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Vail Daily column: Dinosaurs in puddles of water

Arn Menconi
Valley Voices

Bill Jensen, former CEO of Intrawest, said in January that 31 percent of ski resorts are dying. There are 470 ski resorts and nearly 13 million skiers and snowboarders in the U.S. He said a few years back at the National Ski Areas Association conference I attended, before Intrawest went public, “that by 2025 the ski industry would lose nearly 3 million skiers and snowboarders.”

This is due mainly from the aging baby boomers and the changing demographics of those under 18. Now, 50 percent of those under 18 are minority in the U.S. and the rich sport of skiing and snowboarding are not at all reflected of youth in the U.S.

While the ski industry loses market size, it’s stealing market share to generate profits. So is the outdoor industry and golf. The resorts, manufacturers and retailers are seeing many changes through the recession, smaller numbers of participants and climate change. Climate change has had significant effects on the California and Pacific Northwest resorts this past year as they close early or have terrible conditions.

In all my attendances of conferences over the last 20 years like the Assembly, National Ski Areas Association and Snowsports Industries of America, the “secret” is that there is no vision of how to attract more customers. These sports are run by older white men who are retiring in the next couple of years, and urgency to grow down the road is not part of their vision. These industries, be it resorts or gear companies like Oakley, target families with incomes over $125,000. There will always be wealthy that slide on snow, so there will always be a market to fractionalize profits like how Vail has by owning the skiing, retail, restaurants, lodging, etc.

It’s sad to see that there are only 50,000 blacks and 90,000 Hispanics under the age of 18 that ski and snowboard of the nearly 2 million kids under 18. That’s hardly a way to attract future consumers. Consolidation of resorts or shrinking numbers of participants is not a bad or good thing to most people. There will always be wealthy people who want to ski the top 10 to 25 resorts that Jensen references. The future of climate effects on the industry and lack of attracting changing demographics will continue to negatively impact the industry.

But in my former position running a nonprofit for disadvantaged youth to become involved in outdoor sports, I am disappointed that the leadership sees trends like these and don’t find innovative ways to reach out to new youth and work to grow their bottom line. The numbers to effect growth is less than 150,000 per year. With 13 million skiers and snowboarders, that’s not the most difficult goal to achieve. It would mean, however, that the industry would have to work together and embrace change, something it hasn’t ever successfully done.

Arn Menconi is the founder of SOS Outreach and a former Eagle County commissioner.


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