How Vail can have more skiers |

How Vail can have more skiers

Otto Wiest
Vail, CO, Colorado

How to grow skiers

If Vail wants more skiers, why don’t we make them?

In Austria in the area of St. Anton and Stuben, a region of the Alps with the name Arlberg, the whole story of skiing started about 100 years ago.

In those days there was no skiing and no skier around and people did not come to the mountains in wintertime. Since business was kind of dead every winter, some hotels had the idea to do something to attract people.

They hired some young boys who had tried out those new Norwegian skis and told them to give ski lessons to guests who they invited to learn the new sport of skiing. Among those boys there was the famous Hannes Schneider, who came much later to New Hampshire and taught Americans how to ski.

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Of course, the instruction was free . In time the invitation to learn how to ski became a more and more important business, what finally was called ski vacations. Simple but true.

People started to love the fresh air, the motion of skiing, the fun to be together in the so called “ski school.” But there was no rope tow, no T-bar or chair lift yet. People had to climb the mountains by foot, and they did it because they started to love skiing and the fun of motion in the winter world.

By this time the business was growing more and more. If you go there today, you will find many skiers who come every year. A lot of them are still in the famous Arlberg ski school, and the help of a ski instructors is still quite inexpensive there. Everybody knows that at first people have to learn how to ski and then they will come back to enjoy skiing.

In the Austrian Arlberg region today are the ski resorts Lech, Zurs, St. Anton, Stuben, St, Christoph. More then 50 percent of their guests go to ski school every morning, to enjoy the assistance of a good ski guide who takes them to all the different places where they wouldn’t go alone. Of course, he also shows them how to come down again in a safe and well-controlled manner. I think it is not necessary to mention that accidents in ski school are very, very rare.

Ski school is their way to guarantee an enjoyable vacation. It is the motor of their well-running winter sports tourist industry.

Let’s compare it to Vail. Here, I do have the impression that often visitors are left alone. OK, they get lots of advertisement. They are invited to go dining, shopping, but what else? All of this they can do as well in New York or in San Francisco and after short time, they go home again. How can we make people become skiers if ski school is so expensive that only a minority is willing to pay for it? How can we get guests for Vail if they cannot ski? Do those visitors really have learn to ski by themselves? Where is the support of local stores, hotels and restaurants to send people to Vail’s ski school?

Learning how to ski or to board is sometimes a painful experience for a beginner, and a lot of people just give up after a short tryout. Those are lost chances for Vail to create skiers and later on guests who may come back for many years.

I often do meet a person on Vail Mountain who tries to figure out how to find their way back to Lionsshead or even simply how to ski down Vail Mountain. Wouldn’t they have more fun if they had the company of an experienced instructor?

I guess those Austrians with their free ski lessons have been pretty smart people. They had no business plan, no advisers, no management and no meetings. But they had the common sense to understand that if they don’t have skiers, then they will have no business.

Pupils of the Arlberg ski school are not only going there to learn how to make a simple turn in the morning and then try to practice it in the afternoon by themselves. Guests normally stay a week or longer to relax and have fun together.

Even with the low economy, just try to get a free place over there now. It will not be easy, as normally vacations get booked a year in advance. And it is common practice that the same ski school group meets with the same instructor next winter at the same time again.

OK, it sounds funny but it’s doable. At first you have to create skiers and hopefully much later you can create business. The opposite way doesn’t work so well.

Otto Wiest


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