Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, discusses "The Future of Skiing in Colorado" on Friday during the 2009 Navigator Awards, presented at the 102nd annual meeting and luncheon of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association at the Ghost Ranch Saloon.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, discusses "The Future of Skiing in Colorado" on Friday during the 2009 Navigator Awards, presented at the 102nd annual meeting and luncheon of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association at the Ghost Ranch Saloon.

Speaker: Challenge is to make beginners lifelong skiers

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Business of the Year

BAP, Big Agnes and Honey Stinger was honored Friday as the Business of the Year.

BAP, Big Agnes and Honey Stinger was honored Friday as the Business of the Year.

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Business Person of the Year

Former Sheraton Steamboat Resort General Manager Chuck Porter was honored Friday as the Business Person of the Year.

Former Sheraton Steamboat Resort General Manager Chuck Porter was honored Friday as the Business Person of the Year.

Read related stories

Read the story about Business Leader of the Year Chuck Porter here.

Read the story about BAP/Big Agnes/Honey Stinger here.

Read the story about Young Professional of the Year Stacy Huffman here.

Navigator Award winners

During Friday's annual meting of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, the Chamber and the Steamboat Pilot & Today gave out the annual Navigator Awards to:

- Business Leader of the year: retired Sheraton Steamboat General Manager Chuck Porter

- Business of the Year: BAP/Big Agnes/Honey Stinger

Also recognized

- Sustainable Business of the Year: Black Tie Ski Rentals

- Young Professional of the Year: Stacy Huffman of the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel

— Steamboat skiers and snowboarders for whom a trip up the Storm Peak Express has become the equivalent of a morning commute could be overlooking the best qualities of chairlift rides.

"Bringing your own children into the sport is very powerful, and the quality time you spend on the chairlift with them is a powerful, powerful mechanism," Michael Berry told members of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association on Friday at the Ghost Ranch Saloon.

Berry is president of the National Ski Areas Association, based in Lakewood. He came to the Chamber's 102nd annual meeting to lay out the challenges facing the ski industry in the decade ahead. And something as seemingly innocuous as a chairlift ride could make a difference, Berry said.

"We've been taking super care of our existing customers base, but we've got to welcome an entire new generation to the sport," he said.

Unless they do a better job of bringing new skiers and snowboarders to resorts and converting them to lifetime enthusiasts, ski resorts nationally will struggle to sustain modest growth into the next decade.

"How do we replenish the pipeline? That's the challenge of the next 10 years," he said.

One answer, Berry quipped, might be to swap out the tissue dispensers in lift line mazes for Advil dispensers.

The number of active domestic skiers and snowboarders is no more than 10 million, Berry said. Of those, one-third are age 50 or older, and the number of baby boomers on boards of one shape or another has steadily declined this decade from 1.25 million to 580,000.

"We can slow the exit," Berry said. "I'm convinced the remaining boomers in the sport are hardcore," but inevitably the industry has to do a better job of cultivating the younger generation.

"Erosion of aging skiers and riders is the biggest single concern, and there's not much we can do about it," Berry said.

The industry snagged a significant age-group bubble in about 2001-02 when a group of young skiers now in their teens were brought into the sport and stuck. However, recruitment of another generation of beginning skiers and their conversion into lifelong skiers is now the industry's biggest weakness, Berry said.

"Our beginner conversions are 15 percent," Berry said. "That means if you have 100 people give skiing a try, 15 of them stay with it. We've been negligent to a very important group of customers. We've done a wonderful job increasing the frequency of visits by our existing customers. We've treated them very well. But the conversion rate of beginners has been hugely problematic for us."

Research has shown that beginners are first attracted to the sport by friends, members of their church congregation and family members, Berry said. He predicted that in the next few years, new converts making their first trips to major resorts like Steamboat would come from small ski areas just outside urban centers like Boston.

The National Ski Areas Association tested a hypothesis a few years ago, Berry said, when it invited 14 of the best ski instructors in the land to Park City, Utah, and assigned each to small groups of beginners.

The assumption, Berry said, was that assigning highly accomplished ski instructors to never-ever skiers would significantly increase the numbers of neophytes who became excited and would say they intended to continue in the sport. It proved not to be the case.

Of the total class of beginners, the majority had zero intention of returning, Berry said.

