March 2019

News and Views :: March 2019

Popular passes, thoughts on growth, people and suppliers moves, and more.

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Vail Resorts reportedly sold more than 1 million Epic Passes for this winter. And it’s rumored that Alterra sold about 400,000 Ikon Passes. With so many passholders gaining access to new mountains, many resorts have seen increased visits and revenues. That’s led many local passholders to complain about overcrowding and a loss of the resort vibe.

Tales of full parking lots, crowded base areas, and long lift lines have become increasingly common. Eldora, Colo., found its parking lots filled to capacity as early as mid-November. We’ve heard tales from Alta, Park City, and Stowe, to name a few, of long lift lines and grumbling from locals. Inexpensive passes and broad access are great for destination visitors and resort bottom lines, but their popularity is creating a growing angst.

Areas are responding. Eldora initially planned to institute a new parking policy, charging a fee and encouraging carpooling. An immediate backlash led the area to put that plan on hold until next year.

In February, the other shoe dropped: longtime Vail Resorts and Epic Pass partner Arapahoe Basin said it will end its partnership in 2019-20. COO Alan Henceroth cited crowded parking and facilities (there’s a theme here) for the change, saying A-Basin chose to “minimize waiting and crowding and maximize experiences and fun.”

All this proves once again that there can be too much of a good thing.

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We launched #MyFirstMountain, with help from SNOW Operating, in January with a call to action for industry folks to share the memorable stories of their “home” mountains and their first experiences of sliding on snow. Stories have filled our mailbox, and also our ears during our travels as we collect anecdotes for future PodSAM episodes.

One example comes from Hiram Towle, GM at Mt. Ashland, Ore., who shared his heart-felt story with us. Hiram began his ski journey at Crotched Mountain, N.H., at the age of two.

“I can still picture the red snow suit I wore as I explored the mountain like I owned the place. I remember walking into the lodge with my wooden skis still firmly attached to go to the bathroom, because safety straps were a horrible invention! In the end I didn’t make it, and when mom was washing the red suit she asked, “Why didn’t you just go in the woods?” Now knowing that was an option, I never saw the lodge bathrooms again. I went bell to bell every day.”

That’s only a small excerpt from Hiram’s story, which, in its entirety, delves into the feeling he found as a kid and remembers fondly as an adult—the feeling of home he had at his first mountain. Read his whole story, and many others, at saminfo.com/my-first-mountain. We encourage you to delve into these stories and get lost in the past. It often lends the best advice for the future.

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Addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace has been a source of controversy in many industries the past few years. Now, the outdoor industry is going through its own growing pains as it strives to become more inclusive.

Camber Outdoors, formerly known as the Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition, initially focused on urging companies to prioritize gender diversity. Its 2015 CEO pledge required executives to employ more women at all levels of their companies. Dozens of companies signed on, and Camber received $1.5 million in funding from REI.

Then, in recognition of the need to broaden the scope of equity and inclusion in the outdoors, Camber expanded its mission and pledge to include people of color and all gender identities. In announcing the new pledge, though, Camber executive director Deanna Buck claimed this as a “first-ever” initiative, failing to acknowledge that another group had already taken the lead in this wider arena—a group that had approached Buck about working together. Teresa Baker’s Outdoor Industry CEO Diversity Pledge was launched in July 2018. Baker and colleagues made repeated attempts to work with Camber, to no avail.

Not surprisingly, Baker’s group and its supporters viewed Camber’s “ first of its kind” claim as a snub. The social backlash was swift and severe, with demands for the Buck to step down. Within two weeks, both Buck and REI CEO Jerry Stritzke, who was apparently entangled in all this somehow, had departed their respective positions.

Wow. Traditional mores are rapidly giving way to a newer, inclusive ethos. Lip service to equal treatment and equal rights is no longer acceptable. It’s important for all organizations to recognize this change and even embrace it. That starts with listening to the message and seeking out dialogue. Speaking of which ...

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That’s probably what many were thinking after reading International Ski Federation’s (FIS) president Gian Franco Kasper’s interview with a Swiss newspaper in February. Kasper said, “Dictators can organize [big] events ... without asking the people’s permission,” and “from the business side, I say: I just want to go to dictatorships. I do not want to argue with environmentalists.” He also referenced “so-called” climate change and used the chilly temperatures during the Pyeongchang Olympics to back up his skepticism. “To anyone shuddering toward me, I said: ‘Welcome to the global warming,’” he said.

