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November 2008

X Makes the Sport

Generation X is a lot different from the Boomers we cater to now.

Written by Melissa Bearns | 0 comment

When Matthew McFarland and his marketing staff at Hoodoo Ski area in Oregon came up with the idea for Tightwad Tuesdays, they expected mostly college kids and homeschooled teens to show up for the $19 adult pass.

“We were really surprised because it was mostly people in their 30s,” he says.

At Sugar Bowl Resort, Calif., marketing manager Jennie Bartlett didn’t expect 30-something women to pack their ladies clinics. But they showed up in droves, bringing a friend or two with them.

At Mount Hood Meadows, Ore., marketing manager Dave Tragethon says full-day kids lessons are almost as obsolete as the 8-track as more and more 30-something parents ask for half-day options that allow them to spend a morning or afternoon on the slopes with their elementary- and middle school-age kids.

The needs and wants of Gen Xers are dramatically different from the Boomers who preceded them, especially when you look at women. Here’s a look at what that means for you, and what you can do about it.

What Is Generation X?

First, know your market. Gen Xers were born between 1964 and 1978, and are now between the ages of 30 and 44. Gen Xers number about 44 million, 32 million fewer than Boomers. Gen Xers are highly educated: Almost 40 percent have some college education. They’re technically savvy. They listen to radio online, instant message, spend a lot of time surfing the Web, own iPods, and have web-enabled cell phones or PDAs. The younger half of the generation text messages. A lot.

On average, they make more money than Boomers did at the same age, but Gen Xers have less disposable income because they have about 70 percent more debt than Boomers did, most of which is housing debt. On the family front, they’re marrying and having kids later. In the most recent Leisure Trends survey, conducted at resorts and randomly by phone, in the 35 to 44 age group, 72 percent are married and 68 percent have kids.

Gen X and the Outdoors

When it comes to their relationship with the outdoors, Gen X is looking for something quite different than the Boomers. “The Boomers launched the mainstreaming of outdoor recreation, and as they tend to do, they reshaped the market,” says James Chung, president of “They have a high expectation of luxury packaging around their outdoor experience.

“Generation X has not embraced that. They are more into the true outdoor experience, the experience away from it all. They’ll trade off some of the niceties in exchange for having more of an experience in the outdoors.” Gen X cares a lot more about your lifts running smoothly, no-frills lodging at a good price, and how well you’ve groomed the trails than about the full-on resort experience.

Value Orientation

Some resorts have noticed that Gen Xers are extremely value-oriented. It’s not just that they’re looking for a good deal, a sale, a discount. They’re looking for bang for the buck.

“This generation doesn’t have the personal wealth that the previous generation has, but they appreciate and value quality,” says Tragethon. “So we see them finding ways to buy a cheaper pass, but then they spend money on really good gear.” Meadows offers a pass called the 4x4, which requires the buyer to team up with three other people and buy the passes as a group. It’s a program that’s extremely popular with Gen Xers; Tragethon says that the average age of the 4x4 passholder is 37.

Hoodoo’s Tightwad Tuesdays attract Gen Xers who are established enough in their jobs that they can take a day off mid-week. And they’re willing to do that because they’re getting more for their money—a cheap ticket and no liftlines. Similarly, at Ski Bowl in Oregon, discounts bring out the Gen X women on ladies night each Tuesday. Lift tickets for women are half off ($13). The program is extremely popular with 30-something women, who show up with mixed gender groups of friends.

Value is big with newbies as well. Both Mt. Bachelor and Sugar Bowl had tremendous success offering a free beginner lesson with the purchase of an adult lift ticket. “They’re super savvy and they’re all over the Internet shopping for deals,” says Carly Carmichael, former marketing director. “They feel entitled because they know they can find a deal out there somewhere, and if you don’t offer it to them, someone else will.”

Half a Day with the Kids

One difference resort managers are noticing between Gen X parents and Boomers is that Xers are much more interested in spending time with their kids on the slopes. “It’s a much more of a hands-on kind of parenting than we saw with the last generation,” says McFarland, who now sees parents tagging along in their kid’s lessons so frequently they had to post a sign reminding parents to let the instructors do the teaching. McFarland (Hoodoo) and Tragethon (Mount Hood Meadows) both say they’ve noticed a significant increase in the demand for half-day lessons.

