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September 2006

Speak Out :: September 2006

Jarrod Moss responds to SAM's query with "Thoughts on a Summer Day." SAM talks about "Taking Safety to the Next Level." And PSIA examiner Pete Robertson says, "Growth Initiative Ills Start at the Top."

Written by Jarrod Moss, Peter Robertson, Staff | 0 comment

In response to a SAM query about “what issues or challenges do you think about during the offseason,” we got the following reply. (Note to self: be careful what you ask for.)

Thoughts on a Summer Day
by Jarrod Moss, Terrain Manager, Ski Sundown

Sorry I’ve taken so long to get back to you. Summer months are what they are...

A couple things I think about around here at this point in the year are ways to make life more interesting. Such as starting a mountain bike program/summer operations deal. The problem is, no matter what I come up with for a plan, it won’t produce enough revenue to make it worthwhile. So something that I would be interested in is seeing how smaller areas like Sundown, with 625 feet of vert and 16 trails that aren’t used eight months a year, can design a proper summer gig. Ideally, it should produce enough cash flow so we can hire some other schleps to do all the grunt work and we can do the fun stuff, like operate an open area.

Also floating around in my head while I paint and mow all summer are the possibilities of quicker ways of getting these mundane things done. I ponder schemes like hiring an elite task force of painting kindergartners who aren’t afraid of extension ladders, or bringing in a whole flock of goats (flock?) to eat the grass. Of course, they’d need to be ninja goats to survive the bob cats, bears and other menaces of suburban Connecticut.

I also believe that a time machine would be a nice addition to the summer equipment shed. Skipping seven months of the year, say the warm ones, would be pretty neat. Especially when its a million degrees like it has been here this summer.

Another item I have in the “make summer more interesting” file are the monkeys. Wouldn’t it be great if every time you had to go to the top of the hill for something, you also got to battle a dozen monkeys? Think about it. The usually routine trip to check the bullwheel would be transformed into an epic adventure every time.

So that’s my list. If you can gather up the karate goats and a time warp machine, it’d be a lot of help. I’ll work on hiring the monkeys and getting a park together to bring some bikers in.

Thanks in advance for your assistance and support.

Taking Safety to the Next Level
A SAM editorial

In Bill Jensen’s SAM interview (“Thoughts from Chairman Bill,” page 43), the longtime Vail COO and recently elected NSAA chairman argues for increased enforcement of the Responsibility Code. He’s not alone in making that call. Safety enforcement gets a big boo-ya from snowsliders of all types.

The latest evidence of this comes from Ski Industries America (SIA). The organization has recently completed research for its Model for Success, which aims to increase sales of skis, snowboards, and other hard goods. SIA asked skiers and snowboarders what they are looking for in their gear purchases, and one of the major goals expressed by snow sliders was safety. While this can mean “trust in our equipment,” skiers and riders were also very clearly saying, “enforce the Responsibility Code.”

For skiers especially, skiing in control is their ultimate ­reason for buying equipment. Controlled gliding is a big part of the sport’s allure. But many skiers went further, saying that areas should police the slopes to enforce the Code. Their responses were full of resentment and anger toward those out-of-control menaces who endanger folks who are skiing in control. They are quite serious about expecting resorts to maintain a safe environment. A few went so far as to suggest that their safety concerns could push them to drop out of the sport.

Mind you, these responses came in response to open-ended, unaided questions aimed at determining what snow sliders are looking for in skis, snowboards and other hard goods—not questions about onhill safety. That’s a measure of how top of mind the safety issue is.

This was just one of the many surprises contained in the study. Another was the overwhelming interest on the part of better skiers and snowboarders to demo new gear before they buy. Gear is expensive, and snowsliders want to make sure they make the right choices. They are looking for gear that gives them confidence in all the types of terrain and snow conditions they encounter. That’s the other side of the safety issue—staying in control.

Of course, demos, by necessity, take place at ski areas. Given the value to potential customers, it makes sense for areas, suppliers and even retailers to work together on demo events. These generate traffic in the short run, and, by showing skiers how new gear can make skiing easier and more fun, demos can keep older skiers (the Boomers) in the sport longer. In his SAM interview, Jensen acknowledged that innovations in skis over the past decade or so have played a major role in keeping the Boomers active. In that sense, demo events are as important to ski areas as they are to the ski suppliers.

And that makes increasing the number of demo events staged across the country an idea worth considering. Areas can jointly develop events with manufacturers and retailers, or even with SIA itself. True, NSAA and SIA learned the hard way, 15 years ago, that their organizational goals didn’t mesh. But individual areas and manufacturers have a lot in common—and this is one instance where it makes sense to work together.

Growth Initiative Ills Start at the Top
by Pete Robertson, Director, Bromley Mountain Ski & Snowboard School, PSIA-E Alpine Examiner

I read “Where’s All the Growth?” (SAM, Speak-Out, July 2006) with great interest. Here’s my answer to your question:

PSIA/AASI needs to expand its educational role to include setting minimum standards for beginner programs in order to give instructors and snowsports schools a realistic chance of providing a positive outcome. These standards should be part of the requirements for an area’s school to become a member school.

These minimum standards should include:

• Limit class size for beginners to no more than 8.

• Beginners need more than a 1- to 2-hour lesson to be successful; 3 to 5 hours should be the standard.

• Beginner areas need appropriate terrain, acceptable pitch, and sufficient space to accommodate the expected number of students.

• Rental shops must provide short shaped skis and boots that flex.

• Beginner programs should maintain a mix of veteran staff with beginner staff.

Ideally, our students would get superb instruction, perfect beginner terrain, the correct equipment, a low student-to-teacher ratio, and lots of time. We know that this combination provides the best opportunity for creating lifelong participants. At present, most areas do not meet these ideals, especially during busy holidays and peak weekends, when most lessons are given. Why not? Too often, PSIA schools are directed by management to maximize profits instead of worrying about delivering a quality product. Instead, the president/CEO/GM tells the ski school director to sell lessons to all who want a lesson, regardless of the outcome. This is why retention breaks down. NSAA will find that these standards are the pieces that have been missing, and that implementing these simple ideas will lead to the success of the Growth Initiative.

These standards will create additional benefits. PSIA/AASI will be better able to recruit new members and retain current members, as instructors will no longer be placed in unrealistic and unsafe conditions. My proposed changes would also go a long way toward supporting the PSIA/AASI mission and vision statements that the organizations adopted in 2002. That vision is, “Inspiring life-long passion for the mountain experience.” The mission statement reads, “We support the snow­sports industry by encouraging our members to:

• develop personally and professionally

• create positive learning experiences

• have more fun.”

We have begun to address the industry’s growth challenges, but there’s more that we can do to improve the retention rate.