Outrage ensued. Protect Our Winters (POW) launched a campaign calling for Kasper to resign, and Burton Snowboards co-CEO Donna Carpenter said, “It’s so blatant. He has to resign. It’s not OK.” Kasper apologized and said his comments were not meant to be taken literally, but the damage was done.

news and views supplier news

BRANDAUER GMBH, manufacturer of the Brandauer Mountain Coaster, has become part of Sunkidworld. Sunkid GmbH is a global provider of attractions such as lifts, amusement rides, and other family activities.

WINTERSTEIGER presented its new “Future of Rental” concept—an innovative approach that speeds up the rental process considerably with the help of digitization and intelligent use of data—at ISPO 2019 in Munich and the Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show in Denver. (See New Products, page 60.)

Jeff Schultz, a veteran engineer and entrepreneur, recently launched a new digital snowmaking technology called BLUEBIRD SNOW. Schultz claims it can make snow at higher temperatures without using pressurized air, and can design the snow as needed.

HEAD NORTH AMERICA has promoted Jon Rucker to the role of president, HEAD/Tyrolia USA Winter Sports Division. HEAD also launched HEAD Winter Sportswear in North America and promoted Julia Couperthwait to business manager, Sportswear North America. HEAD/Tyrolia USA also said it achieved record sales in 2018.

news and views people

mar19 news and views MichaelVanEyckMichael Van EyckIn the East, the Fairbank Group (Bromley, Vt., Jiminy Peak, Mass., Cranmore, N.H.) named Michael van Eyck to the newly created position of chief revenue officer, overseeing the Fairbank Group’s marketing, sales, and revenue strategies while maintaining his daily role as assistant GM and development lead at Bromley. … Bo Bigelow stepped down from his role as events and programs director for Ski Maine to focus on his position as VP of conference coordinators for the U.S. Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association collegiate ski racing. … Mount Peter, N.Y., general manager Rebecca Kullberg has been appointed to the Ski Areas of New York board of directors.mar19 news and views RebeccaKullbergRebecca Kullberg

Killington/Pico, Vt., director of sales and marketing Rob Megnin will retire on June 28 after 35 years in the ski industry and nine years at Killington. Dave Beckwith, Killington/Pico director of snowsports and golf, will be promoted to the Killington Executive Committee and report directly to president and GM Mike Solimano. He will continue to oversee snowsports, day care, rental, golf, and youth development.mar19 news and views DaveBeckwithDave Beckwith

Norm Staunton has been named the director of technical operations and advancement for Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports and Felicia Fowler is now program coordinator. … John Bray is the new director of food and beverage at Wisp Resort, Md.

mar19 news and views FeliciaFowlerFelicia FowlerSNOW Operating CEO Joe Hession was named the keynote speaker for the 2019 Interski Congress at Pamporovo, Bulgaria. It is the first time in many years that an American has been selected to address the congress.

In the West, industry veteran and 2010 SAMMY Award winner Dave Rathbun is now general manager of Purgatory Resort in Colorado. Purgatory also named Sam Williams as senior director of mountain operations. Williams was previously the general manager of Powderhorn, Colo.

mar19 news and views DougLovellDoug LovellVail Mountain vice president and COO Doug Lovell will retire in May 1. Lovell began his career with Vail Resorts in 1994 as a snowmaker at Beaver Creek. Beaver Creek VP and COO Beth Howard will succeed Lovell at Vail, and Northstar California VP and general manager Nadia Guerriero will succeed Howard as the VP and COO of Beaver Creek.

