The Future of Ski Areas

| October 29, 2009 | 47 Comments

I attended a lunchtime presentation in Park City yesterday as the keynote speech by Michael Berry was “The Future of Skiing” and it promised to answer the question about why skiing growth was flat and what was going to happen when the Baby Boomers exited.  I was eagerly awaiting the magic words “Resort skiing has become moronically expensive and we need to reduce ticket prices by at least 60%…” but they never came.  Instead, it was almost the opposite, and at one point a speaker even stated that one of her organization’s goals was to “increase the daily spend” of people who come skiing in Utah.  Sigh.  But, it was still interesting.

Annual skier days in the US have been around 57 million for the last 5-10 years, with about a 1% growth.  Of this, there are about 9.5 million “active” skiers in the US who make up the majority of the visits.  Eighty-five-percent of the people who try skiing for the first time never return and fear is one of the biggest obstacles to getting people to try it.  Getting beginners hooked is tough, and in that regard, shaped skis were a boom to the industry as they made learning easier.  Three-percent of America skis, and Albany, NY has the highest percentage of skiers in the US (not sure how that was measured).

Skiing and ski areas are considered “multi-generational gathering areas” for families, and when it comes to making vacation plans, Moms wear the pants, or Bogners in this case.  The “magic line in the sand” for skiing families is an annual household income of $75,000 or more.  Below that (or if the weather sucks), people won’t go.

I’ve been out of the resort loop for a while, so whenever I do go, I’m blown away by the prices.  For $100ish per person, per day, it better be damn good, but apparently people don’t seem to care.  As far as this goes, Michael admonished the ski industry to “… not retreat from the quality experience.  If people are use to sleeping on 400 thread count sheets, you can’t go back to muslin.”  Much of the emphasis on keeping existing skiers skiing is aimed at increasing the quality of the experience, which basically means adding value, whether you want it or not.

One of the more interesting points, at least for me, was a comparison of early skiers who were considered “elite athletes” because they had to master floppy boots, stiff skis and dicey bindings.  Through steady improvements in grooming and gear, the athletic bar has been lowered, while the financial bar has been correspondingly raised, which makes today’s skiers elite earners.  Sure, there will always be dirtbag skiers, but it is less the norm nowadays.

Hmmmm.  There you have it.

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Category: Commentary

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

Comments (47)

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  1. Chad says:

    Did they mention anything about slack-country or backcountry ski growth negativly impacting resort market growth?

  2. Michael says:

    actually, people do care, they aren’t skiing, and that is why the sport is dying. I live in East coast snow and buy season passes for my family but that precludes a family trip to UT. The industry may keep it’s head in the sand and increase its “daily spend”, but it forgets that the industry became what it was through day tripping families with brown bag lunches. Not to get political, but the (American) ski industry success follows the success of the middle class. As the middle class gets depleted, the ski industry loses its roots.

  3. Andrew says:

    Hi Chad – no, there was no mention of that. While it seems like a big deal to people like us who partake in it, for mainstream American skiing, back/slack country skiing is right up there with BASE jumping as a radical sport.

  4. Andrew says:

    Michael – Having grown up brown-bagging at small resorts (which have now been scarfed up by conglomerates, or gone out of business), I fully agree with you and expected to see that in yesterday’s presentation. But, according to the speakers, that’s not the case. Thread count, spas, heated garages, high-speed quads, soup, croissants and expanded acreage are big factors to many/most American skiers. I could care less about them, except once they become the standard, you get them whether you want them or not, and you have to pay for them.

    Something I found odd about yesterday’s presentation was the dichotomy between “welcoming our guests” on one hand, yet at the same time, trying to find ways to get them to “increase the daily spend” on the other. The welcoming part really seems disingenuous.

  5. David says:

    Interesting post. There are some crude connections between increases in amenities offered and increased ticket prices to big stadium sports in this country. As a business strategy, going after the luxury consumer seems to be more appealing than offering a product more affordable to more people. The basic result I notice is that big stadiums and ski resort developers both try to create the ultimate American leisure escape, the shopping mall.

  6. Andrew says:

    Yes, it is an interesting shift in skiing philosophy. One of the presenters yesterday was talking about how excited they were about starting their “Canyon Club” which included amenities to avoid some of the things that he said people complained about most – parking, waiting in line, eating lunch with the masses and having to make reservations for dinner. For the price of membership, they take care of all of this for you, which seems kind of ironic as when I’ve been to the resort in question it was totally dead – you skied onto the lifts, walked into any restaurant you wanted and parked right up front.

