If skiing as a product is a square peg, many of our markets are round holes. The trick, however, is that our industry usually hopes those round holes will magically square up and adapt to our behavior instead of the other way around.
Midweek skiing is the perfect example. For years we’ve tried to get people who work 9-5 to ski 9-4. We’ve tried discounts, passes, perks, you name it. Chris Lamothe, SkiBig3 (Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise, Mt. Norquay) e-commerce manager, summed this up in a tweet: “I’m not sure when ski resorts are going to realize that people who can’t ski midweek aren’t going to shift to midweek skiing.”
People want to ski midweek, but they don’t—because they can’t.
Square peg. Round hole.
Here’s the thing. I work 9-5. My daughter goes to school 8-3. Yet we frequently ski midweek as a family without taking time off work or checking kids out of school. How? Night skiing.
Night skiing is a product tailor-made for normal people with normal lives, and solves many of our industry’s challenges. For instance, in addition to the more convenient hours, fewer runs are open and sessions are shorter, so it’s more affordable and less strenuous for normal humans with normal quad muscles. And even on the days with the flattest light and grayest skies, previously invisible bumps and ruts are revealed once the night skiing lights come on.
Round peg. Round hole.
Maybe that’s why this season is filled with stories of, yes, crazy weekends, but equally busy nights. It’s happening all over—the Midwest, New England, the Pacific Northwest. My home mountain in Utah, Nordic Valley, has consistent lift lines at night for the first time in the 5 years I’ve been a passholder.
This spike in demand for outdoor recreation will wane, but if we want to grow skiing in the long term, we cannot continue to treat night skiing as an afterthought. We need to study it, market it, and price it as strategically as daytime skiing.
If we can convince folks to ski in the rain and on bulletproof ice, we can get them to ski at night. The problem is, we’ve never really tried. Of all the resorts that offer night skiing, only a tiny fraction gives this potential-filled product more than a sliver of their marketing attention or budget.
Does it work for all resorts? Of course not. But as our weekends continue to push the limits of resort capacity—thus degrading the guest experience—nights offer spacious overflow. Night skiing doesn’t fight our market’s behaviors, it works with them. Instead of making people choose between work and skiing, night skiing lets them do both.
WHAT A WINTER WE'RE HAVING!
To get a snapshot on the season, we asked our SAMMY 2020 honorees how the winter was going from their perspectives. Here’s what we heard:
Biggest takeaway(s) from this season?
Davy Ratchford, Snowbasin, Utah: The desire for families to get out in the mountains to ski and ride is as strong as ever. Although things have been a wee bit different this season, our guests’ connection to nature also seems to have increased dramatically. People just want to be outside. When it’s all said and done, this is what we deliver on.
Rick Schmitz, Nordic Mountain, Little Switzerland, The Rock, Wis.: Covid sucks!
Our teams are awesome. Like most resorts, our teams spent more time and effort than ever before getting ready for the season—from physical changes (yurts, patios, outdoor spaces) to technology and operational changes. Everyone was exhausted before the season even began.
But they dug in and worked harder than ever once the season started. This season has been more challenging than any other, but our staff is making it run extremely well.
Danielle Kristmanson, Origin Design: We’re all way more nimble than we gave ourselves credit for. When forced to get creative with our businesses, the vast majority of us got right to it, and found new ways to survive, and sometimes thrive. I’m seeing changes to resort operations that should stick around after the pandemic is gone.
Ken Gaitor, Snowshoe, W.Va.: When it got tough my team dug in and delivered against the backdrop of some big challenges. We all learned what we are capable of and that has made us more resilient.
Most unexpected thing you encountered this season?
MJ Legault, Origin Design: I wasn’t expecting this astonishing return to the outdoors. We’re witnessing the outdoors becoming the most desirable place to be, for people who never thought of it that way before. Regardless of geography, demographics, or socio-economic status, nature has never felt more like medicine.
Schmitz: Two things: 1. The number of first-timers trying our sport this year. It is not just kids, but all demographics, including a surprising number of adults. Let’s convert them! 2. How understanding the majority of our guests are. While we have all experienced both extremes (too many Covid restrictions vs. not enough), the vast majority of our guests have been AWESOME. They understand the challenges we have faced, are following our rules, and most importantly, are so GRATEFUL WE ARE OPEN!
Kristmanson: I was most surprised by how unconditionally passionate skiers are. When it snows, it takes more than a pandemic, or hours-long lift lines, to keep people away from the sport they love.
Ratchford: Although we are at least 6 feet away and we have masks on, our connection to our guests—both for me personally and our teams generally—seems to have exponentially increased.
