Our Final Analysis: 5 Conclusions From Our Community Ski Area Survey // Ski Industry News
As promised, we're back with another follow-up article to take a deeper look at some of the results from our Community Ski Survey. If you haven't taken a look at our previous article, then it's probably worth taking a few minutes to check it out to see the results from our survey. In this follow up article, we'll take a deeper look at the results and pull out 5 trends that we discovered from the data we collected. Of course, there are way more observations to make about theses results. So on that note, if you notice any other patterns or form any hypothesizes from this data, feel free to leave a comment below!
Now, let's get into some observations and analysis!
Conclusion 1: Skiing really is a lifelong passion for a lot of people.
One of the most obvious concepts that emerged from our survey, is that fact that skiing is a lifelong passion for a lot of people. How do the results suggest this? Well, let's start with the first question which asked, "How old were you the first time you skied?" In total, 82.51% of responders indicated that they began skiing as a kid, sometime between 2-17 years old. On the flip side, that means only 17.49% of our responses came from people who started skiing as adults. The conclusion here then, is that most adult skiers have been doing it for a while. This notion is reinforced when we take a combined look at the results from questions 3 and 5. Question three asks, "What is your current age?", while questions 5 asks, "Do you still ski?" Well, as it turns out, almost 95% of our responses came from people who still ski while only 4.38% of our responders were under the age of 18. These two questions tell us something that we really already know: there are a lot of adults skiing. Now, consider this information with the first question, and suddenly we can draw a pretty solid conclusion that for a majority of adult skiers, skiing is something that they started doing as a kid and have stuck with ever since.
The face value of this conclusion may seem too obvious to matter, but when you think about the implications it has, then it gives you a bit of insight into the ski industry as a whole. For instance, knowing that the average skiers "buying lifetime" spans for decades puts a higher importance on brands gaining lifetime customers. Being an employee in a ski shop, I can't even tell you the number of times I've talked to a customer who has strongly preferred one specific company because they've been using their gear for years. Conversely, this is also an indicator of how difficult it is for a new brand to break out in the ski industry. In order for a new ski company to make a sale, it essentially means they have to overpower an existing brand loyalty.
And it's not only ski brands that should be interested in the long "lifetime" of a skier. Ski resorts and mountains should take interest in this too. Take for example Vail's move to purchase Mt. Brighton in Michigan, and Afton Alps in Minnesota. Along with this purchase, pass holders receive discounts to Vail's other resorts out West. At the bare minimum, Vail is clearly hoping to increase vacations to their mountains by forging a connection with Midwesterners at their home mountains. But, as you'll see from our next observation, Vail's likely looking to cash in on more than just vacations by using their connection with feeder-mountain skiers to lure them into something a bit more long term.
Conclusion 2: The general trend is for people to start at smaller resorts, and move to bigger ones.
The last sentence we wrote may have seemed like an assumption if we didn't have the data to back it up. Fortunately, this is one question we knew we wanted to investigate when we made this survey. For as long as I can remember, I've held the notion that in general, skiers tend to move on to bigger and better things. Of course, I've never really had the proof to back that notion up, and I admitted to myself that it could just be the result of who I was around. After all, growing up in Central New York meant that just about everyone wanted to get out of town when they went to college. Being a passionate skier, it meant that most of my friends had their eye on places with bigger and better mountains.
So when the results from our survey started coming in, I paid special attention to questions 4 and 6 which asked, "What size ski area did you ski at?" and, "What size ski area do you primarily ski at now?" Well, sure enough, the results began to back up my theory. In comparing the results of the two questions, you can see a general shift in skiers moving from their small feeder hill origins, up to bigger ski areas. For example, 28.96% of our responses indicated that they started skiing at a small mom and pop ski area, less than 600' tall. When asked where they ski now though, only 7.5% of the responses said they skied at the same tiny ski areas. Since 95% of our survey responders are still skiing, you can draw the conclusion that rather than simply stop skiing, most of the people who used to ski at these small areas have moved up to bigger and better mountains. Further proof of this notion is available in comparing the results for people who ski at Medium-Large or full blown ski resorts. In question 4, only 32.65% of responders said they grew up skiing at a ski resort larger than 1,600'. In question 6 however, we see that a full 57.13% of responders now ski at areas of this size. This is an increase of almost 25%.
Now, let's get back to what we were talking about Vail. With this new information, we can start to see the bigger picture. By buying small midwestern resorts, Vail is creating a win-win situation for the ski industry. For themselves, Vail is growing their assets, while exposing their brand to a new group of skiers that are likely to at least pay their larger mountains a visit. Upon visiting one of these mountains, Vail is also hoping that the experience will sell their customers on the mountain lifestyle, and convince some of them to relocate and call Vail their home mountain. We've already talked about the importance of Feeder Hills here on Chairlift Chat, and it looks like it's a concept that Vail also recognizes. For them, feeder hills are important because it allows them to tap new customer bases that have a high probability of moving to an area with a bigger mountain. If they can convince them to move to Vail, perhaps by giving them a discounted vacation, then there's a good chance they'll become life long customers.
