Ski in­dus­try work­ing to at­tract mil­len­ni­als

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By John Kekis

When Aaron Kel­lett peers out the win­dow of his of­fice at White­face Moun­tain, these days he’s usu­ally smil­ing.

“My of­fice is right next to our be­gin­ner trail, and when I look out I see peo­ple on our be­gin­ner trail,” said the 38-year-old Kel­lett, who’s been the man­ager at White­face for four years. “That means we’ve got new peo­ple learn­ing how to par­tic­i­pate in our sport.”

And that’s a good thing. As baby boomers be­gin to pull back from the ath­letic en­deav­ors of their youth, ski re­sorts are fo­cus­ing on at­tract­ing new par­tic­i­pants to the slopes. The idea is to get them there and keep them, and the mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion (those be­tween the ages of 18 and 34 in 2015) tops the tar­get list.

Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est de­mo­graph­ics from the Colorado-based Na­tional Ski Ar­eas As­so­ci­a­tion (NSAA), baby boomers (aged 52-70 in 2016) and those 71 and older have steadily be­come a smaller share of the visitor base as they’ve aged. Com­bined, in the past decade they’ve de­clined from 36.2 per­cent of vis­i­tors to 21.3 per­cent.

Millenials, on the other hand, rep­re­sent the largest group of snow­board­ers and skiers, but they also have the fewest num­ber of days per sea­son. The fig­ures show that the in­dus­try will need to in­crease the fre­quency of the mil­len­nial par­tic­i­pant to match that of the ex­it­ing baby boomer.

“That’s a sig­nif­i­cant wakeup call for us. There’s some chal­lenges there,” said Nate Fris­toe, di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions at RRC As­so­ci­ates, which last year pro­duced a re­port on the mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion. “We have this funny lit­tle dilemma. We’re try­ing to build par­tic­i­pa­tion. We know we have to grow par­tic­i­pants, but we also know that on most of our week­end days we’re hit­ting ca­pac­ity.

“It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing co­nun­drum,” Fris­toe said. “Yes, we have a prod­uct of­fer­ing that has ap­pealed to an older gen­er­a­tion for years. It also ap­peals to this gen­er­a­tion in many ways, but there are ways in which we need to tweak it.”

To be sure, mil­len­ni­als are dif­fer­ent. They em­brace the en­vi­ron­ment, like to plan spon­ta­neously, pre­fer to travel with friends and crave healthy food. They also rel­ish shar­ing their ad­ven­tures on so­cial me­dia.

“Mil­len­ni­als are harder to at­tract, for sure. It’s not as cut and dried as it was even 10 years ago,” Kel­lett said. “They want the best deals and they’ll do what­ever it takes to get the best deal. They don’t mind spend­ing money to do what they want. It’s the ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s so much more than just ski­ing.”

Kel­let says on­line ticket sales have been “huge” for White­face be­cause of the sav­ings they of­fer.

White­face , which has plenty of apres ski des­ti­na­tions in nearby Lake Placid, of­fers a Par­al­lel from the Start pro­gram for be­gin­ners. It costs $169 and in­cludes ev­ery­thing needed to start ski­ing, ex­cept the cloth­ing — les­son, equip­ment rental, and three days of ski­ing. “It’s an awe­some way to be in­tro­duced to the sport. It works,” Kel­lett said.

In neigh­bor­ing Ver­mont, the cost is $129 for a Take 3 pass — three ski or snow­board lessons that in­cludes rental equip­ment for the day plus a les­son and ac­cess to be­gin­ner ter­rain. The Green Moun­tain State also of­fers a $49 be­gin­ners pack­age dur­ing Jan­uary, na­tional Learn to Ski and Snow­board Month na­tion­wide.

“Cost can be a hur­dle, so any­time we can lower that hur­dle a lit­tle bit, es­pe­cially for be­gin­ners, we see more peo­ple par­tic­i­pate for a longer pe­riod of time,” said Sarah Wo­j­cik, mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor for Ski Ver­mont. “Get­ting new peo­ple to the slopes with in­cen­tives and then keep­ing them are two of the big­gest goals na­tion­wide.”

The grand­daddy deal of them all might be the Epic Pass of­fered by Vail Re­sorts . It’s the most pop­u­lar pass in the ski in­dus­try and fea­tures un­lim­ited, un­re­stricted ski­ing at all of the com­pany’s moun­tain re­sorts (Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Breck­en­ridge in Colorado; Park City in Utah; and Heav­enly, North­star and Kirk­wood in Lake Ta­hoe). It also will in­clude Whistler Black­comb next win­ter sea­son (2017-18), and of­fers five days at 30 re­sorts in Europe.

With the rise of so­cial me­dia and mo­bile phones, most ski re­sorts are try­ing to pro­vide easy-to-nav­i­gate web­sites and free Wi-Fi so vis­i­tors can share their ex­pe­ri­ences dig­i­tally — think Snapchat. Ex­cel­lent cell­phone ser­vice is a must.

“Your web­site be­ing mo­bile-friendly is kind of mil­len­nial-speak 101,” Wo­j­cik said. “If you can’t look it up on your phone, it’s re­ally dif­fi­cult to get the mes­sage out there.”

At Taos Ski Val­ley in New Mex­ico, which was cited by NSAA for hav­ing the best over­all mar­ket­ing cam­paign for 2016, mil­len­ni­als aren’t sep­a­rately tar­geted but the de­mo­graphic is im­por­tant.

“Mil­len­ni­als are big on ex­pe­ri­ence, and Taos Ski Val­ley has long been known for de­liv­er­ing an au­then­tic, un­pre­ten­tious and cul­turerich win­ter moun­tain ex­pe­ri­ence,” mar­ket­ing man­ager Dash Hege­man said. “That is some­thing we work very hard to pro­tect and cul­ti­vate.”

ORDA — WHITE­FACE LAKE PLACID VIA AP

This photo pro­vided by ORDA/White­face Lake Placid, shows Me­gan Gard­ner, right, as she teaches par­tic­i­pants in a les­son at White­face Moun­tain in Wilm­ing­ton, N.Y., near Lake Placid. White­face, like other ski re­sorts, is cre­at­ing pro­grams to at­tract younger skiers as a way of main­tain­ing in­ter­est in the sport as baby boomers age out.

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