Ski boom and bust
|Ski boom - and bust
Skiing had gained in popularity, but interestingly at that time it was still seen primarily as a foreigner’s pastime. That quickly changed in the 1980’s. The eighties arrived and brought with it dramatic winter resort development.
Some would say totally way over-the-top winter resort development.
Attractive new ski resorts appeared at an astonishing rate, and many of the existing resorts were either rebuilt or expanded. This frenzied development often left a somewhat complicated business setup with a number of companies operating lifts on the same mountain.
Modern high-speed quad lifts, gondolas and ropeways were built, leaving Japan with some of the finest and most modern facilities in the world. With all of this development and a carefully cultivated image, skiing became very fashionable and the thing to be seen doing. Designer outfits with bright colors and fur-lined hoods were flying off the shelves. A romantic weekend at one of the more fashionable resorts was something people dreamed of. The fact that the resorts were frustratingly busy once you got there, leaving little time for actually skiing, didn’t seem to be the point. Being there and being part of it was what mattered.
The late 1980's ‘ski boom’ meant that the popular resorts became almost unbearably busy, with long queues waiting for lifts and severe bottlenecks on the slopes of popular ski-jo. Fancy waiting for up to an hour for a 500m pair lift? Unfortunately this image of crazily crowded slopes endures today, even though the reality is rather different at most places. More on that later.
The craze went as far as some businessmen taking the first train out of Tokyo in a morning, skiing for a few hours and then taking the train back to Tokyo in time for work.
In the early 1990’s skiing has surely established itself as the most popular sport in Japan among young people.
Exact numbers are notoriously difficult to find, but at one time in the late 1990’s there was actually an incredible 700 separate ski-jo in Japan. In 2013, that number is now more like 500.
As the economic bubble burst, the number of people trekking out to the mountains every weekend started to decrease, and many of the resorts started to get nervous about their huge investments.
Then snowboarding appeared.