Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Epic Snowsports Our Grandparents Predicted We’d Be Doing

Popular Mechanics magazine was first published in 1902 and ever since then they have tried to predict the latest upcoming technology trends. Let's take a look at the snowsports they predicted over that 110 year period to see how well they did…

December 1909 - Popular Mechanics predicts: Hoodies, the Winter X Games and stabby shoes

"Written so you can understand it" - I guess a lot of other magazines back then were still printed in hieroglyphics
This was Popular Mechanics' first go at snowsports predictions and and they really went to town. The saw-flippers thing never really panned out, but they did spot that hoodies would become the uniform of snowsports a century down the line and they clearly also predicted the Winter X Games. On a side note, this issue also included these awesome stories:
  • "Kissing Through Disinfected Silk Gauze"
  • "Aeroplanes Difficult To See"
  • "An Elephant Made of Walnuts"
  • "One Man Poisons Nearly 600,000 Prairie Dogs"
I imagine most of those news scoops were obtained by telegraph hacking.
Popular Mechanics Prediction Rate: 2 out of 3 (66.7% accuracy)

February 1916 - Popular Mechanics predicts: Snowsports film making and Go-Pro cameras
Proof that skiers have been wearing shitty hats for almost 100 years
Next Popular Mechanics predicted that photographers would be risking life and limb to capture straight airs from their whizzing bobsleds. They didn't get this one spot on but they did predict the insatiable need of people to film themselves doing any sort of winter sports. I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt and crediting them with predicting ski and snowboard films and also portable cameras like the Go-Pro. I'm close to crediting them with foreseeing the revolution of YouTube that's allowed millions of punters to upload poor quality videos of themselves hitting 50cm-high straight airs, but I think that would be reading to much into one picture.
Meanwhile over in Europe everyone was keeping themselves busy with the First World War and if they got their hands on this magazine they would have been royally pissed to find out what the Americans were finding more important.
Popular Mechanics Prediction Rate: 4 out of 5 (80% accuracy)

January 1923 - Popular Mechanics predicts: Polar bear racing
Whipping polar bears - Not the secret to a long life
The World is just a little less awesome without people domesticating polar bears. Unfortunately Popular Mechanics were way off the mark here and polar bear powered sleds are still a thing of fiction...
This is how we'd role
Popular Mechanics Prediction Rate: 4 out of 6 (66.7% accuracy)

November 1924 - Popular Mechanics predicts: Aeroplane-powered snowboards
Now that's a tow-in
The trend for polar bear powered snowsports went into a steep decline when Popular Mechanics upped the stakes with aircraft-powered snowsports. They also predicted snowboarding about 50 years before it was invented, including our need to wear fiercely coloured jackets. Unfortunately aircraft-powered snowboarding, which is officially and unpronounceably called Skikjoring, suffered the same fate as polar bear powered sledding as it turned out that modern humans were a lot softer then Popular Mechanics had anticipated. 
Popular Mechanics Prediction Rate: 5 out of 8 (62.5% accuracy)

February 1928 - Popular Mechanics predicts: Downhill crucifixion
A great way to celebrate Easter
Popular Mechanics started off well with their predictions but you get a sense that they are just making this shit up now. This contraption runs on a single rail and according to Popular Mechanics "the balancing is a bit difficult". Dying as a result of this would be a bang-on certainty. On the plus side there is a small chance you might get better again after 3 days.
Popular Mechanics Prediction Rate: 5 out of 9 (55.6% accuracy)

February 1935 - Popular Mechanics predicts: Ice-skater terrorising machines
The literal representation of the term 'to dice with death'
Popular Mechanics took a really strange turn in this article when they predicted the world of the future would be overrun by gangs of begoggled thugs piloting these horrifyingly effective human dicing machines at the unsuspecting members of the public. This is what the Day After Tomorrow should have been like.
Popular Mechanics Prediction Rate: 5 out of 10 (50% accuracy)

December 1942 - Popular Mechanics predicts: War toboggans
Just one more reason why WWII kicks WWI's ass
Strange thing here was that these things actually did exist and were used by the US army, a group of men described like this by a fawning Popular Mechanics: "To the lean, hard, bronzed mountaineers a polar expedition would be little more than a weekend holiday". If Popular Mechanics had a favourite movie it would be Top Gun. Not really a prediction, more of a statement of fact, but I guess we will have to give it to Popular Mechanics for at least not fucking it up like they had done for the previous twenty years.
Popular Mechanics Prediction Rate: 6 out of 11 (54.5% accuracy)

February 1947 - Popular Mechanics predicts: Snow tractors
Complete with rattan lounging seat
Popular Mechanics hate dogs. They must do, back in 1923 they tried to put sled dogs out of business by replacing them with polar bears and now in 1947 they had another shot at replacing them with the snow tank.  Of course they were wrong again and it wasn't until the skidoo that those dogs were finally beaten, but Popular Mechanics didn't see that invention coming.
Popular Mechanics Prediction Rate: 6 out of 12 (50% accuracy)

February 1948 - Popular Mechanics predicts: Snow windjammers
Bloody hell, they're at it again, the bastards. This article starts; "Barking huskies and cries if "Mush" soon may be heard only in movies as the mechanical windjammers of the snowdrifts invade the Northwest." This one didn't put the dogs out of business either, but credit where its due, these things still exist. This is the latest version, the Lotus Concept Ice Vehicle
Popular Mechanics Prediction Rate: 7 out of 13 (53.8% accuracy)

December 1949 - Popular Mechanics predicts: Sno-Motor
Other than their consistent dog-hating stance another trend that Popular Mechanics likes to come back to is people getting towed by machines. We first saw a guy getting towed by a biplane and now they're getting pulled by this massive snowcat-type machine. This beast was called a Sno-Motor and it did exist although it was a bit of a development cul-de-saq and none of these things exist today.
Popular Mechanics Prediction Rate: 7 out of 14 (50% accuracy)

December 1950 - Popular Mechanics predicts: Helicopter towing
And their towing plans reached a crescendo with the helicopter tow. The big story in this edition was a look at the uses for helicopters (which strangely they called eggbeaters) and the use depicted on the front cover wasn't mentioned, largely because it is fucking make-believe bullshit ridiculous. 
Popular Mechanics Prediction Rate: 7 out of 15 (46.7% accuracy)

January 1953 - Popular Mechanics predicts: Ski Wings
Ronald Regan - wobble-board master
Possibly the worst and most pathetic prediction was sadly indicative of the times as clearly this issue also highlighted that US engineering had run out of recruits and ideas by 1953.
Popular Mechanics Prediction Rate: 7 out of 16 (43.8% accuracy) 

That was the last of Popular Mechanics' snowsports predictions. The magazine still exists today but it looks like after the first 50 years of epic predictions they just gave up. I think our grandparents just lost faith when they realised that us soft modern types were just to pathetically weak-willed to really make use of their epic ideas. In the end the predictions of Popular Mechanics were 43.8% accurate which is a pretty good go by our reckoning and once we show these pesky polar bears who's boss that hit rate could get even better.

You might also like…
If you want to be further humiliated by how much more awesome our grandparents were than us then take a look our article: Have extreme sports gone a bit soft?
If you want to browse more crazy then take a look here, Google have scanned every single Popular Mechanics back issue.

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