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SAM Magazine—Lake Geneva, Wis., Aug. 26, 2019—The Midwest Ski Areas Association (MSAA) Summer Meetings & Trade Show drew a large crowd of 424 attendees—including supplier reps and personnel from 55 different ski areas—to the Grand Geneva Resort, Aug. 18-21. The first-time location, a former Playboy Hotel, was well received. Grand Geneva provided a fresh perspective for considering the changing state of the ski industry, as Vail Resorts’ pending purchase of Peak Resorts and its seven Midwest properties heightened the sense of change permeating the winter sport business.

The meeting combined a wide range of educational sessions, from nuts and bolts operational issues to marketing and business software technologies. The NSAA Fall Education Seminar series examined a range of risk management issues. F & B received emphasis with several effective sessions. And the opening Product Preview Party generated interest in the trade show sessions that followed later in the program.

Lift operations and maintenance sessions spanned the three days, along with snowmaking and terrain parks. Digital technology drove several sessions, from Sam Rufo’s preview of coming marketing technologies and evolution to RFID gates and snow depth management.

The impending Vail/Peak purchase loomed in the background throughout. Longtime industry entrepreneur and observer Tim Kohl addressed consolidation more broadly in one session, “Who is Who,” and the Vail/Peak combination came up during the Q & A portion of the “State of the Industry” general session presented by NSAA president Kelly Pawlak and RRC’s Dave Belin. The overall message was positive, given recent experience, despite some misgivings among those resorts with multiple new Vail competitors, as independent resorts in other regions have seen pass and ticket sales increase in similar situations.

That general session, and Belin’s “growth” session, addressed this essential issue. Belin’s session described the opportunities with the eight million or so “lapsed” skiers and riders, as well as with beginners, revivals, and core participants. Lapsed participants, for the most part, plan to return to skiing and riding, but not all do. Their main obstacle: cost. This group often buys day tickets, which nationally have become prohibitive for many.

A final note on the sessions: More than once, Midwest resort personnel said that national trends do not reflect reality in this region. And in many cases—such as affordability—they are surely correct. NSAA’s data demonstrates this, to an extent. The Midwest has the lowest window ticket price, $67, and lowest average ticket price, $30. The region also has the youngest audience, at an average age of 25.7, the greatest percentage of beginners (22 percent) and renters (44 percent), and teaches the highest percentage of lessons (10 percent of all visits).

However, there are aspects of business that are much the same for all resorts, from risk management and lift maintenance to hiring issues and marketing technology. And there were plenty of sessions that addressed these key topics.

Related to that idea, the large and open trade show hall was bustling for all three show periods. Exhibitors saw ample traffic, and many reported strong interest from resorts.

Attendees also found time for a little fun. The golf tournament drew a full complement of players, and the Highlands course proved plenty challenging. As with the rest of the Grand Geneva facilities, attendees were unanimous is their praise of the location. The bike tour also attracted a good crowd.

All of which should put attendees in the proper frame of mind when it's time to think about next year's conference in Shanty Creek, Mich., Aug. 16-19.

Photos courtesy of Dave Gibson, Propeller Media Works.