Vail Mountain’s best customers getting older |

Vail Mountain’s best customers getting older

Bob Berwyn
Vail, CO Colorado
Vail Daily file photoOlder skiers are still are critical part of Vail Mountain's business, industry experts say

VAIL, Colorado ” If Vail and other Colorado ski resorts want to get some idea of where it might be headed as baby-boomers age and start to think about leaving the sport, they could check in with life-long Colorado mountain man and skier Bob Craig.

The founder of Summit County’s Keystone Center is pre-baby boomer. He’s 85, and this year he skied 80 days.

“I go out every day that I can,” Craig said.

He says visibility is his only handicap, so when the wind blows too hard, he takes it easy.

The industry doesn’t need to get all the boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) to ski that often. In fact, a modest percentage of that group would be enough to ensure some stability in skier numbers during the coming decade.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

But Craig says he’s not sure an ski industry that has targeted youth and snowboard culture has done enough draw older boomers to the sport. He said that advances in technology, especially skis and grooming, have made it easier than ever for older skiers to stay in the sport.

“It’s so much more appealing than it was,” said Craig, explaining fast lifts and well-groomed trails allow skiers to go out at 8:30, ski for two hours and feel like they’ve had a good exercise session.

“It’s an important generation ” their grandkids are coming along,” Craig said. “Also, more and more older people are skiing independently.”

Ski resort executives will take the boomer topic to heart this week during the annual convention of the National Ski Areas Association from Wednesday to Saturday in Florida.

“For better or worse, our core customers are made up of baby boomers,” National Ski Areas Association president Michael Berry said in an interview with The Industry Report. “In a few years, we’ll see the leading-edge baby boomers move past 65, and the likelihood of them participating in significant numbers start to diminish.”

Berry said the conference will focus on the aging of the baby boomers and what it means for the ski industry. The convention follows a ski season that saw about 57 million skier and rider visits, in line with the industry’s five-year average.

“As the baby boomers reached their mid-50s, all we had to do was groom it up better, serve great Alfredo, and make the skis easier to turn, and we did all those things,” Berry said.

Dr. Joseph Coughlin, founder and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab and a member of the White House Conference on Aging, will deliver the keynote address on Thursday.

Berry said Coughlin would discuss implications of the aging boomer population, the impact of the reduction of older people’s net worth, and how that affects the ski industry.

“For every one that exits we need to bring 1.5. We’ve been talking about this for a decade, but it never loses its poignancy; it becomes more poignant as the leading edge baby boomers reach their mid-60s,” Berry said.

Ski resorts big and small will have to start replacing boomers with new customers at a “significant pace” in about four or years, Berry said.

The season that just ended turned out to be average, but better than anticipated given the slumping economy and rising unemployment.

“Going into this season, we said, ‘Be reasonably optimistic. If it snows, we’re going to have good numbers,'” Berry said. “The way the numbers shook out, even at destination resorts, there are some that are going to have a pretty good story to tell in terms of skier numbers. Some in the Northeast set records on records.”

But as resort towns know, those numbers tell only part of the story, as resort visitors clearly cut back on spending for ski school lessons, restaurant meals, hotels and new gear.

Berry and other analysts said the ski industry held its own against competing leisure activities. Executives are hoping to see stock markets rise and consumer confidence go up. With another winter of decent snows, things could be improving in time for the winter holidays.

“Again, we’ll be looking at weather trends; we’ll want to see good strong trends toward winter early,” Berry said. “People book later and later; that’s been the trend for a decade or more. People want to know it’s going to be great when they get there, so with the exception of Christmas week, people are going to hedge until they know the snow is there.”

Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at

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