Will the economy create new skiers – you bet your Aspen

Posted By: Steve Bellamy on October 8, 2009 10:18 pm

In the words of the late great Nipsy Russell.  Wait a minute – is he still alive?  And I don’t know what the hell he said anyway.  But you if you could indulge me for a moment in my own prognostication.  I contend the following.  In terms of the long term vitality, health, welfare and longevity of sports ski and snowboard, one of the greatest things to happen is this economy!  Yep I said it.  Feel free to go to the comment section below and start abusing me. 

But if you could indulge me for a moment.  We love these two sports, but you have to acknowledge that skiing and snowboarding have some barriers of entry that you don’t have in tennis, golf, swimming, basketball, frogman studies…OK not frogman studies.  I think you have to join the Navy or something for that.  But in general, the most of us don’t have a giant white hill in our backyard with a cable car going to the top of it.

Tennis = go to the park down the street.  Golf = go to the muni course or the club down the street.  Basketball – you might even have a hoop above your garage door.  Frogman studies = Join the Navy, buy an 8 foot giant steel waterproof suit, hold your breath for a long time?

How does skiing stack up?  Well for many of nubiles, you have to be a better planner than the person who won apprentice.  You have to go to REI and purchase an entire new wardrobe of clothing.  Skis, boots, bindings, poles, gloves, glove warmers, goggles, goggle cleaner, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, take ground transportation to the airport.  Pay $7908 for extra bag fees.  Get on a 800,000 lb giant steel tube (weight could be higher if people from Mississippi are on the flight as they are now the fattest state in the union,) fly 40,000 feet in the air at 500 mph. 

If you go to Denver, then you have to take a 79 hour drive to get to the nearest resort.  (quick question – who was the person that decided to put the Denver airport in Kansas?) Then you get there and buy your lift ticket for the better part of $100.  (FYI:  I think the lift ticket is still the best value of any entertainment purchase we have.  It saves you from having to build a Gondola, employ 1600 seasonal staffers, fire howitzers at snow banks, etc.)  Then you go up to the top and make a wrong turn and you only have one way down – a nice slope called the White Ribbon of Death.

Nine months of rehab and you can try it again.

Other sports just don’t have these barriers.  I contend that our biggest downfall in sking in the last decade has been our success.  How do you get new people into a sport that the consumer believes costs a gazillion dollars?  The answer is “you don’t.”  And for the most part we haven’t.  The ski industry’s success has really been fueled by real estate.  Our retiree population has bought these second homes and places to hold extended family gatherings like they were donuts a Church bake sale. 

But has the industry done a job of creating more skiiers and snowboarders?  Don’t think so.  Baby boomers put their kids in it, but that is about it.

But this prognosticator believes, the economy right now is the gift or medicine that the industry has needed for awhile.  When a consumer talks about the high price of sking or where skiing has gone in the last decade, 90% of the focus is put on the price of the lift ticket.  No one really talks about all the other stuff that dwarfs that charge.  It is the sacrificial lamb of the equation.  Now there is a perfect storm of resorts pricing them to sell and the media talking about it non-stop.  Season pass prices make headlines like Paris HIlton.

So to the kid who is in that wheelhouse of trying the sport – it looks like the time is right.  The barriers of entry in their mind have crescendoed down to where the common man can now ski!  Plus with park and pipe skiing, its pretty freaking hip.  With cats like Simon Dumont and Tanner Hall, you have some hip role models as well.  We’ll let them find out later about the other costs. 

So I will make one final prognostication and that is that in 15 years from now, you will be sitting on a lift somewhere in Mammoth Mountain, Jackson Hole, Deer Valley, Crested Butte or somewhere groovy and if you ask the person sitting next to you how they got into skiing – there is a good chance they will say that they picked it up when the resorts were giving away the tickets.  If you don’t get it on your first try – give it a few and you’ll get that answer.

That same guy will own his own company with plane and will have just bought a 3rd home at the resort.