Moms Wanna Rock, Too

"Yikes, I thought as my mother whizzed by,

Popping an ollie on her very first try.

She pulled off a spin so high in the air,

It knocked all the curl right out of
her hair."

From "Skateboard Mom,"
a Penguin
Putnam book by Barbara Odanaka

Change the skateboard to a snowboard and you've covered a common fantasy that a lot of today's younger moms have about their time at your resort. The white-booted, furry-bomber-hat-wearing woman cutting out early because she's the tired-and-it's-time-to-start-dinner mom is a rapidly-disappearing breed. In her place there's a different generation of mom taking over, one that's more likely to be jonesing to get a shot at the park, keeping up with the kids, and hoping to find some friends who also want to let their crazy sides out the next time they step into bindings.


Last spring, while examining survey results from 10,000+ skiers and riders, a small argument broke out over the results from one question: The importance of family-friendly terrain parks. They basically don't register on anyone's radar-except moms of pre-teen kids.

In the internal debate at Reach Advisors over the implications of this question, two camps emerged: One contention was that this was about a mom's sense of safety and security for her children. The other camp insisted that moms wanted to rock the pipe, too. The only way to solve the impasse was to explore this issue as a part of the in-depth follow-up questions thrown back to 250 of the survey participants.

Yes, some of the desire for family-friendly terrain parks stems from moms preferring to get the kids away from the crazed behavior and language in some parks. But the far bigger driver for many moms of young children was…they wish they could go in there, too. They just want to feel like there's some invitation to let them join the fun. Just like for most men who ski and ride, these women who ski and ride…like to ski and ride.

Paris Wolfe Ferrante, a 41-year-old mom from Concord, Ohio, loves to follow her 8 and 9 year old sons into the parks. "Why wouldn't moms go into a terrain park?! Even though I'm timid compared to the teens, I play on the jumps and halfpipe, and especially love the banked-turn features." The good news is that there is a generation of moms Ferrante's age and younger that are coming through the pipeline.

T:Nine-Luv to Ski

Research that we have done elsewhere has found significant underlying sociological and generational drivers for a growing shift in women's attitudes and actions.

One thing that has had a huge impact in the lives of women around the age of 40 and younger (of which many men are probably unaware) is Title IX, the landmark 1972 law that banned sex discrimination of any kind in educational institutions receiving federal funding. In its most well-known application, Title IX was designed to create parity in athletic opportunity and experience for men and women. This brought about a huge change in women's attitudes toward sports participation: Girls who play basketball or run track or otherwise compete are no longer odd or un-girly. Title IX gave girls permission to be athletic, and respected for it. Many in this new generation of mothers have grown up believing that they can play with the men, and it shows in their behavior.

A lot of resorts have noticed a shift in their women's program participants, and are ramping up the curriculum or offering new programs to address it. At Loon Mountain, N.H., events coordinator Katie Ross is running the sixth season for Droppin' In, a women's snowboard camp. Over time, she's observed a change in attitudes of the participants, and in hardgoods and softgoods as well. "The number of women has grown, and the interest in freestyle maneuvers is growing. I'd say right now, women's snowboarding is still on the upward side of the peak." And to help fuel that growth, Ross notes: "More and more guys' companies are adding women's lines that form to our body style, not just put a W tag on men's pants. This includes hardgoods, especially."

So back to your women's programs, what does this mean? Perhaps you might be seeing a lot more of those ladies hoping for something more than just controlled turns down a groomed slope followed by a complimentary glass of wine with the girls. Guys aren't the only ones who want to go out and rip.

Families Connecting

In last spring's industry-wide survey, we also found that more than two-thirds of women would like to take vacations with other skiing families. (And what segment liked this idea the least? Men who own ski homes, those friendly folks.) This desire of moms has been christened the 'togethering' trend, and it isn't unique to the ski industry.

Disney, recognizing that its core family market isn't experiencing the growth in numbers that it did through the Baby Boom family formation years, found this concept so successful at increasing their business that they now focus much of their consumer marketing on it. Their Magical Gatherings program, for groups of eight or more, offers privileges such as special reservation agent assistance, personalized merchandise sales, and reserved semi-private dining areas- instead of freebies or discounts. Magical Gatherings resulted in greater headcounts of families traveling together, combined with higher yield per guest, making it one of their best ways to move the needle.

