On whole not a bad year but for some a very bad year and others record turnout. Vermont and Colorado did very well, California, Washington and Oregon pretty tough year. It is all about the snow, how much and when it falls. It is still the top driver in our industry. Yes, snowmaking becomes more important than ever no matter where you are located.
Ski Vermont Celebrates Record Season with Nearly 4.7 Million Visits
Colorado Ski Country USA Sees Robust Skier Visits for 2014/15 Season 2014/15 Season Bests Five-Year Average by 6.5 Percent
But what does this mean for the people who work in mountain operations at ski areas? The obvious is that money will be tight where the snow pack was almost nonexistent and in those areas where records were set, capital is available to address projects that help with new revenue sources or replace old equipment. Many areas are busy with construction projects, many are related to snowmaking where efficiency is being addressed or the expansion of more water storage capacity. The good news for mountain ops folks is that lift maintenance has to be done, if you plan to run successfully next season, trails need to be mowed, water bars and culverts tended to, signage repaired, groomers prepared for being on the hill next season and snowmaking systems need their normal maintenance ready to turn at full power when the temps are there.
The hard part is there might be budgetary pressure to do the same, or even more, with less. With the increase in summer activity the maintenance window has shrunk for many ski areas, especially in the lift maintenance area. I have spoken to many lift maintenance managers who are stressed in how to get all their line work and NDT work done when lifts are scheduled to run much of the off season, the new model for many areas. This means we adapt to the new business model, we find ways, and they may be different than what we have done in the past but there is a solution.
What is more important for mountain ops folks are to appreciate and provide input on the new opportunities for ski areas. There has been broad discussion over the past few years about demographic changes and need to grow the sport. I for one was laughed at back in 2009 when I made noise about the demographics of skiing changing but now it has become an accepted fact. The fact that the demographics are changing is not bad as long as we identify and respond to the new opportunities. Baby Boomer and Millennials are different in some of their life style and buying habits. Millennials, Millennials under the Microscope, will be a huge opportunity for the ski industry over the next 10 years but it probably means we have to do things differently. Do I know what those are, NO, but I do know that for those who invest the time to sort it out there is huge opportunity. You in mountain ops should take the time to understand what this changing demographic means as to how to manage the hill. Many things will be the same, lifts go up and down the hill, we blow snow, we groom and we patrol the hill and keep people safe. The changes might be very subtle but there will be change and he who changes first will be a big winner. My encouragement is don’t put your head in the sand, you and your team should talk about the change and bat ideas around no matter how wild ass they may be, something will grow from those discussions.
The other big opportunity is called conversion by NSAA, www.nasaa.org/growing-the-sport/, and this is simple getting more people to try the sport and stay engaged in the sport as legitimate skiers or riders skiing or riding at least 5-7 times a year. This in my view is a huge opportunity but it takes all involved in the skiing and riding industry to become seriously engaged. To put in prospective, in the USA we have about 9.5 million skier and riders, 3.1% of the population, this has stayed flat for about 10 years, not all bad as people exit the sport every year due to life changes such as age, so we have been replacing those who are leaving.
Yes, there is opportunity for improvement. The sport has about a 17% retention of people who try it as true beginners. This is a huge opportunity. Just think, if that could be raised to 25% what that would do for skier visits and the overall health of the sport. Mountain operations plays a huge role in increasing the retention rate. Such things as lift loading, teaching terrain, the quality of snow surfaces and snowmaking. Mountain operations may not be the driver to get them to the mountain but it plays a very significant role in the retention factor. This is not just a ski school issue, it is something that all employees at the ski area should be aware of and how they impact the beginners’ experience. It is the real opportunity for “moments of truth”.