Managing through Covid-19 has been about communication and connection with our guests. Setting expectations and being out on the front line making sure those expectations are met. I thought we would all be in closed-off bubbles and the human side of what we do would diminish. That is not what happened. I’ve never been as close (figuratively) to our guests as I have this season.
How would you describe this season in a sentence (or a meme)?
Ratchford: Trust me, I’m smiling under here.
Gaitor: In tough situations, good people rise to the occasion.
Kristmanson: So far 2020 is like looking both ways before crossing the street and then getting his by an airplane.
NSAA WINTER SHOW CHAINSAW TIKI
North Pole Designs chief creative guy Senan Gorman and SAM publisher Olivia Rowan entertained with bad lumberjack jokes and a live tiki chainsaw-carving during the virtual NSAA Winter Conference in February. Attendees could vote for a tiki design ahead of the event, and Gorman crafted the one that received the most votes, Ullr. See the final results at right.
Dani Demmons, director of family programs and activities at Schweitzer Mountain, Idaho, won the drawing for the tiki. Her lumberjack jokes were winners, too.
Mark Meadows, co-owner and co-founder of TORRENT ENGINEERING & EQUIPMENT, has retired after 35 years in the snowmaking industry. Meadows began his career at Ratnik Industries in the early ’80s before starting Torrent in 2000.
PRINOTH GROUP has welcomed Bob Wolf to the sales team. Wolf will be serving resorts in the Midwest states.
Rob Mignone was named to the newly created position of vice president of sales for HEAD/TYROLIA.
TECNICA GROUP hired Rob Phillips to fill the newly created role of North American business unit director–Tecnica Footwear.
After 42 years of service, Paul Ehlert has retired from DOPPELMAYR USA.
Martin LaRicheliére has joined HKD SNOWMAKERS as vice president of business development and director of international and Eastern Canada sales.
After nearly 48 years of running Showdown Montana, George Willett has sold the resort to his daughter, general manager Katie Boedecker. Boedecker’s daughter Avery Patrick, Showdown’s marketing director, and her husband Shawn Patrick are also investing in the business.
In the Rockies, Arapahoe Basin, Colo., welcomed two new members to its leadership team: Jesse True joins A-Basin as marketing director, and Maggie Murray is now finance director.
Mac Smith is stepping down from his role as ski patrol director at Aspen Highlands after 42 years with the resort. He will remain on the ski patrol for the foreseeable future. Longtime patrol member Lori Spence has been appointed as acting director, making her the first woman to serve in the role.
SIA has four new members on its board of directors: Deborah Beggan of Helly Hansen; Stan Evans of Stan Evans Photography; Jordan Juss of Salomon Americas; and Brooke Kaplan of Darn Tough Vermont.
Eldora Mountain, Colo., snowmakers won the 2021 I AM a Snowmaker challenge sponsored by HKD. The participating teams—Blue Mountain, Ont.; Eldora, Colo.; Okemo Mountain, Vt.; and Squaw Valley, Calif.—each created a compelling video based on a chosen “Hermanism,” a saying from HKD founder, the late Herman K. Dupre. The public voted for their favorite teams during the January balloting period.
Cal Conniff, NSAA president and executive director from 1973 to 1990, and a 1990 U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame honoree, died Jan. 8. He was 90. Conniff served as vice president and general manager of Mt. Tom ski area in Holyoke, Mass., from 1960 to 1973, and in that time also served as president of the Massachusetts Ski Area Operators Association. He was the first chairman of the Massachusetts Recreational Tramway Board, president of the Eastern Ski Area Operators Association, and NSAA Ski Safety Committee chair.
In 2000, he received the annual BEWI Award for outstanding contributions to the sport of skiing. In retirement, Conniff served on the board and as president of the New England Ski Museum in Franconia, N.H., and established its Cal Conniff Grant Program to honor and preserve skiing history.
Telluride, Colo., legend William “Senior” Mahoney died in January at age 92 from complications caused by Covid-19. Mahoney, a miner who became a pioneer in the Colorado ski community with his efforts to bring a ski resort to Telluride, was inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in 1997 and named Outstanding Citizen by the Telluride Foundation in 2011.
Bruce Anders, president of Ober Gatlinburg, Tenn., died Jan. 8 due to complications from Covid-19. Anders joined the family business in 1992 and was elected president of Ober Gatlinburg in 2009. He had previously served as vice president of the Southeast Ski Areas Association.
Jeff White, P.E., died Dec. 2, 2020, at age 82. White was a longtime ski industry professional specializing in snowmaking as an engineer for Delta Engineering.