    A friend at Alta mentioned that management there had been talking about making it more of an “exclusive experience.” The rationale was that local ski bums buy their passes early, use them hard and heavy, buy a minimum of extras and are very high maintenance and demanding. A three day business visitor on the other hand stays in hotels, buys meals, drinks, spa treatments, takes three runs, rents cars, buys gifts and leaves with a big smile.

  7. stevesliva says:

    Albany’s got a lot of places within reasonable distance that climb the scale of expense… or, it did. Even the Berkshires are getting resortized. But the general idea I have is that Albany has everything nearby from one rope-tow hills, several places to go night skiing, to moderate-sized “cheap” places like Gore or Bromley or Windham, to the dumbly expensive places like Killington, Hunter, and Stratton. All those places hope to suck in crowds from the NY and Boston metro areas, but they are very easy for the Albany population to get to. Lifts within a couple hours per-capita must be off the charts.

    Why the ski industry continues to insist that its new customers prefer to spend $500 for the family to ski one day at Stowe to spending a lot less somewhere else, I don’t know. Albany’s got a lot of alternatives for people to spend less and not stay the night. The ski industry could do well to remember that. It’s not so mysterious– Skiing is more affordable and more convenient in Albany, NY than just about anywhere else, even if the skiing is pretty cruddy. And what keeps the Albany skiers skiing? Day trips.

  8. mark says:

    Bogus Basin Ski Area near Boise, Idaho, was on the verge of financial collapse. Then the general manager had the radical idea of offering $200 season passes. The catch–you had to buy them in the spring the year before they were valid.

    Pretty much everyone I knew and skied with in Boise was a Bogus Basin passholder. The area is thriving thanks to extensive night skiing and a lodge with plenty of tables for brown bag lunches. It’s run as a non-profit, so nobody’s getting rich. But the locals sure are happy.

  9. Andrew says:

    Hi Steve – I’m baffled by why people would pay $500 per day, per family to ski as well. I mean, I love skiing, but that just seems unsustainable for me or 99% of the people I know.

    Two years ago I had the same questions/thoughts about the housing industry – who ARE all these people buying these incredibly expensive houses?! The answer is now clear (clearer) and I wonder if the ski areas are experiencing the same thing, basically people taking vacations and going on ski trips that they really can’t afford. ? I don’t know, but it seems crazy to me.

  10. ptor says:

    I’m pretty much convinced we have a general societal problem that has permeated skiing reality. The inhumanity of corporate socialism and the monetary system has possessed the the North American ski experience much as it did in creating the current paradigm earlier in Europe, when the elite put up lifts and started grooming runs as the penultimate in skiing.
    As long as there is a profit based society, then only lucrative projects will be undertaken. The zombie masses are then dragged into the affair( because that’s what they’re marketed to think they ought to be doing), along with their money, thus creating the ski-experience and expense that makes us cringe. As we see, it is only community run projects that invest in the actual wellbeing of the community and embody simplicity without expecting a huge return. Maybe you could compare it to buying a pair of skis. They wear our and the money dissolves into etheric bliss, lost forever. We don’t buy them as an investment to make a profit. Same thing could be said for ski areas. There’s no reason to not create something that won’t turn a profit but will create lasting enjoyment in a philanthropic sense.

    Whistler to me is the ultimate example of a) – an expensive overbuilt mess created by money from outside to make more money b) – the blatant priority given to big money and corporations to have their way and c) create slaves out of the lower/middle class from rising cost of living and resort taxes. Thus the philosophy and the morals of our governments are corrupt because of their complicity in the monetary system (whose apriori is profit) and for condoning it’s ventures (for it’s own profit).

    I’d say it’s up to the skiers themselves to create an association, like one for “natural” ski areas like silverton, La Grave, Gulmarg etc. to create awareness, solidarity, be a conduit for ethics and sustainable philosophies and prioritize environmental benignness. Create a new paradigm and “cool” so that we squeeze out the profit based motivation from skiing all together. And no it’s not communism (which is just another name for state(corporation) run capitalism, it’s called humanism (doing everything for the benefit of humans and their permaculture)

    Finally, what would we all rather do??? Work some distracting job in order to buy our way through the winter…or…grow our own food, work directly in the community (like the local ski-maker etc.) and for the ski area to be able to ski and live for free all winter (and all year for that matter)?? It’s the biggest BS ever propagated that people will lose their motivation without interest on money or profit. Fun and a comfortable, humane, healthy existance is the biggest motivator – as all skiers will attest to! We just have to start making the moves to break free.