What the industry has learned since that failed experiment is that the expertise of the ski instructor is less crucial to converting beginners than the instructors' abilities to empathize.

"Instructors must be able to connect with people and draw them in by helping them have that 'aha!' moment," Berry said. "People who have the ability to do that need to be cherished."

It's something to ponder on your next chairlift ride.

Comments

boater1 5 years ago

taking care of the existing base? in steamboat for the local? no way. pass prices are creaping way up again.

if steamboat wasn't seperated from summit county by a 1.5 hr snowy drive, winddy 2 lane road, a $1000 season pass price would be an utter joke. a $750 season pass for those showing a routt or moffat drivers liscense would sell a lot more passes.

even discount cards (oh those have disappeared) would be a welcome start for locals. of course none of this is happening and people are moving on to other places. they are being replaced by the ultra wealth as those are the ones left who can pay.

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mavis 5 years ago

"we have been taking care of existing customers" You really need a reality check- I wonder how many people out there thought they WOULD be LIFELONG skiers and can't even beging to justify the cost now??? You should do a survey on people that used to ski close to every day- grew up here went to college and came back to discover it was pretty hard to justify the money needed to get a lift ticket. By the time you buy the gear and season pass for 2 years you could have paid cash for a snowmobile or dirt bike and use it A LOT more.
Steamboat is out of touch with reality in more than one way and eventually it will come back to get ya.

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Scott Wedel 5 years ago

The ski industry is to attract minorities. Not just because minorities are the younger demographic, but because friends influence each other and if your friends don't ski then you are more likely to organize an activity for something other than skiing.

Even the simplest thing such as bilingual signs on the ski mountain would be a start.

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boater1 5 years ago

ok, if riding the lift is so transforming for the next generation...

then why not let a parent w/ child (say 5 and under) who is too young to ski or who is not skiing today, ride the gondolla for free? kids who have not started yet will be amazed at the ride & kids who are stuck at bottom learing will get to ride the big people lift for once. the parent and child can meet up with the rest of the group at thunderhead and see what mid mountain is all about. great idea? of course, so simple in concept. the gondolla is running anyway.

will this happen? no. ski corp tries to suck every penny they can from everyone and thus is not bringing in the next generation.

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stillinsteamboat 5 years ago

Their marketing strategy is to target out of town skiers. The ski area needs to give up on the good old boys they've had running the show for years. Hire some new people who bring a fresh perspective. Guys, what you're doing isn't working anymore. Make skiing affordable to the masses and you have customers for life. skiing shouldn't be an elitist activity. Especially if you live in a ski town. It doesn't look good when the tourists ask " how's the snow? or how many days a year do you ski? and your response is you can't afford to ski in Steamboat. They look at you like you have 2 heads.

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Michael Patmas 5 years ago

As a physician, executive, level 3 certified ski instructor and USSA level 100 certfied alpine race coach with nearly 20 years teaching experience, this story really caught my attention. Unless the ski industry comes up with effective strategies to replenish the pipeline quickly, it will shrink and many resorts will collapse. To retain aging ski boomers, we must focus on the quality of their experience. Most resorts are oblivious to what aging skiers want. To convert first timers requires enthusiastic, articulate and highly motivated instructors who know how to make that first lesson a life changing experience. It does not require the skiing skills of a D-teamer. It does require great teachers. If new customers were really important, why then do resorts insist upon using entry level minimum wage kids to do the bulk of these lessons? I would suggest a coordinated research effort involving NSAA, PSIA-AASI, USSA, NSP and consumers to truly understand the various market segemts, what they value and what is turning them off. Somehow, European resorts get it. In all the years I have been in the industry, no resort manager has ever asked for my input.

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runnerbikerdriver44 5 years ago

boater1-you bring up the age old comment-what about the locals? The truth is, the locals don't bring in the money. We get season passes that, while they are high, they don't account for as much as an visiting adult who skis at the resort for 10 days or more. Not many locals go in to Thunderhead Lodge to eat lunch, so the mountain is losing money in that respect. Sure, our prices are higher, but that's the price you pay for living in such an amazing place. The resorts in Summit are off of I-70, so they see a lot more traffic, thus the lower ticket prices. While I agree that the mountain has not made the improvements to justify the daily ticket prices, I feel that by lowering the season pass prices this year, they were looking out for us.

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