It's important to realize though, that Vail's ownership of small mountains like Afton Alps and Mt. Brighton isn't necessarily parasitic. To think that Vail simply bought these resorts to "drain" customers to their mountain would be short sighted. Rather, you have to believe that keeping mountains like Afton Alps and Mt. Brighton well maintained and updated is in the best interest of Vail's long term plan. If the doors to these small local mountains stay open, then there is a constant stream of potential new customers for Vail. So while money is the likely bottom line for Vail, the repercussions of this plan will surely result in better lifts, lodges, and all around service for these local mountains which otherwise would've been on their own in the very difficult business of running a midwestern ski resort. With that in mind, it's important to realize that there shouldn't be a mentality of large ski resorts being "evil" while the feeder hills are more pure and true to the sport. Instead, we should begin thinking of the ski industry as more of an interconnected ecosystem that takes all parts to reach its full potential. When you think of things in that light, it paints a more hopeful picture of the future for these small feeder hills. One in which organizations- whether it's a large company like Vail, or more grassroots organizations like the Mountain Rider's Alliance, are able to keep these small ski areas in business by combining them under a parent group which is more financially stable.
Whew. That got a little bit more serious than intended. Let's talk about another observation, something a little more light hearted than all of that intense industry speculation.
Conclusion 3: Skiing is shared across generations of families.
One of the most "feel-good" observations we took away from our survey, is that skiing is an activity that is shared across generations of family members. Sure, this seems like common sense to most skiers, but let's look at how the numbers actually prove this notion.
In order to actually back this notion up with data, we have to look at the results from several of our questions. First, let's analyze questions 1 and 3 together. The results here show us that most people started skiing as a kid between the ages of 2-17. Question 3's results also tell us that tons of adults are still skiing: 25% of our responses came from skiers between 50-65 years old. Put together, you can see that plenty of people ski for their entire life, from age 2-65+. Ok, so we know that it's not at all uncommon for skiers to be on the slopes for over 50 years. Let's set that thought aside for a second.
Now, let's take a look at the results from questions 2 and 7. Question two asked, "Who took you skiing for the first time?" The results said about 65% of skiers are introduced to the sport through a family member. The seventh question asked, "Do you ski with members of your family?" The results here show that upwards of 75% of skiers still ski with family, at least sometimes. So if 65% of skiers are introduced to the sport by family, and over 75% of skiers are still skiing with family (25% of which are over the age of 50), then it's a fairly simple to draw the conclusion that skiing is very much a family activity.
Okay, so let's bring all four of those questions together with two statements. First, most modern adult skiers started skiing as kids and were introduced to it by their family. Second, most skiers are still skiing with their family, at least sometimes. By looking at the scope of these results, you can begin to imagine how the life cycles of skiers start to overlap as adult skier teach their children who often times grow up and in turn teach their own children.
At a time when technology seems to be increasing the divide between the young and the old, it's encouraging to see this kind of interconnected and cross generational ability of skiing to bring people together.
Conclusion 4: We're under utilizing schools and clubs to get people interested in our sport.
The fourth big observation we made by analyzing our results is that schools and clubs are being seriously under utilized to get more kids interested in skiing. The second question of our survey asked, "Who took you skiing for the first time?" Not surprisingly, "Family" was the number one answer, followed by "Friends." What was surprising about the results from this question though, is that schools and clubs introduced only 10.9% of our responders to skiing.
What strikes us most about this statistic, is the enormous potential here to continue growing our sport by encouraging more kids to get involved in a healthy activity during the winter.
Now, no doubt some of you might see it as too imposing to suggest that the ski industry should make an effort to work with schools to get more kids involved with the sport. After all, it would be the ski industry that ends up making money from the deal, and not the schools. So with that thought, it makes sense that there would be some hesitation to push for an organized effort to increase ski club participation in public schools. Let me tell you a story though.
When I lived in Salt Lake City, I worked in a ski shop that was right by the train tracks that divided the "good" side of town and the "bad" side of town. The very first day I worked there, a young, somewhat overweight kid wandered into the store and plopped down on the couch in front of our TV which was playing some ski film. It was pretty clear that this kid wasn't a skier here to do some shopping, and it was also obvious that he also had no where better to be. Seeing as it was a slow day in the shop, my co-worker and I started asking the kid questions about skiing.
The more we talked, the more apparent it became that this kid would have loved to go skiing. He could see the mountains from the city just about every day, and by being in our shop, he could see images of the sport. To him, you could tell skiing was a completely different world, far removed from his side of the tracks. We asked him why he'd never tried skiing. His response was that he couldn't make it into the mountains. Besides, even if he did find the money and courage to take the ski bus up, he still couldn't afford the rentals or the day ticket needed to ride the lift. And as far as having proper apparel for skiing? Forget about it. As much as he would love to travel just 20 minutes into the mountains at the edge of his city, it simply wasn't possible for him.
The conversation has stuck with me over the last few years. Whenever I find myself escaping the daily grind by heading to the mountain, I think about kids like the one I met in Salt Lake City who would love to have that opportunity, but simply can't make it happen.