  11. Pitt says:

    As many of you I grew up brown bagging it at a mom and pop resort in northern Utah, Which still stands as one of my top ski resorts. I now work for one of the outrageously priced lodging choked resorts on the Wasatch back. Yes I get to ski everyday for work and for the most part enjoy my job, but I rarely ski at a resort on my days off because I truly love the mountains when and not the distractions of a huge destination resort. It still amazes me to see the clientel that frequents our resort. Andrew as you say, yes there are the ski bums that have found the absolute cheapest way to obtain a pass and never spend $14 for a cheesburger at one of the lodges. They are not even a target group in our marketing plan. In all honesty, daily pass sales are a small fraction of the revenue. The resorts want your business, but mainly only if you are going to stay a few nights and gorge yourself on crazy expensive food. Those are the people they focus on, regardless if they are able to afford it. The irony is that large destination resorts want to portray themselves as a down to earth place, that is out in the wilds of Utah, but as you mentioned Andrew, people that ski off piste terrain are a small percentage and the consumer truly wants a down to earth place in the wilds of Utah, where you can still pay someone to watch your kids for the day and get a glass of wine at the snap of your fingers.
    I know that it baffles some of us that people spend so much for skiing, but we are in a minute fraction of the ski world, but I am sure that we are alright with that. I found my happy place in the industry and am okay with being the minority.

  12. John says:

    In this discussion there seems to be the assumption that prices on lifts have gone up because the hotels and other amenities are nicer. Is that assumption correct – because it doesn’t totally follow from the premise. I guess a better question is – in the presentation, did they discuss the causes of increased lift tickets? A ticket for me still costs a full days wage even though I’ve tripled my earing in the last ten years.

  13. Andrew says:

    Hi John – actually, the price of skiing was never mentioned at yesterday’s meeting, which I thought was a little odd, but also telling as it didn’t seem to matter to anyone but me.

    I don’t know why ticket prices seem to have gone up so much, and then again, maybe they haven’t and it is just general inflation coupled with a romantic vision that tickets use to be $16 and are now $75+.

    I’m mainly interested in the topic as I grew up skiing, but now that I have two kids, the idea of going to a resort as a family (two adults, two kids) is pretty much out of the question, at least in swanky downtown Wasangles.

  14. cgd says:

    With regards to taking the family skiing, perhaps you could start cooking up some kid friendly touring gear, what with all your free time;)

  15. mtb w says:

    Interesting blog. It does bring out a rant in me (“rant week” does seem to be a popular theme lately). It does seem that skiing is heading the way of high end homes and major sport leagues. As the middle class is squeezed more and more, with most falling down into lower middle/upper poor class, fewer are available to buy these upper end luxuries. So what is the response of these corporate entities? Increase the cost so even fewer can afford it. As more people fall off, unable to afford the higher costs, the corporate entities claim that they must increase value and cost to get the few remaining customers to spend even more. A short sighted, futile response.

    At this rate, within 5-10 years, only the top 5% richest will be able to afford these “luxuries”, with next top 10% only able to afford it once or twice a year, leaving out the other 85%. It is a very short sighted goal, only looking to the next season or two since the emphasis is making money now and today, without regard to how the resort/team/business will do 5-10 years in the future, particularly as incomes stagnate (except for the super rich). It wouldn’t be so bad if there was a normal distribution – a few high end resorts with most ski areas aimed at the average family (i.e. making say $40K-$80K). However, most ski areas are corporate owned behemoths aimed at the rich. They target only those able to afford $300+/night condos, pay $50+ entrees, etc. It doesn’t take an economics degree to realize that business model won’t be sustainable for a the long term for an entire industry. I think that model was thought up during the boom days of the 90s which lasted until recently, particulalry as people lived well beyond their means, but ski industries haven’t caught on that it won’t work anymore.

