Steamboat Springs Veteran ski industry executive Charlie Mayfield of Steamboat Springs said this month he fully intends to continue his career at Colorado Ski Country USA, although he was not the choice to head the organization that markets most of the ski areas in the state, collectively.
Colorado Ski Country's executive board selected David Perry of Whistler British Columbia to be its new president and chief executive officer. He replaces John Frew who resigned earlier in the summer. Mayfield, who is Colorado Ski Country's vice president of marketing and communications, was a candidate for the job. But he said he doesn't consider it as a personal sleight that he wasn't chosen.
Statewide, Colorado skier visits in 1999/2000 were off significantly to 10,891,318, down from 11,405,344 the previous year. The Steamboat Ski Area was able to reverse that trend as skier visits grew slightly in '99-'00 to 1.024 million, up from 1.013 million in '98-'99.
"I'm staying around," Mayfield said. "I don't take it as a slam against me. The board wanted a fresh perspective. Everything I've heard is (Perry) is a nice guy and we're eager to get him here. It's great we can hire a guy who has been one of our major competitors."
Mayfield, a former vice president of marketing for the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., was alluding to the fact that Whistler/Blackcomb ski area in British Columbia has supplanted Colorado resorts like Aspen, Vail and Steamboat at the top of the list of skiers' favorite resorts in North America.
"We first saw it in the ski magazines several years ago," Mayfield said. "All of a sudden we saw Whistler/Blackcomb at the top. We turned a page there in the industry. Colorado Ski Country USA's marketing effort has never been stronger than it is today. But, it's a different market place; it's a changing landscape."
Mayfield said that during its 30-year history, Colorado Ski Country has vacillated between being an organization that focused on public policy and legislative affairs at the state's and nation's capitals, and being a marketing entity. Today, the focus is clearly on marketing, Mayfield said.
Although skier days in the state were down last year, Mayfield said Colorado's market share of the nation's total skier days is increasing. Colorado is home to 5 percent of the nation's ski areas and accounts for 22 percent of its skier visits, Mayfield said. And the number of families who are skiing at Colorado ski areas is increasing.
So, why are skier days down?
"Two years ago we were asking ourselves, 'Is it the snow, or is our image tarnished?'" Mayfield said.
To answer those questions, Colorado Ski Country conducted a survey and recognized several significant trends affecting the state's ski industry.
First, Mayfield said the survey indicated Colorado's image has not suffered, it's still thought of as a desirable ski destination. However, Colorado has lost market share among "independent skiers," Mayfield said. Independent skiers are those between 25 and 44 years old who are either single, or married without children. At the same time Colorado's share of families with children is increasing, the independents are declining.
"We're losing these guys and we don't know where they're going," Mayfield said.
Independent adults aren't abandoning Colorado ski slopes for Utah and California, Mayfield said, but for other pastimes.
"Our competition today is not other ski destinations in the U.S., Mayfield said, "it's other non-ski leisure destinations."
Mayfield speculated that under Perry's leadership, Colorado Ski Country may alter its image a little more dramatically than it has in the recent past.
Andy Wirth, the vice president of marketing for the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., is familiar with the trend Mayfield is talking about. But the current numbers in Steamboat aren't completely in line with the statewide survey.
Wirth said the ski area has been interviewing its guests through chairlift surveys for many years and has a great deal of confidence in its numbers. Steamboat also has its own terminology for "independent skiers." Families with dual incomes and no kids are called "DINKS," and single adults with no kids are called "SINKS."
At Steamboat over the last three years, the number of DINKS has remained steady but makes up a shrinking percentage of the overall skier-day totals.
"We're keeping more than a close eye on that trend," Wirth said. He added that national demographics show that people in the 25- to 41-year-old age group make up a shrinking percentage of the overall population.
DINKS make up a desirable demographic because they have disposable income, and even more importantly, they have disposable time, Wirth said.
During the past five years, the median age of Steamboat skiers have shifted from 40 to 42.
"That's a pretty significant shift," Wirth said.
The number of SINKS, the other category the ski area lumps people into, is not declining at Steamboat, Wirth said, but the numbers have been essentially flat over the past three years. SINKS account for one third of the skier-day total here, and ski area management is constantly evaluating how to keep them interested in skiing and riding locally.
Steamboat is known for being a family ski area but the percentages of vacationing skiers who are members of a household with children actually went down from 40 percent of the total in 1998-99, to 36 percent last ski season.
Steamboat always has struggled to lure skiers back for repeat visits, Wirth acknowledged. But that was an area of good news last year.
"The most encouraging thing about last winter was that we recorded the highest ever intent to return in resort history," Wirth said.
Wirth explained that of those surveyed on the mountain last winter, almost two thirds said they were either highly likely to return, or that they would definitely return.
The Colorado Ski Country survey also showed that, in many cases, the Colorado ski industry isn't reaching as broad a market as it needs to.
Mayfield explained that at this time of year, when consumer ski magazines are publishing their biggest issues of the year, the Colorado resorts dominate with 50 percent of the full-page ads. But in general travel magazines like Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler, they are barely visible.
"We have not been on peoples' radar screens," Mayfield said.
Colorado has a new entity in place to promote tourism statewide, Mayfield said. But during a five-year period when state tourism funding dried up, winter tourism lost its $4 million annual share of a $12 million budget. The strong local economy masked the impacts of that loss, Mayfield said. However, during 1993 to 1997, the state lost 30 percent of its overnight travel business.
Mayfield feels the drought in state tourism funding hurt the ski industry in terms of reaching that broader audience.
Perry, the new Colorado Ski Country chief, has 22 years experience in the ski industry including positions in marketing and real estate. He told Steamboat Today earlier this month that it's too early to announce his strategy for marketing Colorado's ski areas. But he believes he can grow Colorado's skier days.