Speakout & Issues


n an attempt to quickly extinguish any dissent, Seth Masia argues against the ideas presented in Allen Best's story, "A Slightly Skeptical Look at Global Warming," by affirming that global warming is real, and that we should still be "very, very worried." While I acknowledge the legitimate concerns we have on this subject, we do not need any more environmental anxiety or fear-mongering.

Protecting our environment is paramount. The ski industry stands at the forefront of this cause, and we are right in doing so! However, we should not be protecting the environment out of fear, but because we love it for its beauty. That is our real, underlying reason for sustainability-not climate change. Global warming, as real as it is, has been turned into a hyped-up ultra-political distraction.

Ultimately, the hype of global warming will wane, because hype is not sustainable. I would urge the whole industry to protect the environment, not out of this passing worry, but because we love it the way it is.

And for your health's sake, stop worrying.

-Joey Martel, Brian Head, Utah

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In "The H-2B Dilemma" (March 2009), we misquoted Phil Simon of CIEE, a company that helps place J-1 and H-2B workers at American resorts. What we should have reported was that he said that the H-2B visa is eminently suitable for resorts, while the Q-1 classification is not. To quote him accurately: "We counsel our clients that the Q-1 classification is not suitable for ski resorts," Simon says. "We only recommend it in very limited circumstances-specifically for businesses that are representing other cultures as a core part of their business, such as some theme parks, for example."

To recap the pros and cons of the popular visas that resorts use for international staffing, here is the latest information:

New rules mean that the H-2B visa (overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor) is more costly for employers than it was, and competition for the allocation is fierce. For resorts that can afford it and can get it, it works well. However, it is not as useful as it once was, in particular because the cap is reached earlier each season.

J-1 visas are overseen by the U.S. Department of State. The J-1 Summer Work Travel visa is a valuable way to fill some entry-level positions for seasonal peaks. It is cost-effective and not subject to the same caps as H-2B. These student workers have limited availability, but can be successfully used in conjunction with other hires.

The J-1 Intern/Trainee visa is another cultural exchange visa overseen by the State Department. This relatively unknown program allows resorts to hire management trainees for up to 12 months. It is not suitable for entry-level positions.

The Q-1 visa was popularized by theme parks. A growth in interest from others in the hospitality industry led to increased scrutiny from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services who were, apparently, concerned that hotels and resorts can't, by the nature of their business, offer the requisite structured cultural exchange program.

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In this issue (page 54), our financial guru, Jeff Harbaugh, tackles the industry's annual Economic Analysis again. More importantly, he brings up a really good point in his discussion: Whatever happened to our focus on trial and conversion and the Model for Growth? It is something that has been weighing on my mind, too. NSAA correctly pointed out in 2000 that a beginner drop-out rate of 85 percent and a conversion rate of only 15 percent are not good numbers. They urged us to ask ourselves what it is about our sport that was driving people away in droves after only a few trys. NSAA president Michael Berry called on us to increase that trial and conversion rate just a small percentage each year, and promised the exponential payoff would be huge. Our goal, he said, would be a conversion rate of 25 percent, which would lead to 67.2 million skier visits by 2015, but to do nothing, we would see a drop-off during that same period to 37.9 million visits.

Granted, since then, when we look at our skier visit numbers, we've seen more good news than bad. Last year's record-breaker of 60.1 million visits made us all raise our glasses. In fact, 05/06 was a record-breaker with 58.9 million following 02/03's record-breaker of 57.6 million. That's a lot of record-breaking seasons for an industry that was supposed to be on the decline. It's also a lot of records considering that conversion needle has barely budged a single percent.

So, why the increased skier visits without an increase in conversion? My opinion, for whatever it's worth, is that we are doing a fairly good job of keeping our core customers pretty stoked-and by core customer I mean those Baby Boomers and snowboarders (thank God for snowboarding!). We're also extending our ski seasons with fancy snowmaking equipment. But, we still face the same problem: how are we going to fill the gap when these Baby Boomers start to drop out? How do we fill the gap when our core customers are losing their jobs? We need to do a better job of trial and conversion, that's how.

I'm a realist. I understand that winter sports are not for everyone. So our conversion rate is always going to be on the low side, as compared to say, snorkeling in the Caribbean. But, still, there has to be something we can do to get that conversion number trending upward.

We all know areas who put everything they had behind better conversion by building new learning centers, revamping beginner terrain, installing beginner-friendly conveyor lifts and so on. And it has worked, to some extent.

Still other areas tackled it from a different angle by getting more people to try our sport, thereby increasing the number of people who became core, but still not increasing conversion. They went after ethnic markets, school kids, you name it, all of which are great ideas.

So, clearly there is no magic bullet, but I caution us not to lose this idea of increasing our trial and conversion. While our numbers are fairly stable at the moment, we musn't lose sight of the fact that we still face an uncertain future. True, the dire predictions of almost 10 years ago have not panned out, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't still be trying. Isn't it always a good idea to grow participation?

We've got an Olympics hitting our continent next year-that's a perfect time to spotlight just how cool sliding on our slopes can be. No, it's not for everyone, but there are still enough people out there who are willing to give it a whirl. We should stand up and be seen during this time. And, above all, we should never rest on our laurels and lose sight of that magic 25-percent conversion rate. It's still worth striving for. \

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