Unfortunately, this desire to vacation with other families is something where ski resort customers aren't finding the same kind of welcome as offered by other vacation destinations. One example that struck us was a woman sharing a story of how her daughter could remotely arrange her wedding in Costa Rica, and have it turn out perfect. Yet this particular woman complains she can't even get a ski resort to commit to providing condos next to one another when she and her sister take family vacations together. Yes, the logistics for ski lodging are harder than most consumers realize. But she's frustrated. She's not looking for a discount, just a way to make it easier to bring more people together at the mountain...the kind of customer you want.

Creating Communities

Research we've done in other fields has found that Generation X moms (27 to 41 years old) are indeed a different breed. For one thing, they are 65 percent more likely to have a college degree than their predecessors. As a result, they are more likely to have moved away from their families for college or careers…more likely to marry later or have children later…more likely to find themselves distant from the family support networks they grew up with…more likely to take time off from their career and professional community when the kids are young…especially at the higher-income levels typical of the skiing demographic.

What does this mean?

This all adds up to the new generation of moms searching for community. Across the industries in which we work, we're finding this to be a particularly powerful motivator for capturing new customers and increasing loyalty among moms.

At ski resorts, some of this shift is showing up in terms of growth for mid-week women's programs. And it isn't so much about the improvement in skiing skills that drives this growth. It's about the bonds and the friendships that these women are creating.

According to Shannon McSweeney of Mountain Creek, N.J., their regular women's program has proven so popular that they have added another day. "It's definitely a very social group. They've made friendships that last year round, doing things together well after the snow has melted, and they want to stay in the same groups year after year."

A day-trip area has many opportunities to grow midweek business by creating a community for moms outside of official ski school programs. Moms' clubs could be incubated by providing the means for moms to get together and find ski buddies. It could be as simple as a message board or an ambassador trained to encourage the moms glancing longingly out the base lodge windows. One mother surveyed hoped that there was some way to find other mothers in her child's ski program who might be at her level so they could ski together. Perhaps a sign-up list could be circulated. Small steps requiring little or no investment of time or money…but steps that could tap into this fundamental shift among today's moms.

As Jess Lindley, a mom from Lexington, Mass., found: "Last winter I figured out the only way for me to survive the dark days of New England winter was to get out in it. I learned to ski, dropped my kids at school on Tuesdays, skied the morning, and it truly saved me from the depression of winter." And this season? She formed the Lexington Moms Rock ski club, signing up her friends and posting flyers urging moms to get the group's discounts from the Wachusett Mountain, Mass., website. And based on thousands and thousands of interviews with this generation of moms, we're 100 percent certain that there are plenty more Jess Lindleys out there that want to corral more ski buddies, if ski resorts would bother to ask.

So What?

In the end, why bother with moms? For starters, mothers represented the most loyal segment of skiers in our industry-wide survey, by a mile. And then there's that nasty little retention issue: Women's participation plummets starting in their mid-40s, at a rate far faster than for men.

Yet virtually none of the women in this survey expect to drop out of skiing in the next five years. Contrary to what some people have theorized, this is a generation of moms that doesn't plan to drop out when the children stop skiing with them. And contrary to popular belief, the desire for 'warmer' vacations didn't even register statistically. These women would rather ski their buns off than saddle up to a cruise line buffet.

What we did see, however, are women indicating that the opportunity to ski with other women would give them all the excuse they need to increase participation. As Julie Rodriguez, a skier in her late 30s from Pine Meadow, Conn., says: "Five years from now, what will I be doing? I'd love to say I'll have a ski house, but one thing is certain: I'll be skiing at least as much as I do now. I should hope my children will still be joining me, but they'll be teens by then with their own ideas for a good time. Maybe then the pendulum will swing to skiing more with friends than with my kids."

We do see a real possibility of this new generation of moms continuing to ski through their forties at the same rate as men do-and we believe that this is driven by underlying changes in women's lives that go well beyond skiing. Among the younger generation of moms, there's less interest in the overscheduled child, and more interest in sharing activities with the kids, particularly outdoor recreation. While the generation of older moms might identify themselves more by the expensive SUV that they drive to the slopes, the generation of younger moms is more likely to want to define themselves by their passions…such as skiing with the family.

This presents a unique opportunity to increase engagement with the new generation of moms and put an end to that cliff when 46-year-old moms become way more likely to drop out of skiing then men. But it's all up to ski resorts to tune in and do something about it.

Sally Johnstone and James Chung are with Reach Advisors, a marketing strategy and research firm that serves the resort field. For more information, call (617) 489-6180 or e-mail
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