    OK, enough of my rant.

    mtb w

  16. Erik says:

    It just seems to me like the industry in general has no real long-term plans to effectively increase skier/boarder numbers and therefore maintain sustainability/profitability. Everyone is looking to cash in on the aging “boomer” populace by turning every ski area into a luxury spa, but what happens when those people can’t ski anymore? Eventually there won’t be enough paying customers out there to keep these places open. Also, it seems like a bind eye is turned to some of the great programs out there like Chill that introduces skiing and boarding to multitudes of kids who would not even dare dream of trying skiing or snowboarding otherwise, but as it is now, none of those kids will ever be able to afford to participate in these great activities.

  17. dongshow says:

    I was just stopping by to comment on that fabulous final paragraph, but then read the pretty good discussion and figured I’d add a couple cents. Like seemingly everyone here I grew up brown bagging resorts on the weekends (northern Michigan) and luckily had a near by landfill with lifts. Growing up skiing was a lot less of a classy activity and the resorts were mostly filled with clueless crowds bussed in from Detroit or Indiana with a couple of skilled locals mixed in. Now even in Michigan many of the areas are much higher service and tickets have gone up astronomically as well. But you still have your crowd of bussed in drunks lurking around and littering the area beneath the lifts with bottles of hot damn and bacardi. I’m just wondering whats going to happen first, are the drunks going to get priced out of their annual fun day on the slopes or are the Baby Boomers with their pampered high service expectations going to die off and allow skiing to return to a less classy venture.

  18. Shelby says:

    Lower the lift tic prices?….pfffft. In addition to the thread count and spas, I suggest offering $1000 dollar helicopter rides to the top of the ridge…oh wait…

    In all seriousness, I think the experience that the thrift conscious locals and their families are seeking differs significantly from the car renting, spa servicing, vacationers that can still afford $500/day in lift tickets for the family. Which did you think the ski industry would cater too?

  19. Steve says:

    What the heck, I’ll add my comments. I’ve got five kids, and I thought resort skiing would never be an option for us. But with hand-me-down or ski swap gear, night skiing with the kids’ school, and extreme frugality on the occasional day trip we’ve managed to get in a decent amount of skiing for the last couple years. But it’s definitely a challenge. I know very few families who ski, mainly because of the expense. I don’t know anyone who chooses a ski resort based on sheet thread count. Seriously?

    I simply don’t believe that the resorts can’t make money charging lower prices. Don’t they make most of their money in the real estate business? If I have say $500 to spend on skiing and the resort charges less, I’ll go more often. Or I might even buy a reasonably priced burger. I’m not going to save my play money. All the high prices do is drive away the locals and reduce the amount of time that ordinary out-of-towners spend skiing. All for the imaginary hope of fleecing the high-rollers.

    It sounds like the resorts have their heads in the sand. Until they realize that the main problem most people have with skiing is skyrocketing ticket prices they’ll continue a downhill slide. I have to wonder where they’re getting their data?

  20. OMR says:

    “There is a leisure class at both ends fo the social spectrum.” I don’t know who said it, but it certainly applies to resort skiing. I’m a working-stiff, middle-class BC skier (41 days last year), but I do periodically ride lifts (5 days last year). Two years ago I skied JHMR. While riding single on the gondola, I couldn’t draw eye contact from the 4 uppity-ups on board. My attempt at conversation was equally snubbed. Classy folk from Boston. On the flip side, while waiting in the pathetically long tram line, a group of dirt-bag JH ski-bums were loudly blaming the crowding problem on a-hole SLC skiers invading their turf to ski “real” terrain. (Do “real” skiers ride a tram?) If resort skiing is flat, maybe it has something to do with the ambasadors of the sport. And I’m not sure which end of the social spectrum is the worst. The experience confirmed why I rarely go to the resorts. Attitude everywhere.

  21. Andrew says:

    Hi Ptor – I love the idea of a ski cooperative and would join one in a second. Come to think of it, maybe I should start one?

  22. mc says:

    I don’t know what’s going on down south, but up here at Whistler you’ve got both Whistler-Blackcomb and Tourism Whistler talking about their “brand”. For chrissakes am I going skiing or buying a goddamn pair of Levis? I’ve only skied the resort maybe 5 days a year since I started touring, but now that the kid is old enough we purchased the family pass. The wife’s going back to work when the kid starts school. Or do they make Dynafit boots for 4 year olds?

