Searching for the Fountain of Youth

Speaker: Steamboat Ski Area must go after younger generation

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— Colorado ski areas could use a long sip from the fountain of youth, a ski industry leader told a local audience Wednesday.

Colorado Ski Country U.S.A. CEO David Perry said his organization is busy "re-branding" Colorado to appeal to a more youthful audience. That effort is being undertaken with the blessing of 14 ski areas that are represented on his board of directors, Perry said.

Perry was speaking to the Airline Partners Summit at the Steamboat Grand Hotel. The meeting was convened by Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. Vice President of Marketing Andy Wirth to bring together representatives of the major airlines flying into the Steamboat market, and local business leaders who are contributing financially to flight guarantees. It is about a $2.2 million program.

Wirth said the resort community's willingness to commit to raising $750,000 last summer to match the $1.4 million in airline guarantees budgeted by ski corp. demonstrates their ability to work together.

"Our collective community support for the airline program in a sense rescued the airlift into the Hayden airport," Wirth told the gathering of about 200 people.

Perry came to Colorado from British Columbia, where he had an 18-year career with Whistler/Blackcomb resort. During that time, Whistler/Blackcomb grew its annual skier days from 350,000 to 2.3 million and did it in spite of the fact that the ski area is a three-hour drive on a twisting mountain road from the nearest major airport in Vancouver.

The weakness of the Canadian dollar against other currencies helped Whistler/Blackcomb grow, Perry said. But its success also had much to do with building demand for the product, he said.

In today's competitive climate, it is essential for winter resorts to build brand equity and create compelling reasons for people to visit a destination, Perry said. He acknowledged Steamboat has built a powerful brand and urged his audience to do everything possible to nurture it. At the same time, he said he believes Colorado as a ski destination needs to have its brand reworked.

Whistler/Blackcomb built its appeal by going after a more youthful market, and Perry said he thinks Colorado should do the same.

"It was definitely a youth-driven, energetic approach, which was counter to Colorado, which was essentially baby-boomer based," Perry said. "We're working on a re-branding of Colorado making Colorado a vibrant, active and lively place. I think Colorado has lost a little of its vibrancy."

At Whistler/Blackcomb, Perry said, the ski area would generate crowds of 12,000 people to attend freestyle aerial events, thanks in part to the addition of live rock bands and "go-go dancers" of both genders. Although the entertainment wasn't geared to the baby-boom generation, families were definitely in the crowd.

"You know what? It didn't scare any older people away," Perry said.

Colorado also needs to do a better job of marketing to snowboarders, Perry said.

Nationwide, about 26 percent of visitors to ski mountains are riders.

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