The fate of skiing: Winter Park Resort bucks trends as industry concerns grow over lack of skiing millennials
A new set of data from the National Ski Areas Association has ski areas nationwide concerned about one major problem: What do they do when baby boomers, a generation that brought recreational skiing and snowboarding into the mainstream, finally hang up the boots?
As most resorts struggle to fill the growing gap with a new generation of young snowsport athletes and casual riders, Winter Park Resort appears to be ahead of the curve.
“The sport really took off with baby boomers,” said Steve Hurlbert, director of public relations and communications for Winter Park Resort. “They were the ones that when they were younger in the 1950s and 1970s really made skiing a huge recreational sport for young people.
“So industrywide there has been a lot of hand-wringing about what happens when they don’t ski any more. That’s why there have been a number of initiatives over the last 10 years. I think the industry saw this coming. Baby boomers are slowly going to phase out of the sport, so what can ski areas do to entice more millennials?”
The problem isn’t that millennials don’t want to ski. Almost 40 percent of all snowsport participants are millennials.
The problem rather appears to be that younger generations, including from Generation X, just aren’t skiing as many days. Pre-boom skiers average almost nine days a year on the slopes, while millennials average fewer than five, according to a study released by the National Ski Areas Association.
Hurlbert said that while this development has riled up the industry, it’s not at all surprising.
“To me its kind of funny just because there’s a worry about millennials not skiing as much,” he said. “But if you think about it when any generation is just starting out, they’re getting out of college, they’re starting their lives and getting jobs for the first time. So I think once every generation gets settled they’re able to take advantage and have more discretionary income.”
Hurlbert said at Winter Park, boomers and millennials are almost identical in terms of the number of skiers, and that millennials tend to ski just as many days as other age demographics.
One of the major issues for millennials, however, is that skiing and snowboarding can be cost prohibitive sports.
Over 50 percent of millenial snowsport participants make less than $50,000 a year, in stark contrast to the 67 percent of Generation X participants who earn over $100,000 a year, according to NSAA data.
Hurlbert believes that while snowsports can be expensive, Winter Park has done a great job creating added value to ski passes to help justify costs. He said that by offering a myriad of free activities in the village, as well as free parking at Mary Jane, live music and happy hours help to add more value to the experience. Winter Park also offers ski passes for college students, active veterans and numerous other packages that Hurlbert said are incredibly popular.
Winter Park’s proximity to the Front Range is also a major factor in the resort’s ability to attract millennials and first-time skiers.
“When you look at our proximity to the Front Range, you’ve got a lot of people who will get up in the morning, see we’ve got snow and decide to ski that day,” said Hurlbert. “They’ve got the luxury of being so close that they can decide on a moment’s notice when they wake up in the morning.”
The little things also matter. Hurlbert said that the ski train allows casual skiers to come up to the mountains without having to brave a snowy Berthoud Pass, or risk getting stuck in I-70 traffic for hours. He said that Winter Park Resort also recently updated its cellphone connectivity to allow people to post to social media and connect with friends on the mountain easier, an important development for an increasingly digitally connected generation.
Part of Winter Park’s success in attracting millennials is also the social media push they’ve made over several years, and changing their marketing strategies to focus more on first-time skiers.
“I think we’ve always been on the leading edge of social media,” said Hurlbert. “We have a number of organic social media contests that we do where we give away nice prizes like passes and skis. So there’s been a real focus on social media marketing both paid and organic for a while.”
Hurlbert said that while there’s a myriad of things the resort does to better appeal to younger skiers and riders, the most important aspect is providing a good experience on the mountain.
“If you have a great experience, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “I think people are sort of over-blowing this whole ‘what are we going to do to attract millennials thing.’ If you focus on just putting out a great experience for people, then people are going to come. Millennials are no different from anyone else.”
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