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The future starts with beginners

That flaming radical of the ski industry, Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, came to town last week to preach his message of salvation.

It can be summed up in three words: Treat people nicely.

Especially if they are beginners.

There’s more, of course.

Rent them good equipment. Make sure their boots fit properly and aren’t jammed with three pairs of socks along with their little piggies.

Limit class sizes to seven. Congratulate beginners on their triumphs, as small as they may be.

It’s amazing, simplistic and almost comforting that the future of the ski industry rests on the principle of treating people nicely. But it’s also a wonder that the industry has to be told so.

“Our industry has done a dismal job of welcoming people to the sport,” Berry told a breakfast meeting of the Breckenridge Resort Chamber.

Human relations are the key to survival as baby boomers exit the sport of snowriding and destination visitation erodes.

Luckily for the snowriding business, enough people are trying the sport. Unfortunately, only 15 percent are sticking, according to Berry.

What the industry needs is not more people trying the sport, but more of those who show up returning. In fact, according to Berry, the nation’s slopes couldn’t handle more people trying the sport during peak times.

“The issue is conversion,” Berry said.

Berry said that while the industry faces ever-greater competition from passive pursuits, the super-sizing of American bodies, time poverty and variable snow conditions – none of which it can control – it can control conversion.

Ski resort companies cannot move the needle by themselves. Berry said it takes the whole community to improve the beginner’s experience.

Women, he said, are especially “delicate” guests who are trying to make their way in a macho sport.

He also faulted the lack of pre-arrival education, such as good exercises to prepare for skiing, and the overwhelming, extreme images that falsely define the sport.

He said the best instructors should be put with beginners instead of the advanced, who are often taking lessons just to jump ahead in lift lines.

Berry challenged the industry to sort out its self-interest versus self-preservation. In other words, he was telling the industry to invest in beginners rather than trying to maximize profit of the moment.

He said if the conversion rate could be pushed to 25 percent in the next 15 years, the progress could be worth $1 billion in new revenue.

Summit County should take notice of this challenge. Economic development is moving to the A-list of local concern, and diversification away from reliance on the ski business is viewed as a good idea.

A better idea would be to accentuate what we already have.

And just to think, it’s all about being nice.

Opinions published in this space are formulated by members of the Summit Daily News editorial board: Michael Bennett, Jim Pokrandt, Jason Starr, Rachel Toth, Reid Williams, Kim Nicoletti and Martha Lunsky.


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