear one, I couldn’t imagine skiing without one. Number one, they’re warm! I feel they’re much warmer than a hat. Number two, they make you safer. Speaking as a person who has banged his head on the ground hard a few times, I was glad I had a helmet on each time. Besides, how smart is a brain that doesn’t want to protect the skull it’s living in?

You can thank modern technology for the manmade snow that allows us to ski when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, as well as for the newest inventions designed to make our on-slope experiences a lot safer.

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