Resorts trying to bring ‘rookies’ back
BRECKENRIDGE – With an eye toward the industry’s future, ski area representatives are working hard to make first-time skiers return to the slopes.Only 15 percent of first-time skiers ever make a second ski trip, according to Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association. Last fall, Berry, who targets a 25 percent return rate, urged locals to “put (your)selves in the mindframe of someone just starting out.”The ongoing surveys of first-time skiers and riders, conducted periodically by RRC Associates in Boulder, have shown improvement in this area. According to the newest survey conducted in March, overall satisfaction with first-timers averaged 8.2 out of 10, with 74 percent rating their overall experience an 8 or higher. Fifty percent of beginners rated their likelihood of continuing the sport next year a 10. Only 8 percent rated that likelihood a 6 or lower.When asked the motivation for continuing with snowsports, “fun” was chosen by 90 percent of respondents as a top reason.Surveys were compiled with nearly 400 responses at 12 test sites, including Breckenridge and Winter Park and 10 other ski areas around the country. Thinking like a rookie
Preliminary skier counts indicate the nation’s ski areas experienced the third best season on record for the 2003-04 season. However, Colorado’s skier count was down 3.4 percent this year over last.The importance of introducing new people to the sport – and making sure they catch on – is not being overlooked by area ski schools. In Breckenridge, several changes helped boost return rates by 20 percent. According to John Buhler, director of the ski and ride school at Breckenridge Ski Resort, new attempts to meet skiers at base areas and bus stops helped ease the process of guest arrival and organizing for lessons.”When it’s the first time they’ve come here, they have no idea what to expect,” Buhler said. So the resort set up welcome carts manned by ski instructors who were armed with lists of ski school participants. “When they got off the bus, we were there to direct them appropriately,” Buhler said. In some instances, attempts to ease the process began when the guest made reservations on the Internet. For the first time this season, required paperwork and equipment rentals could be arranged on the Web.Seventy-seven percent of survey respondents rated the lesson’s impact at least an 8 on the 10-point scale. However, the crowded beginner slopes caused problems.Beginning skiers rated their instructors the best part of the lesson. Buhler said Breckenridge took large measures to address the way its 600 instructors approach students.
“It’s not just about ski technique. We need to understand their motivation before we can move forward,” Buhler said. That means starting the day with the simple question, “Why are you here?”The deeper questionBuhler said if instructors delve deeper into students’ motivations, lessons will be more successful.”I think for a while (the industry) just went to one side: Technique, technique; and whether we were nice about it or not they’d come back,” he said. “But you have to hit on the emotional side of it, too.”Being “nice” goes back to Berry’s suggestion of stepping into the boots of a rookie skier. Because of that kind of thinking, Breckenridge added magic carpets on beginner slopes. And, across the county, Keystone blocked off an entire run from the public so new skiers could learn without dealing with crowds.New students need to be in shape, too. Buhler said instructors used to make students side-step for hours before getting on the lift, but it just wore them out and took away from the exhilarating feeling of sliding down the mountain.
Breckenridge had nine magic carpets on ski school slopes this year for those beginner skiers not ready for the lifts.Equipment also figured into beginner skier discomfort. Eighty-five percent of survey respondents rented their equipment, and 81 percent of those went to the shop at the mountain. While respondents rated the overall rental shop experience high, only 34 percent said they felt shop employees who knew they were beginners gave them special attention.Breckenridge attempted to address equipment problems this year by having instructors accompany students at the rental shop. Internet or telephone reservations also provided an opportunity to ask for shoe size, height and weight before the guest’s arrival, so the proper equipment was reserved on the morning of the lesson.Buhler said the instructors’ help – making sure there weren’t two pairs of socks under those jeans, for example – was a “huge success.”At the end of the lesson, instructors tried to encourage students to return. Fifty percent of students in the survey were offered a special offer to take another lesson. Of those, 41 percent said the offer influenced them to have another go.Kim Marquis can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 249, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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