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Industry experts looking into future of snow sports

Arn Menconi
Special to the Daily

Editor’s note: Arn Menconi, executive director of Avon-based youth nonprofit SOS Outreach, is on the road attending a series of ski and snowboard industry tradeshows and conferences. He’ll be sending dispatches from the events, telling readers what’s new and interesting in the world of snow sports. This dispatch comes from the National Ski Areas Association Winter Conference.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — More than 775 snow sports industry leaders from across the country descended on Steamboat for the National Ski Areas Association’s winter conference and trade show this past week to look into the crystal ball of snow sports.



A big concern was the lack of snow in California and the Pacific Northwest, and how that might affect overall numbers for the season. Another was what seemed like unusual cold snaps on the East Coast, bringing temperatures that were once normal between 1970 and 1989. Back then there were 12 cold snaps where the national average temperature dropped below 18 degrees, yet between 1997 and now there has only been one. Changing weather patterns have been affecting the growth of the sport during the past four years.

Another area affecting growth is the changing demographics of kids younger than 18. Just 40 years ago, the population younger than 18 was a 20 percent minority, but now it’s 50 percent. The lack of diversity is part of the reason why skiing and snowboarding aren’t seeing increases in young people entering the sport.



Other factors proving worrisome for those running today’s ski resorts are complex and include income inequality, and a college-educated workforce that has not returned to pre-recession numbers and more young people leaving the workforce. Conference goers also discussed approaches and difficulties in effective marketing toward younger generations.

Of particular interest to many attendees was the issue of generating skiers and snowboarders. Collectively, the industry has set a goal of generating 6 percent more participants per season — that translates into about 60,000 new participants each year, or 24,000 new households each season.

“Variable conditions in some regions may result in our falling short of this goal, but regardless, we will be acutely interested in evaluating the number of new participants drawn to the sport in our end of season analyses,” said Nate Fristoe, director of RRC Analysis, a consultant research firm for the National Ski Area Association.



Within Generation Z, those born between mid 2000s to present day, marketers are seeing mini sub-generations forming due to the rapid changes in technology. “They will spend 20 percent of their time on social media … the multi-tasking generation has 10 seconds before you lose them … this requires producers of snow sports to create terrain parks with constant stimulation to make a connection,” said Joe Hession, the president of snow operating at Vail Resorts. Hession also demonstrated how terrain-based learning could keep more new skiers and riders in the sport by offering more stimulation and tactile features during the learning experience.

Ski mountain operators refer to themselves as “snow farmers” — when it snows, they make profits. However, since the advent of publicly traded companies and real estate investment trusts, resorts have had to operate in a more sophisticated manner. Many resorts are making returns on understanding the margins across purchases and estimating how many customers it might make. You buy a lift ticket, food, rentals, lodging, ski school, or even real estate and it all goes into their bottom line.

So, conferences such as these can assist in bringing a lot of the industry’s focus together, but much of the work is done in the hallway conversations between old friends who have learned from one another across the decades. It’s a small industry where everyone knows each other, maybe worked at the same resorts together and are all passionate about selling fun.


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