  23. ScottP says:

    I wonder if some of the boom in BC skiing (relative boom, but it’s still increasing by quite a bit) is due to this mentality that they need to increase spending? I mean, for the cost of seasons passes at a major resort I can get a full, really nice AT setup. Heck, I initially balked at the price of skins until I realized that they were the cost of a day or two of skiing.

    It looks like the ski industry is just going to keep getting more expensive until they price themselves out of business, so it looks like I’m going to just keep not going there and earning my turns.

  24. olddude says:

    When I drive by a ski area now I feel much the same way as I did the last time at the zoo and I saw a monkey masturbating. I know its kind fun and I used to do it but now that I have had sex I dont have much interest.

  25. Andrew says:

    Hi ScottP – and to add to that, the season’s pass is just the tip of the iceberg as far as a “daily spend” at a ski resort.

    The head presenter mentioned that the main ways they they they could get more people skiing was to lowered to learning curve (hasn’t been that sucessful in the past) and to keep the middle, core, class of skiers from “leaking” away from the sport. He seemed to think that people left the sport for various reasons, including raising a family, but I’d have to guess that rising costs are one of the main causes. It was at this point that he admonished everyone not to retreat from quality, which he must figure people value enough that they won’t come back to a ski resort if they don’t have new Quads or gold plated faucets in the bathroom.

    He also mentioned that he had predicted that the ski areas would be down 5% last year, and they were. This does not include lodging or resort amenities. For this year, he predicted it would be flat.

  26. ScottP says:

    I also second cgd; I will probably be in the kids boat sometime in the next few years and it would be interesting to see how to introduce them to skiing without lifts.

  27. Ramon says:

    I picked up on this item from twitter – I really do worry about the future and think this post has touched on a lot of key points about youngsters, families and expense.

    I hope that skiing is now less elite and more accessible, I try and do my bit with the shop and holidays but I really do have my doubts.

  28. Bob says:

    I think it’s interesting and kind of relevant that the local family-owned ski area is doing pretty well financially. No real estate, a brown-bag friendly atmosphere, semi-reasonable prices. It’s like the anti-resort to what is being discussed here, next to a town of about 75,000 people.

    Downsides include skiing that isn’t super-interesting except on powder days, and hoardes of Texans on holidays. But the owner is more than making ends meet, just not making $$ hand over fist.

    Taos, on the other hand, is just over an hour and a half away and seems bent on trying for the mega-resort industry thing. I don’t know how that will play out, but Taos is “growing the brand.”

  29. ScottP says:

    Bob,

    To which ski are you referring? I remember there being many basic areas with very good skiing in Northern NM; Taos was the only real resort a couple years ago and by far my least favorite place to go.

    I do remember when I lived in Los Alamos that Pajarito used to struggle to stay in the black and it was a nonprofit even, but that was mainly because of its small user base and almost total lack of beginner runs. For those of thus that lived in Los Alamos and loved steep terrain it was great, but it certainly couldn’t draw much of a general audience from very far away, especially with SF ski area so close to SF. Still, it was affordable (even the food) and relaxed and had great skiing.

  30. EliasTL says:

    A note regarding the Albany statistic:
    I studied for 5 years at SUNY Albany and helped to found a university ski club my freshman year. Even though the school already had a club team, we had over 100 members within two years. Albany has two distinct populations, students and lawyer/politicians. As students, we got great deals all over the NE and were less than two hours from dozens of different resorts. The upper crust, I’m sure, fills up bunches of condos in Vermont. With Albany’s relatively small population, these two groups of people may have helped to ramp up that ‘percentage’ statistic mentioned above.

  31. OMR says:

    Buy a man a ski pass and he’ll ski for a day. Buy a man some skins and he’ll forget how to carve . . . but his gastrocnemius will be huge. . .

  32. Eman Laerton says:

    Growing up in Big Bear, you could get a midweek pass for free if you spread hay on Snow Summit for 30 hours. I hated it. Little did I know…