Longtime Aspen Skiing Company resort leader Susan Cross became general manager at Snowmass. Cross succeeds Steve Sewell, who retired Dec. 31 after a 42-year career with SkiCo. He had served as Snowmass GM since 2006. … Colorado Ski Country USA hired Amanda Watkins as its new marketing director.mar19 news and views AmandaWatkinsAmanda Watkins

Veteran ski area marketer Matt Gebo is the new director of marketing for Mammoth Lakes Tourism. … Jordan Elliot is now president of the Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association (PNSAA). He succeeds John Gifford.

news and views awards

mar19 news and views MongoPeter “Mongo” SchoryThe National Ski Areas Association presented the Ski Industry Impact Award to Peter “Mongo” Schory for his significant contributions to snow safety. Schory, the director of winter operations at Snowbird, Utah, and the chairman of the NSAA Explosives Committee, has held various leadership roles with Snowbird, Wasatch Powderbird Guides, and the Avalanche Artillery Users of North America Committee.

Mount Spokane, Wash., volunteer ski patroller Andy Porter has been named the Outstanding Alpine Patroller by the National Ski Patrol. Porter has been a ski patroller for nearly 20 years.

GREENevada honored Diamond Peak with the 2019 Golden Pinecone Sustainability Award in recognition for the resort’s sustainability efforts.
“Titcomb, a Mountain of Ski Memories,” by Megan Roberts, has been named the recipient of the 2019 International Ski History Association’s Skade Award, presented for outstanding work on a regional ski history.

news and views obits

mar19 news and views TysonGoodrichTyson GoodrichPipe shaper and terrain park builder Tyson Goodrich died in a car accident while working in China in early January. Goodrich was part of Khunos Snow Pros, an independent park consulting and building group, and had a successful career building pipes, boardercross, and slopestyle courses for the Olympics, Dew Tour, X Games, and many FIS events.

Legendary boot guy, co-founder of RealSkiers, instructor, and gear tester Peter Keelty died Feb. 5 from complications of emphysema.

Acclaimed ski journalist Morten Lund died Dec. 21 at the age of 92. Lund had a writing and editing career spanning six decades for the likes of Sports Illustrated, SKI, Snow Country and Skiing Heritage magazines.

mar19 news and views speakout

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We cannot ski or ride without snow. But our most valuable resource in the winter sports industry is the one element on which we can confidently rely to carry the skiing, snowboarding and winter tourism industries into the future—our youth population.

As the president of the Connecticut Ski Council (CSC), doing more to introduce kids to snowsports is an inherent focus for me. The CSC’s stated goal is to advance skiing and snowboarding in New England and beyond, largely by way of helping to increase participation in the sports. We are a non-profit with between 30 and 40 member clubs, and a total membership of around 35,000 skiers and riders. Our demographics are as diverse as the resorts we patronize—young and old, singles and families, the working and the retired, skiers and snowboarders. Our unifying trait, of course, is a love for winter sports.

As lifelong participants gradually age out, they are not being replaced fast enough. Why?

The life cycle of the typical snowsport fanatic has historically gone something like this: ski or ride after school or on weekends during childhood, trips to the mountains with friends in your 20s, teach the sport to your kids and drag your family along in your 30s, 40s, and 50s, retire, and spend your retirement skiing or riding a lot more and introducing your grandchildren to the sport.

The foundational link in this formula is a child developing the enthusiasm to go fast downhill on snow. However, social trends threaten to disrupt the chain. Winter sports are under siege from distractions, digital and otherwise, that threaten to steal future generations of would-be skiers and riders.
This problem is widespread, of course. For two years now, the issue has been a major topic for the National Ski Council Federation—all members agree that youth engagement is the panacea.

The CSC and other member councils of the National Ski Council Federation form an enormous think tank that is diligently working to come up with new ways to bring a fresh generation of skiers and riders into the fold. We share the same mission as the mountain resort industry. Our effort is driven primarily by a passion for snowsports and a desire to support the mountains we love to visit.

One means of driving youth engagement is an increased use of social media. The CSC has recently established a Social Media and Recruitment Committee, tasked with using Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to advertise our events and benefits to the consumers most engaged with those platforms (and who also happen to be our target demographic). Our goal in this initiative is to get them to look up from their screens and strap on a pair of boots with their friends.

An inherent part of the culture of ski councils is that we are constantly promoting skiing and snowboarding. We provide a fertile environment for developing the love of winter sports in young people. We enable thousands of families to build a network of individual skiers and riders that feed off of each other and engage in winter sports for life.

