Ski resorts must transition to appeal to younger generations

Posted By: The Ski Channel on December 8, 2009 6:37 am

For quite some time, the baby boomer generation drove the ski industry. Especially in ski resorts of Colorado, men and women of that generation have been the target audience for years. However, as more and more of these folks go from being parents to being grandparents, the ski industry recognizes that their target audience is skewing younger.

“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?’ “

We have seen the popularity of sprawling terrain parks and halfpipes skyrocket at ski resorts across the country. Clearly these are designed for a specific generation of skiers and snowboarders. What tends to worry many resorts is that while the overall number of ski visitors dropped last year, a third of all visitors were 45 years old or older. So the question is—as baby boomers begin to leave the ski resorts, are there enough new, younger athletes to take their place?

“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, Colorado. “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 observe the trends and styles of newer generations, and also their methods for learning the sports. “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,  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.”

Resort officials are hopeful that with better training programs for younger skiers and riders, the chances of their coming back to the slopes will increase significantly. “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.”