“With Generation X it’s less about short, quality time and more about quantity of time,” Chung says. “They’re less interested in how epic was that vacation. It’s more about how epic was that time with the kids on the slopes.”

Bargains are essential to retaining Gen X parents. Traditionally, people tend to drop out of skiing and boarding for a few years while their kids are young. But if the costs are too high, it could create a barrier that prevents them from ever coming back into the sport.

“One thing we continue to hear from this age group is that skiing is getting too expensive,” says Dave Belin of RRC Associates. “You’ve got to ask, ‘Are resorts really conscious of that?’ Really good family pricing is essential.”

There are ways to accommodate Gen X parents. Mt. Bachelor has a 10-ride pass (10 rides up the lift) that’s good for two years and is transferrable, a great option for parents with little kids as they may not get in more than a few runs a day. Mount Hood Meadows offers the 2x2, similar to the 4x4 but for kids (two seasons’ passes for kids ages 7 to 14 for $200 each), as well as the Family Pack, day tickets for two kids and two adults for $125.

“Many Gen Xers who dropped out while their kids were young are at the age where they should come back into the sport because their kids are old enough,” Chung says. “This is a critical time for resorts as far as bringing this group back. There’s still the perception that families behave in certain ways and that it’s still the same. This group is a totally different market.”

Woo the Ladies

Gen X women were the first wave of young girls to grow up after Title 9 took effect, and that’s a defining aspect of Gen X. “Like the men, they’re choosing primarily non-competitive outdoor sports,” Chung says. “They grew up in an era where you weren’t a freak show if you played a sport. Now, they’re much more likely to view themselves as peers to their male counterparts.”

Programs that draw in Gen X women seem to share a few key components, the first of which is some kind of social aspect to it. “For Gen X in general, creating circles of friends that you do these sports with is important,” Chung says.

Women’s programs that have taken off also offer added value, whether it’s a reduced lift ticket like at Ski Bowl’s Ladies Night, or the wine and cheese tastings and massages that are included as part of Sugar Bowl’s women’s clinics.

For this season, Mt. Bachelor is considering a day with discounted tickets for moms. By itself, that probably won’t be enough to entice moms back to the mountain. But combining feminine interests with a group experience by having two meeting times during the day where the Monday Moms can hook up with other Monday Moms would boost the likelihood of success. Throwing in some free instruction that would help the women separate into groups by ability, then get to know each other in a one-hour lesson, would probably result in a popular program where women would come back week after week to ski and ride with their newfound group of friends.

Some minor pampering components, whether it’s a quick manicure, make-over, or massage, are incredibly popular with Gen X women too. These create a bonding opportunity and something that’s both sporty and girly at the same time, which is especially appealing to Gen X women. Gen X women still struggle with asserting femininity within the context of sports, especially sports that were male-dominated when the Gen X women got into them.

Reaching Out to Gen X

So now that you’ve got a few ideas for ways to tweak your promotions and programs to draw in Gen X, the biggest question is, “How do you reach them?”

Title 9 aside, Gen X is also the first generation where ADD and ADHD were household words. Think short, sweet, to-the-point messaging that can be delivered in multiple formats and utilizes some of the newer technologies. At Mount Hood Meadows, Tragethon’s daily e-mail update has a sophisticated, slick html presentation that’s image heavy and text light.

Belin recommends “quick messages that are targeted to them” and allowing skiers and boarders to customize both the medium of delivery and also the type of information they receive. For example, make it possible for people to sign up to get a text message alert any time the mountain gets more than six inches of snow. Allow your web visitors to customize their home page with information that’s relevant to their needs, whether it be cheap deals on tickets, lodging specials, or competitions and events. Create forums where users can access information at their leisure, like blogs and even accounts. And take advantage of the flexibility of the Web to reach out to Gen X visually, with embedded YouTube videos of cool stuff on your mountain.

Keep it short, make it real, target programs to families and women, with a focus on added value and social opportunities. That’s the ticket with Gen X.

Melissa Bearns is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore. Her first job in journalism was as a Gen X columnist for a small paper in New Hampshire.