  33. Darrell says:

    I learned to ski when I was 6 from my Grandfather. He was a volunteer patroller at a now defunct family type ski area in southern Vermont. I actually had my first lessons in his front yard and learned haw to carry my skis, sidestep, kick turn and herringbone before I ever got to the ski area. I rode t-bars and rope tows until I was in junior high school and then went night skiing at a slightly bigger local hill in my home town.
    Gramps was never too impressed with the big resorts in Vermont, although he did enjoy skiing them well into his 70’s. Many of the Vermont resorts had good discounts for seniors. He loved skiing, and liked to occasionally see the sights at the bigger resorts but never got too distracted by all the luxury and marketing hype.
    I now work at one of those Swanky Utah resorts we’ve been talking about. I’ve patrolled at this resort for 15 years and it’s a good job, but I admit that I often wonder how the Industry will maintain itself.
    When looking at the resort industry from the inside, I have seen that resorts that try to be all things to all people or that grow too fast in order to capture “market share” tend to fail and go bankrupt.
    I think there are a lot of skiers who like the IDEA of a luxury resort, even though they may never ski at one. I also think that many resorts know this and plan their growth and marketing according to those consumer values.
    In terms of increasing “daily spending”, a resort has two options for increasing profits in a market that has a flat growth rate. Either steal skiers from other resorts or increase the amount that a skier spends per day.
    I can remember my Dad saying that “resorts will price themselves out of existence” when I was a kid. Well, they haven’t and they won’t.
    The problem is how can the middle class people who want to ski continue to do so affordably.
    I always brown-bagged it as a kid, bought student passes and package deals and then decided to get into the industry to keep skiing as much as possible. I shopped ski swaps and bulletin boards.
    If you think skiing is expensive, try motocross, sailing, or hockey.
    I personally enjoy back-country skiing more than anything and, while my job as a patroller is pretty sweet, I would rather be hiking for my turns. Resorts are a double edged sword. I got a pretty good skill base resort skiing before I started back-country, and I think that’s the way it is for most people, even the “core” skiers that started back-country skiing 20 years ago.
    I wonder, however, if the resort industry is really asking itself the right questions in the end. Is there only one way to stay in business? Is unlimited growth (in daily spending or skier visits) the only model that works? Patagonia has been successful with a business plan that limits growth.
    My personal fear is that the Utah resort community will continue to follow a physical growth model and continue to pursue the Interconnect.
    Based on the industries own stats indicating that the growth in skier visits has been flat, an interconnect in the Wasatch seems to be an ill conceived plan. I think that added value is important to skiers but that different skiers have different ideas of value.
    Deer Valley skiers want something different than Brighton skiers. Resorts go out of business when they try to break into a different markets.
    Resorts look at the bottom line just like any other business. That doesn’t mean they all see the same thing. One thing consumers can do is call the general manager at any resort. Voice your opinion. I’m serious. It’s not as hard as you think. If you are persistent, you’ll get through to the GM’s that actually care. Then let these guys know that you will vote with your dollar. Tell them what you like or how you think things should be.

  34. Andrew says:

    Hi Elias – that explains things. The guest speaker also mentioned an area outside of LA which I’d never heard of, but supposedly it is a good representation of American ethnic percentages and used as a laboratory to see what it takes to attract different ethnic cultures to skiing. At that point I looked around the room, and it was 99% Caucasian, which wasn’t much of a surprise.

  35. Piton52 says:

    Interesting comments. I learned to ski at a small family “ski area” in SW New Hampshire (1970’s) then started going to Vermont. I always wanted skiing to be part of my life and is one reason I’m in Utah. A good book that talks about the roots of lift serviced ski areas and what it has become (real state development, ect.) is the “Downhill Slide”.

    I was getting bored at the “resorts”, it was getting expensive and I was tired of the whole scene so I learned to telemark so I could backcountry. Then I taught my 2 kids to ski and they loved it. I had visions of going into the backcounty with them, then they discovered ski racing and we joined uo with the least expensive team on the Wasatch Front. It’s been 8 seasons now and I’m still trying to wrap my head around the whole ski racing thing. Talk about money and a different mentality. But, I am just glad my kids ski and get out there in the mountains during the winter.

  36. BigD says:

    Speaking of ski co-ops. Check this out –

    http://shamesmtncoop.com/

    I haven’t fully researched it, but it might be a viable alternative.

  37. Bob says:

    ScottP, I was referring to Santa Fe.

    Pajarito is interesting in the context of this discussion. They don’t seem to make much effort to draw people from outside of Los Alamos, in fact it sometimes seems to be kept a secret, like everything else in LA ;^) But the very friendly family/neighborhood vibe at Pajarito is something that seems to be increasingly rare. I love the feel of that ski area.

    Plus the fact that it’s only open a few days a week makes for some great skinning and powder skiing there on the storm days that it’s closed.

