Can you think of another activity where the person pays $150 to $200 NOT to actually accomplish that activity? You pay for sky diving, you go sky diving. You pay for golf, and at least you get a pretty venue and a cart. But in skiing and snowboarding, newbies pay us this princely sum to...fall. Is it any wonder that the conversion rate in our industry is abysmal—85 percent of our first-time guests don’t come back.
During my time as GM at Mountain Creek, N.J., I spent three years researching the root cause of this low conversion. I started by identifying the guest expectation. We interviewed random people in NYC who had never been to a resort and asked them what they thought their first day would be like. They described a fun, intermediate experience. We found that first-time guests expected to perform well—that they would be able to “do it.” Most importantly, they expected it to be fun.
Now put these same people out in the cold, on top of a hill (no matter how small) and try and get them not to think about how they are going to stop at the bottom.
Learning to ski and snowboard isn’t easy, however there are ways we can shift this process to better meet guest expectations—fun first, skills follow.
With the help of Burton Snowboards, we implemented terrain-based learning at Mountain Creek. Terrain-based learning gives instructors the tools to provide a fun, unintimidating and sometimes fall-free first-time experience. Working together with the ski and ride school, we also designed a lesson progression that reduced variation and made fun our main goal. Making the first experience fun by introducing terrain-based learning resulted in a 48 percent increase in conversion.
What we found is that variation is evil. In the past, every instructor had his or her own method of teaching, and no two lessons were exactly the same. With terrain-based learning, the process is consistent throughout—every instructor follows the same lesson plan. This lesson plan has been specifically designed to make sure the students are having fun throughout the lesson while learning the skills necessary to negotiate the entire resort. Guests spend more time on their skis and snowboards from the beginning, and at the end of the day, they feel as though they’ve had a true, thorough on-snow experience.
Frank DeBerry, president and COO of Snowshoe Resort, W.V., said it best: “We have to remember to put the magic back into the experience.” The first day on snow needs to be entertaining and fun to inspire subsequent visits.
I’m currently working with resorts across the country to implement terrain-based learning programs that cater to each resort’s uniqueness. Together, we can help put the magic back into the first-time experience and create more skiers and snowboarders who share the love we have for snow.
[Ed. Note: Stay tuned for more on this subject in upcoming issues of SAM. For starters, in our July issue we will profile two resorts that have instituted terrain-based learning programs: Jay Peak, Vt., and Camelback, Pa.]