National Ski Areas Association Convention Unites Key Players and Shakers

Posted By: The Ski Channel on May 8, 2013 11:57 am

NSAA conference gathered industry executives to share earnings and collaborate for the industry's future success. Photo: Ski Channel/ Steve Bellamy

The 2013 National Ski Areas Association conference gathered industry executives to share earnings and collaborate for the industry’s future success. Photo: Ski Channel

Around one thousand of the ski industry’s most powerful movers and shakers descended upon the Westin Mission Hills resort in Palm Desert, California for the 51st annual National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) convention this past week. Now that the Coachella crowd has moved out, the ski industry’s brightest got together to throw around words like ‘baby boomer,’ ‘retention,’ ‘innovation’ and ‘Dom Pérignon’ (well, at least the ones who had solid snowfall this season). In that crowd, the guy who was probably ordering Dom for all the tables within a 5 iron was Jerry Blann, the President of Jackson Hole. He and marketing guru/cohort Chip Carey had a lot to celebrate as Jackson had an amazing season.

“We had our record year with over 500,000 skier visits,” said Blann. “It was really a collaborative effort as we had the best air, best snow and had it at the right times. The air was really key, as Jackson is less of a ‘drive to’ resort.”

Coming off of one of the most painful years in recent ski history, this season blew by the 2011/2012 challenging snow season by 11% with a 56.6 million skier visit season. That is the biggest year over year gain in 30 years! Not too shabby.

This year’s event was complete with the requisite menu of back slapping. Steamboats‘ industry beloved President and COO, Chris Diamond, received the Lifetime Achievement Award, largely for the wizardry he employed on property and at the local airport.

“The ski industry has provided me with a wealth of incredible experiences and the opportunity to work with so many talented individuals over the years from coast to coast,” says Diamond. “This business is more than just a career; it’s a passion and way of life that I truly appreciate each and every day.” Wife, kids and Steamboat marketing guru, Rob Perlman, were also in attendance.

The most influential players in skiing met at the NSAA conference this past week. Photo: Ski Channel/ Steve Bellamy

The most influential players in skiing met at the NSAA conference this past week. Photo: Ski Channel

Homewood, Alta, Brighton, Snowbird, Solitude, Greek Peak and Killington all received Golden Eagle Awards for their environmental efforts. In an industry that basically is driven by snow and skier visits, you’d think that these two things would be Top 2 on everyone’s list… Sustainability efforts are embraced well by most, but are we collectively supporting “learn to ski” to the extent needed? Please send guilt checks directly to Mary Jo Tarallo and Raelene Davis.

NSAA quarterback, Michael Berry, obviously pulled some strings with the local Channel 5 weather guy, as Palm Springs was flawless making a great backdrop for many of the lectures and discussions that typically centered around innovation and reinvention.  In his own keynote, Berry brilliantly worked in the phrase “selling snotcicles” and in general and as per usual had the room in the palm of his hand. Berry masterfully works a little self-deprecation, some ominous facts with some positives, and as per usual ended up with a very content room.
The keynote was delivered by Robert Tucker and focused on innovation.  In the snark department, one particularly snarked attendee who asked to remain nameless said, “a little late to ask a room with a mean age of 104 to re-invent themselves.” Another asked if he could innovate slides with fonts and point sizes that people could actually read in the conference room. In numerous discussions, however, it was surprising how many people (especially the 75 plusers) were really listening and understanding that to remain successful, there has to be a ‘Ski 2.0.’

One ski luminary who was particularly enamored with the keynote was Jiminy Peak‘s head honcho, Brian Fairbank, who said, “That moved me. I really hope the room was listening.” Fairbanks, who also controls Cranmore and Bromley, is coming off of his best season at Cranmore ever with record setting metrics and a second ‘best winter ever’ at Jiminy.

For 2nd place in snark, one of the more famous execs in ski who also asked to remain nameless said, “We are an industry that allows its customers to have to travel a long distance, wrestle their gear through a parking lot, walk a long distance in rock hard plastic boots, wait 30 minutes in line to buy a lift ticket behind someone who can’t get their zipper open to get their wallet, and then we have a 14 step process to rent gear… and all of this is at 4 degrees fahrenheit!” Response from resort owner A: “We changed insurance companies this year!” He gets the snark bronze.

