Winter sports without snow? Well, not totally devoid of snow. But desperately clinging to the good old days at the expense of nature (and our wallets) does not seem very wise: plastering spring-like alps with white snowflakes at the start of the Christmas season with snow cannons, trucks and even helicopters sometimes seems almost laughably anachronistic.
At the same time, however, winter sports is synonymous with joie de vivre, and it revives tourism and industry and provides medals, entertainment, role models and profits in the world of top athletics. Telling people it’s just as enjoyable to tramp over gray-green hillsides and go on cozy hikes in the mud is not the ideal solution.
Let’s take a more detailed look at this quest for solutions regarding what exactly constitutes winter sports, especially skiing. In terms of popular sports at least, skiing is a combination of experiencing nature, feeling power and speed, rushes of adrenaline and dopamine and the joy of communal activity.
And all of this provides employment in tourism, industry, retail, transportation and medicine, but also causes traffic, disfigures landscapes and increases insurance costs. Below I’d like to discuss how we can enjoy experiences of nature, fun and communal action without snow – achieving the positive effects while avoiding the negative.
Experiencing nature is simultaneously the easiest and most difficult challenge. On the one hand, a beautiful mountain landscape is simply there, even without innovations, and it may even be lovelier in white. On the other hand, however, this enjoyment of nature is strongly dependent on the weather: the prospect of thick fog blocking out even the foghorns is not necessarily enough to attract us to visit Allgäu.
And even when the sun is shining, mountain views are best enjoyed from the perspective of a summit and combined with the joy of exercise. So get going, you innovators: today you can get to the mountaintop with fatbikes in any kind of weather; and hopefully this will also be true of hiking climbs in future – a cross between hiking paths and fixed-rope routes that can be traversed no matter the weather. Then make your way back down on backpacks you can attach runners or wheels to, depending on the weather.
For those feeling a bit too lazy to climb a mountain, multi-generational playgrounds could be build next to the summit station, allowing you to enjoy the natural scenery nevertheless. And winter canyoning routes for the adrenaline junkies among us: go down the mudslide in full battle dress, go back up among the treetops, abseil down the iced-over waterfall, etc.
Now let’s turn to adrenaline (high tension) and dopamine (feeling of happiness). For this we’ll need slopes and a low-friction surface (at least enough for cross-country skiing). It’ll have to absorb shearing forces for turns as well, and should ideally be tempered to allow you to land and fall down safely.
Just one thing, though: we don’t need snow for this. We can use sand, ash or even plastic. And these solutions can be used no matter what the weather and don’t require cooling systems, meaning you don’t need a down jacket to compensate for the cold.
At the Institute of Textile Technology and Process Engineering Denkendorf and Dresden University of Technology, we’ve even developed an organic substance for this: a biomass grown in a fleece provides the perfect amount of glide; when you shear it, you can even feed the clippings and they’ll continue to grow. And it works – even if there’s still a lot to be done before we start to use it in practice.
And in the mountains? Landscape-sparing all-weather boards, meadow balance bikes, zip lines that run down the ski lift lines, bungee jumping from the mountain railway – you can make your heart race even without snow.
And, finally, communal experiences are the easiest to organize – and the most effective. To do this, we need ideas, courage and good public relations work: wood chip marathons, hammer throw golfing, flaming archery, crochet battles; you name it, you do it. No matter the weather. No winter sports visitor will be bored.
My conclusion then, is this: let’s stop jamming up the traffic with our Hummers on the way to Kitzbühel, all the while moaning about the lack of snow. Rather, let’s moan about the wind and weather whilst climbing up the mountain, and then afterwards enjoy some Austrian Hummer (lobster).
Prof. Dr. Eckehard “Fozzy” Moritz is the founder and head of Innovationsmanufaktur GmbH; visionary, acrobat and world traveler. He studied mechanical engineering in Munich, completed his doctorate in Tokyo and has held professorships in Mexico and China. His book, “Holistische Innovation” (“Holisitic Innovation”), casts new light on future organization – however, he loves working on innovations himself even better than writing books, especially those that bring more joy, pleasure and wisdom into the world.
Please leave your comments and suggestions to keep this column going. I look forward to discussing things with you.