Ski resorts alter approach as baby boomers fade away
As the nation’s skiing populace ages, a massive face-lift appears inevitable.Baby boomers, long the driving force behind the sport of skiing, may have reached their demographic peak on the slopes. And the diminishing virility of a traditionally robust skiing market has Colorado resorts searching for their own version of the little blue pill.”We’re talking maybe 5-7 years at this point until the boomers hang up their skis,” said David Belin, 40, a lifelong skier from Boulder-based RRC Associates who led the Model for Growth research project for the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA). “The resorts can’t wait five years and go, ‘Oh, what are we going to do to replace these boomers?’ “Colorado resorts are attempting to attract a new generation of skiers and snowboarders to replace the boomers without turning their backs on a group that has been their core customers. Among the most visible attractions are sprawling terrain parks and massive halfpipes designed to appeal to Generation Y skiers and snowboarders. There are now more than 60 terrain parks in Colorado, an average of more than two per resort, and a dozen halfpipes. Indicative of their popularity is Echo Mountain, a 50-acre dedicated terrain park just 35 miles from Denver, which had 18,758 visitors during its first full year of operation in 2006-07 and 30,208 visitors last year.The most recent statistics from NSAA serve to heighten the urgency of finding new snow-sport participants. According to NSAA, a third of all resort visitors last year were 45 or older, a continued expansion among that age group. During the past decade, the percentage of visitors – defined as one skier or snowboarder riding a chairlift per day – age 45 to 54 has increased from 14.0 percent to 19.9 percent, with age groupings above 54 also showing an increase.Overall industry figures, though, dipped to 57.1 million skier visits last year, down from 60.5 in 2007.Whether the dip is a precursor to a precipitous drop led by a mass retreat of an aging demographic unwilling or unable to spend time on the mountain remains to be seen. But if not addressed, researchers say participation numbers are expected to decline drastically.”Guys my age are hanging them up for the most part, or going to places such as Vail or Keystone, where they can be a little more pampered, or ski the nice corduroy runs,” said Ray Skowyra, 59, a second home- owner in Dillon who skis some 30 days a season at Arapahoe Basin. “I think it’s great to see the resorts doing things to attract the next generation. I like having the ‘boarders here. To me, that’s progress. It’s the only way they are going to survive.”Resorts adjust to the timesDespite limited early-season terrain, Keystone Resort opened its season Nov. 5 with a 25-feature park that saw skiers and riders lined up 10 deep for the opportunity to grind rails and throw flips. Nearby, Copper Mountain opened a day later with a comparable park highlighting the recent addition of Woodward at Copper, a slopeside action sports training facility created to teach athletes proper jib, or trick technique, before taking it to the snow. While other areas raced to be the first to open their slopes, Copper’s new priority was being the first to open a halfpipe.It’s a far cry from the extensive snow grooming, private lessons, luxury lodges and exclusive clubs those same resorts relied upon to lure baby boomers to the slopes. Such amenities remain, but the emphasis is clearly shifting toward youth-oriented offerings.”The park here is awesome. It’s gone way up over the past couple years,” Chris Williams, 25, said between snowboard laps in the Lumberyard terrain park at the notoriously posh Beaver Creek Resort. “It has totally evolved. Everything has gotten bigger and better every year.”Older skiers are learning to accept the new-school approach.”There’s no question that a 16-year-old and a 60-year-old have differences. But they aren’t so severe that it’s problematic,” said Ford Frick, 58, whose lifelong dedication to skis led him to work with NSAA as a managing director of Denver’s BBC Research & Consulting. “We learned to ski differently. The old-school method was that you learned technical prowess that mimicked the form and function of a ski racer. That’s clearly not the dominant form today. Young skiers are not sitting around discussing the carving sensation.”Rather, younger skiers and riders such as Williams pride themselves on individuality through self-taught form, using friends and even video footage as style council for techniques that are as much about inventing jumps as smearing powder.”You fall down and realize it’s not what you want to do, so you figure out what you need to do to stay on your feet,” said Williams, adding that he learned to skateboard much the same way.Accent on retaining skiersWhile the more established boomer market clings to more conservative techniques, the “error” portion of the trial-and-error method may help explain the limited growth of skiing and snowboarding among younger generations. Belin’s Model for Growth recognized retention of new participants as a significant obstacle in replacing the boomers.”One key element we learned is that we estimated that only about 15 percent of those who try skiing and snowboarding continue with the sports,” Belin said. “That number served as a real wake-up call that we are not doing enough as an industry to make them into lifelong participants.”An increased willingness by resorts to break from tradition could make a difference. Places such as Copper Mountain are hopeful that offering better training will encourage younger riders to stick with the sport until they’ve mastered it.”We’re trying to get people away from what we call the ‘huck and hope’ method – where they throw themselves off a jump, start spinning and hope it works out,” Woodward at Copper director Ben Brown said. “This is just the next evolution of the sport, and we want to make sure we engage the next generation for a great experience for every kid that picks up skiing and snowboarding.”
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.