The tradeshow floor was filled with industry superstars checking out the newest in RFD, zip lining and yes – there were two waffle maker booths. Booths dedicated to growing skiing = 1. Booths dedicated to waffles = 2.  Let’s refresh… Booths dedicated to growing skiing = 1. Booths dedicated to waffles = 2.  We’d say it again, but would be worried about getting black hatted on Google for the search terms, “booths decided to waffles.” Again, send checks to Mary Jo and Raelene.

The 2013 NSAA conference floor in Palm Springs. Photo: The Ski Channel/ Steve Bellamy

The 2013 NSAA conference floor in Palm Springs. Photo: Ski Channel

Ripple Media was usually where the crowd was hanging. The Aspen Chairlift media company always seems to have the trade show mojo. Floor rockstars included: US Ski Teams media crafter, Tom Kelly, Aspen Co’s main man Mike Kaplan, skiing’s Mick Jagger equivalent Steve “Boyne” Kircher, CNL’s Steve Rice and PSI’s Mark Dorsey, to name a few.

Andy Bigford was praising the new ownership of Ski/Skiing/Warren Miller (Active Interest), a deal that closes in May, while others were trying to get the book rights to the last 5 years of their story. For the film, who will play Jamie Pentz, Mike Federle, Merri Lee Kingsy, Ben Rifkin and Chris Phillips? Will the relationship between Warren Miller and Warren Miller Entertainment change? Most likely, it will be good for the industry to have the magazine that is the name of the sport leave the circus sideshow space and get some of the original band members back involved. In a weird way, even the guys at Powder are probably happy about this.

The award for largest crew goes to Mammoth Mountain (won the award for Best Safety Week) who brought just under 50 people to the show. OK, not that many, but they certainly brought out the guns. Rusty Gregory was in town (who’s son, Michael, just became the Action Sports Manager at Beats By Dre) which meant that all the ladies’ extra small black T-shirts in the cities of Indio, Palm Desert and Indian Wells will have to be restocked.

Bill Cockroft was in the house with his wife, as was ex-Disney marketing genius Howard Pickett. Pickett was his usual upbeat, but matter-of-fact self.

“We were up significantly this season and are bullish on next season,” said Pickett. “We got a lot of snow early, it held up strong throughout the season and we’re still skiing today.” Speaking of ex-Disney marketing gurus who have turned their mouse talents into ski visit pitchers, the Canyons’ Linda Warren was working the show with partner-in-crime Todd Burnett. Sort of like the 92′ US Olympic Basketball team with those two at the helm, Canyons won the Best Terrain Park Safety Program Award.

Two other booths that were packed were Head and American Wave Machines. Head, with their meteoric market share gains in the last couple years (skis got fatter), seem to be banging hard on the rental world. Head Skis’ Jon Rucker was pressing more flesh on the showroom floor than Heidi Fleiss during the Charlie Sheen years. Somehow that statement is going to find its way back to Mrs. Rucker.

Will 2014 bring surf and snow under one roof? Photo: Ski Channel/ Steve Bellamy

Will 2014 bring surf and snow under one roof? Photo: Surf Channel

In terms of resorts saying, ‘I might buy that,’ American Wave’s surf machine was definitely a Belle of the ball. Craftily sending two people under the age of 60 to represent the brand, the wave pool company was in constant show-and-tell mode, even though their booth was outside the showroom floor. While the world’s financial climate is still registering at chicken sh*t at best, the ski industry always loves cap ex and bankers! And what a great tagline to have: ‘New Hampshire’s only mountain surf destination.’ Our bet is that next year some ski resorts will also be surf resorts. Lucky for us, The Surf Channel took off last August and is The Ski Channel’s sister network.

American Wave Machine's tiny surfer prospected a future of endless possibilities. Photo: Surf Channel/ Steve Bellamy

American Wave Machine’s tiny surfer prospected a future of endless possibilities. Photo: Surf Channel

While the venue felt lighter than usual with Vail Resorts brass, Blaise Carrig was ever present. Deer Valley CEO, Bob Wheaton, and his wife were always holding big boy court with a healthy waiting line. Lots of high fives were directed at industry icon Dave Riley ,who will now have to learn to speak Canadian as he took the COO job at Sunshine Village. When asked about the new gig, he said, “Eh.” Clearly, he has been reading Speaking Canadian 101 and has it down.

All in all, a spectacular NSAA with the only complaint being name tag size.  Older eyes > larger text!