  38. Darrell says:

    Mad River Glen, VT. is run as a cooperative. It was bought by interested parties, mostly season pass holders, when the original owners decided they couldn’t afford to operate it any more. They recently replaced the historic single person fixed grip chair lift with a brand new single person fixed grip chair lift. An example of a long running successful business where success is measured in quality of experience vs. economic quantity.
    Don’t know if it is run as a non-profit.
    One contributing factor to the decline of smaller family-type ski areas is the Forest Service insurance requirement. At some point a few decades ago, The USFS decided that liability insurance needed to be much higher for any commercial operation run on Forest Service lands. Pretty much put hundreds of tiny one rope tow ski hills out of business over night. This is a result of the way litigation takes place in our country, and paranoia about covering losses in the face of frivolous lawsuits. Not all legal action is frivolous, of course, but just the preliminary costs of preparing to defend oneself against a case can bankrupt a small business before the case even gets to trial.
    Vermont law currently allows the formation of insurance companies for single use policies. (captive insurance) I.E. a company can form it’s own insurance company for a very specific kind of insurance, creating lower premiums. Not sure if this is wide spread within the ski industry or not but it seems like it may be a model that could work for a co-op non-profit organization.

  39. Darrell says:

    Really, we can trace all our problems back to Sondre Norhiem. He was the original free-heel hippy fun-hog. He wanted to have skis that turned more easily and invented sidecut. Some also credit him with being the first to add a heel strap to bindings for increased control.
    It’s been a slow downward spiral ever since. there is clearly a direct link between the first skis with sidecut to the Bogner one-piece and slopeside capppuccino.
    Damn hippy fun-hogs! They ruined a basic form of utilitarian transportation!

  40. Stan says:

    I am so glad I love to skin up.

    As Ptor said higher up, Whistler became (to me as well) the example of ski resort project gone bad.

    The way the whole resort operates there (friends work there and other friends ski there) just made me to not ski at any resort at all. I just became disgusted with the…greed, inhumanity, unwillingness…

    Now the Olympics are coming here. Am I excited? On one hand yes, because as a sports fan I like to see athletes compete. On the other hand, I can care less because it will be a rich man run show so he can get even richer and cares less about what locals want.

  41. SnoGrl says:

    I think there are still many ski areas out there that offer an affordable, family experience. In addition to Bogus Basin, areas that come to mind are Brundage Mountain in Idaho, with a season pass available for under $300 (if you buy early), Willamette Pass in Oregon with a $45 lift ticket and a $500 season pass, Red Lodge in Montana $47 lift ticket. Never heard of these places? Why doesn’t anyone know about these places? They don’t have the money for ‘branding’ like Vail or Aspen or Sun Valley or Whistler, but they offer a solid ski experience and you could argue that their lack of crowds creates an even better experience. People seem to get sucked in by the marketing machine and it’s hard for the little guys to compete in that area.

  42. Darrell says:

    How about a “critical mass” event at one of the big spendy resorts? Just like bicyclists do to raise awareness of bike issues, we could get a big group of skiers to rendezvous at the base of a resort and skin up a main run at the resort to raise awareness of these issues. Can you imagine 200+ bc skiers skiing up under Collins lift some morning, en mass? Media exposure of this type of event could bring a lot of issues to light that the general skiing public might not be aware of, such as the flagstaff proposal.
    Easing into this by planning the first few events to begin before the resort opens to the public, but timed so that most of the skiers arrive at the top of the lift just as it opens might be good, but running one right smack in the middle of the day would be a lot more news worthy. They can’t arrest EVERYONE, right?

  43. Morgan says:

    I have been frustrated by the trend to to add luxury to skiing and many other things. I have ’95 Toyota pickup that has no power locks, Mirrors, Windows etc it cost around $17,000 new. Now the same truck comes standard with all these power gadgets that I don’t want and costs $24,000, luckily my truck is still going strong. The same thing has happened with skiing. New lifts, lodges and snow making have jacked up the price. I think one of the biggest wastes off money at ski areas is snow making. Here in Crested Butte we have plenty of natural snow to open by mid Nov most years but they use massive amounts of man power, electricity and water to get the area open for Thanksgiving. Terrain parks, while fun, are outrageously expensive and a very small portion of skiers use them.
    I have just started Union of Crested Butte Season Pass Holders to try to influence the ski area to cater a little bit more to its most loyal customers. Not quite sure how or if it will work but thought I would give it a try.
    I am encouraged by the side country trend Because it gets people out having little adventures on the ski area and that is what skiing is all about.

