2016 NSAA Convention Focuses on Innovation, Adaptation

The National Ski Areas Association drew a typically large crowd to the National Convention and Tradeshow, May 17-21 in Nashville, Tenn. Attendees enjoyed the usual mix of inspirational keynotes and educational seminars, as well as the musical melting pot that is Nashville. But the lingering impact of a boom-or-bust season kept the audience focused on business. 

That focus included the evolving nature of the industry, from the need to address ADA website accessibility to the next generation of leaders. Marketing trends and transforming beginners into lifelong converts and advocates also peppered the agenda, as well as informal discussions throughout the conference.

The trade show was a lively place throughout the event. A variety of suppliers from all over the world engaged resort decisionmakers in discussions about their latest products and services.

The annual review of the preliminary Kottke Study detailed the nature of the season, and showed why resilience and adaptability are such necessities for winter resorts. Western regions tallied record and near-record visit totals, while the Midwest and East recorded worst and near-worst visitation numbers. The Midwest was down 17 percent, the Northeast 28 percent, and the Southeast 30 percent.

The Kottke Study also highlighted the continuing decline in beginner (level 1) ski and snowboard lessons. These dropped by nearly 10 percent, despite the overall flat visitation numbers. That probably reflects the visit declines in the Eastern half of the country, where many beginner lessons usually occur.

On a positive note, the Kottke study charted the return of skiers and riders all along the West Coast after four years of sub-par snowfall and weather. The Pacific Northwest even set an all-time visit record, with more than 4.8 million guests. That bodes well for a rebound next year in the East and Midwest, if weather cooperates.

Nashville itself provided a fitting backdrop for the conference, as well as a change of scenery. The city has developed a vibrant and diverse musical culture, building upon its base as the epicenter of country music. Construction cranes litter the skyline, indicating that change is ongoing. The traditional and the new sit side by side: the futuristic Music City Center looms just a few blocks away from the Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Old Opry in the mid-1900s, and the still-new Bridgestone Center, home to the Nashville Predators hockey team, sits a block or two from Tootsies and The Stage, two of the oldest and most renowned music venues in country music. If Nashville can manage to change and grow with the times, surely winter sports can as well.