Organizations like the Connecticut Ski Council are doing vital work to bring young people into our wintery lifestyle.We want to work hand-in-hand with our industry friends to make winter sports a sustainable part of our lives for generations to come by harnessing the power and potential of our children.

— Benjamin Tomczak, President, Connecticut Ski Council

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For 35 years, the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) has reliably measured the volume of winter visits at U.S. areas. Visits reached record highs of over 60 million-plus days in 2008 and 2011. Last season, however, at 53.3 million days, they were down 11 percent from the record highs. Ski area visits are back to the level of 30 years ago in 1987.

Who's making these visits? According to the latest NSAA research, frequent skiers and snowboarders—people on lift-served slopes for six or more days a winter—now account for 70 percent of all visits. Put another way, only 28 percent of 9.2 million skiers and snowboarders account for 70 percent of all ski area visits.

Many of these folks buy one of the many varied season passes, such as Epic or Ikon, or any of the myriad passes offered by individual or collective ski areas to reward frequent skiers. Those willing to lay down between $500 and $1,000 before the end of November are enjoying the lowest lift prices, adjusted for inflation, in the sport’s history. For other frequent skiers and riders, there’s a mixed bag of discounted passes throughout the season, too varied and numerous to describe here.

Unfortunately, less committed, infrequent or casual skiers and snowboarders unfamiliar with how to purchase discounted tickets in advance—that other 72 percent of the audience—can be experiencing the highest-ever ticket prices.

Last winter, the average U.S. weekend window lift ticket price was $122.30. That’s 30 times greater than it was in 1965, when the weekend lift ticket sold on average for $4.18. Over the same period of time, U.S. disposable family income multiplied 2.75 times, rising from $14,174 to $39,155. The window lift ticket price has grown 10 times faster than people’s income available to spend in a discretionary manner.

Yes, the on-slope experience has been substantially improved by resort investments in grooming, snowmaking, faster lifts, new and upgraded day lodges. But an economist who found that the cost of an industry’s product or service over a half-century had increased 10 times more than did disposable family income, would be unlikely to form an optimistic picture of the industry’s future.

Almost all of U.S. family income growth since 2008 has gone to just 10 percent of the wealthiest Americans. That may be okay insofar as skiing correlates with higher incomes. But a prime component historically of the skier population, young college graduates, has been negatively impacted by this trend. NSAA notes a decline in visits of young men and women aged 13 to 24, coinciding with a downturn in snowboarding.

College loan indebtedness has doubled in the last ten years. Paying interest on their loans has left men and women in their 20s with less money to spend on recreation.

Of course, cost isn’t the only factor impacting ski area visits. People’s leisure time is being eaten up by social media and computer games. It has affected all outdoor sports, and snowsports have fared comparatively well, merely by declining less.

A CLOUDED FUTURE
The late Jim Spring, whose Leisure Trends firm did consumer research in skiing over many years, found a high number of people who call themselves skiers not participating for a season. The most promising way to increase participation numbers, he concluded in 1995, was to convince these people to ski every year.

Similarly, the McKinsey consulting firm in 1989 concluded that the best prospect for increasing skier numbers lies with light skiers who’ve already made a commitment to the sport. McKinsey reasoned that heavy skiers held little additional potential to expand the market, though they are the easiest for ski areas to reach.

McKinsey didn’t highlight cost, rather the need to improve the experience. And there’s the problem. Skiing is a sport involving bodily injury risk, discomfort, possible fear of heights. The newcomer must have suitable clothing, stand in lines to buy a ticket and rent equipment, and pay a ski school to learn how to slide down a hill without risking a fall or collision. That helps explain why more than four out of five newcomers exposed to this experience eventually decide not to take up the sport.

If the experience remains unaltered, and ski areas offer their best pricing to people already committed heavily to the sport, it’s difficult to see, with snowboarding participation in decline, and global warming, how measurable downhill skiing activity will grow in the years ahead, or avoid declining.

Pre-season sales of season passes are bringing significant cash flows to resorts of all sizes before the snow has even fallen. But it remains to be seen if their short-term financial interest will ultimately serve the best interest of the sport.

By John Fry

John Fry is chairman of the International Skiing History Association (skiinghistory.org). He is the author of the award-winning The Story of Modern Skiing, a history of the dramatic changes in the sport after World War II.