  44. Darrell says:

    Snowmaking is definitely resource intensive. Resorts like it because it extends their season on both ends. A layer of dense, icy, manmade snow as a base keeps the first new snows of the season from melting as quickly, and is the last layer to melt off in the spring. Even though most skiers don’t travel to a resort before Christmas or much after the spring break season in February, a longer season looks good on paper. Same goes for terrain parks, at least at some resorts. If you look at the demographics of small east coast or mid-west resorts, I believe the numbers are quite different than you see at a big destination western resort. With out pow and lots of vert, a small ski area can draw lots of crowds with good terrain parks.
    Ironically, some of these smaller resorts in central new england or the mid west are actually less luxury oriented and more local oriented.
    In the end it comes down to what management sees as the best way to turn a profit. They know that a lot of skiers won’t actually ski all, or even most of the terrain available but they also know that skiers like the IDEA of all the added amenities and terrain. They perceive a longer season, more terrain, faster lifts, luxury this and that as an added value. The big resorts are actually pretty savvy about who their market is and how to cater to it. The problem, as i see it, is when a resort tries to market outside of its traditional base or core customers. Trying to become something you are not is tricky for a resort due to the high cost of building infrastructure. Especially if you want to do it quickly. ASC is a case in point. The growing pains at that corporation as it grew finally caught up to it. They went from the biggest resort corporation in the country, owning lots of resorts in several markets to being completely dissolved in just a few years. The fact remains that most skiers that ski at resorts put in two weeks a year and are lower intermediate in ability. The total growth is flat. Gossip has it that Alta has even seen decreasing skier visits in recent years. Why else would they create an interconnect with the Bird but to cash in on the bigger is better concept and try to attract more skiers? In the industry as it stands, the only way to grow profits is either to increase the amount any individual skier spends or to steal skiers from a competitor.
    This begs the question, ultimately, of “Why?” Why do we need to increase profits or skier visits?

  45. Darrell says:

    Check out “Let My People Go Surfing” by Yvon Chouinard. It describes how he went from climbing bum to president of Patagonia, bucking conventional “wisdom” and creating a company that is profitable while being as socially responsible as possible.

  46. hypersailor says:

    4% of Utah locals ski, pathethic numbers when compared with the 57 Million visitors nationwide. No wonder Utards don’t support smart Canyon use, they haven ‘t a clue! Then again few Utah resorts bend over backwards to encourage newbies. A few deals/steals if you really keep an eye out, but compared to Colo/Idaho we’re way behind and losing skiers fast since all skiers (to me) sample new spots yearly. Ease of resort use, friendly employees, lots of dollar options to me make a great resort. Most skiers don’t know great snow anyway during their 11 average ski days a year. An Interconnect is ludicrous, can’t even keep the PCMR lifts turning as it is, getting stuck miles out is a Patrollers nightmare.

    There are donzens of tiny quonset hut ski areas in the nation, happy folks abound. Talk about a labor of love…great well rounded discussion, its not an easy solution, but the recent economy is shaking out the rich and poor skier alike…

  47. Wayne says:

    I stopped resort skiing (at least on Mt Hood) last year due to the over inflated cost. This article puts a new perspective on my opinion of the subject, that nothing is being done to improve the quality of the experience to compensate for the over inflated cost of a lift ticket.

    For those who cant afford a season pass, the $70/day ticket price at Meadows has passed the mark of no return for even a day trip. My last encounter at that price still found me standing in lift lines exceeding 20 minutes to ski overpopulated runs. When I consider the return on my $70 investment, I see my ski experience is still the same as when I started skiing 18 years ago, actually worse…. Nothing has changed except the replacement of old chairs with high speed quads that yet ironically has done nothing to decrease the time spent standing in line, and everything to increase the amount of skiiers on the runs. Apparently, the resort measures a ski day by chairlift capacity instead of ski area capacity. Back in the slow chairlift days, we used to say “if only this chair would go twice as fast…” well now they do, except we still get the same amount of runs and with more people in the way! What’s wrong with this picture? Why am I being charged more for less than I got 18 years ago? Where is the ROI?

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