Vail Resorts introduces ladies-specific ski programs | SummitDaily.com

Vail Resorts introduces ladies-specific ski programs

Melanie Wong
mwong@vaildaily.com

Ramona Wouters smiles as she powers through powder on Vail Mountain. Vail Resorts recently launched a new initiative to get more women into the sport, with ladies only lessons and mom-friendly schedules.

VAIL — Theresa Leonhart doesn't ski.

That sounds a little strange for someone who vacations in a ski town on a regular basis, but Leonhart, who lives in Maryland, said she comes to Vail a couple times a year to visit her son, who lives in the valley, and she's never gone skiing.

During these trips, her sons and other members of the family head out for the hill, but she'll usually stay in and cook dinner, or go shopping in the village. Honestly, she says, it's part the intimidation factor and part lack of know-how that's keeping her from trying the sport out.

"We used to go to ski towns even before my son moved to Vail for vacation," she said. "My husband and sons would ski and I wouldn't. I think that I was a little afraid, and I always felt like there wasn't anything for adults who didn't know how to ski. For children there are programs and kiddie hills. I feel like children are expected to be beginners, but adults are expected to know how to ski."

“We want to make the ski experience more accessible to all women, and then empower them to make time for themselves to have the ski experience they desire.”
Kirsten Lynch
Executive vice president, chief marketing officer of Vail Resorts

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Leonhart is exactly the kind of visitor that Vail Resorts is targeting with their new women's programs that aim to break down some of those barriers.

LADIES ONLY

The goal of the programs — which include lesson schedules that work around kids ski school and beginner-focused, women-only group lessons — is to increase female participation in an industry that is actively looking for new customers.

According to SnowSports Industries America, women only make up 40 percent of Alpine skiers and 32 percent of snowboarders.

"There is clearly an opportunity to understand what our women guests need to increase their participation in snowsports," said Kirsten Lynch, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Vail Resorts. "We want to make the ski experience more accessible to all women, and then empower them to make time for themselves to have the ski experience they desire."

New programs that will start this ski season include:

Women's Ultimate 4: An all-ladies lesson taught by a female coach where women can learn for the first time or brush up on skiing skills in a small-group setting. Women's Ultimate 4 lessons will be offered at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado, Park City and Canyons in Utah, and Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood at Lake Tahoe.

Mommy & Me: Four-hour lessons for women are scheduled to provide ample time for the drop-off and pick-up times of their kids' lessons. There are also Mommy & Me lessons, where instructors spend time with the mother and the child, reviewing the child's progress and giving tips on further development.

Prima: Based on customer feedback, Vail Resorts created Prima, a personalized concierge service to assist with every aspect of the vacation experience for Brazilian guests at Vail and Beaver Creek.

"This is just the beginning for the women in skiing initiative for Vail Resorts," Lynch said. "We plan on continuing to invest significantly in this important segment of our guests."

WHAT'S KEEPING YOU?

Vail Resorts said the offerings were crafted based on research with female guests during the 2013-14 ski season, aimed at understanding the barriers to the ski experience for women. Common themes included being overwhelmed by the process and having their hands full managing the experience for the other members of their group.

The women surveyed expressed some trepidation around ski school — feelings of being overwhelmed by the logistics of the experience, being out of place either socially or by ability level, and needing to justify the cost for lessons for themselves.

"A ski class where I felt comfortable would affect my decision a ton. I'd be pumped to learn with others like me," said a woman from Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.

The women also said they wanted either ski lessons that better accommodated their children's lessons, or lessons that included their children.

"It would be nice if there were two offerings to fit all women's situations — jump into a lesson that started as soon as the slopes open or select a lesson that started around 9:30 or 10 a.m. so you could get the kids on their way," said a Stillwell, Kansas, mother of four.

Many international participants said they wanted someone who could plan the vacation for them and act as an in-resort "concierge," setting up all the details the women either didn't know about or didn't have time to address.

A GROWING MARKET

Others would say that the resort is following the direction of the rest of the industry. Ski equipment companies have been releasing an increasing number of women's specific equipment in past seasons — especially high-end, high-performance products that aren't just geared toward beginners.

John Phillips of Venture Sports in Avon says of the families who come into the shop for ski rentals, the majority of the women are skiing.

"It's across the board as far as ability level, but most of the time, the ladies are definitely skiing," he said.

That trend is reflected in the increasing number of women's inventory the shop keeps around.

"We've seen our inventory of women's demo skis go up because more women are asking for them," Phillips said. "The manufacturers are making more — and better —women's demo skis, and that means there's a demand for it."

So would all those new lessons get Leonhart out on the slopes? Maybe, she says, adding that she thinks the resort is on the mark with their efforts.

"I think there is a segment of the population that is just afraid of trying," she said. "I am not sure I'd ski, but I'd love to do some kind of physical activity while I'm there. It's just so beautiful out there and I love being outside to enjoy that."

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and at mwong@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.