And that's where an increase of cooperation between the ski industry and school's could really be beneficial. It's not necessarily about generating new money and new customers for the ski industry… it's more about giving the opportunity to ski to those who otherwise wouldn't have it. Anyone who calls themselves a skier will undoubtedly agree that the sport has a way of relieving stress by letting you step away from your day to day life. For kids living in cities, just outside of the mountains, skiing could have an enormous impact on their quality of life by letting them visit and participate in the "other world" that they've only seen on T.V. and magazines.
Conclusion 5: We all agree that lift tickets are too expensive... but we all pay for them anyways.
This is the last major point we took away from our survey results. Overwhelmingly, the survey results showed that skiers find lift tickets costing more than $79 to be unfair. Or, looked at another way, the results tell us that 73.9% of skiers think lift tickets under $60.00 is a fair price to pay. Yet, as we pointed out in part one of our survey results, NBC News tells us that the average lift ticket price for the 2011-2012 season was $85.52, with dozens of resorts charging upwards of $100 for a day pass. This year, the trend worsened as the latest report from this season’s Kottke study tells us that the average weekend window price was $93.33.
So what's our point? Well, we find it strange and a bit disconcerting that a vast majority of skiers disagrees with the cost of lift tickets, and yet we still pay for them. Now, most skiers probably have seasons passes that they rely on to keep their daily cost down, but that's only a solution for the ski area you call home. As skiers, we're natural explorers which means we're likely to want to visit multiple resorts each season. In fact, 19.70% of those who participated in our survey ski at enough different areas each year, that they don't have a mountain to call home.
Of course, there really isn't much we can do about it. The large ski resorts typically have the best terrain, which gives them the leverage to attract customers, and build mini-cities around their lodges. Ultimately, this leaves two realistic options as a skier. First, you can accept it and begin to enjoy it. Honestly, it's not like the mountains that are charging nearly $100 for a day of skiing are just pocketing that cash. More often than not, a lot of this money ends up being reinvested into the mountain to make on hill services even better. Take Stowe for instance, our local mountain. Yes, daily lift ticket prices are cringe worthy here, but you know what's not? The new high speed quad they installed just a couple of years ago that takes you to the top of the mountain in a matter of minutes. Or their Over Easy "people mover" lift which brings you from Mount Mansfield to Spruce, increasing the amount of terrain that's conveniently accessible at the mountain. And let's not forget about they snowmaking upgrades. Between new pipelines, snow guns, and management systems, Stowe has spent literally tens of millions of dollars to improve their snowmaking capability. All of this adds up to a better on-hill experience for their customers.
For those of you who aren’t buying that argument (nice pun, right?), you can get back to the roots of the sport by picking up an Alpine Touring setup. In case this term is new to you, Alpine Touring (AT) Skiing is a type of skiing in which you use special bindings and “skins” to climb a mountain. The point of which is being able to ski back down. With a modest initial investment, an Alpine Touring setup is a great way to get back to what skiing is all about: enjoying the outdoors during the cold winter months. With a set of old skis, touring bindings, and some skins, you can literally make any public area a place to ski. The best part about this is that not only do you get great exercise, but you also avoid crowds, lift lines, and those costly lift tickets that you don’t feel like paying for. If you’re interested in learning more about Alpine Touring, swing over to our Essential Guide to AT Ski Gear.
Overall, we definitely accomplished what we set out to achieve when we created this survey. By polling over 1,400 skiers, we were able to get a good chunk of data that we could use to draw conclusions about our industry as a whole. Of course, the observations we made in this article are really just the start of it. We’re sure that there are tons of other conclusions to draw from the data we gathered here. So if you see anything we missed, feel free to leave a comment below!
Oh, and one last thing. Before we wrap this up, we wanted to give an extra THANK YOU to our new friends at the Mountain Rider's Alliance and the Antelope Butte Foundation. Both of these organizations are vital in the fight to keep small Feeder Hills from closing. If you get a chance, go visit their websites to see what they're all about!
NBC News Article on Lift Ticket Prices:
Lovitt, Rob. "High Peaks, Loftyprices: Skiing Increasingly Pricing out Middle Class." NBC News. NBC News, 07 Dec. 2013. Web. 12 May 2014.
Brighton Rental Pricing:
"Equipment Rental and Repair." Brighton Resort. Brighton Resort, n.d. Web. 12 May 2014.
Brighton Lift Ticket Pricing:
"Daily Lift Tickets." Brighton Resort. Brighton Resort, n.d. Web. 12 May 2014.
Public School Ski Club Sample 1:
"MS Ski Club." MS Ski Club - Hudsonville Auxilliary Web. Hudsonville Public Schools, n.d. Web. 12 May 2014.
Public School Ski Club Sample 2:
"Ski Club - SJHS." Stillwater Area Public Schools. Stillwater Area Public Schools, n.d. Web. 12 May 2014.
Utah Ski Bus Pricing:
"Utah Skiing, Utah's Guide to Ski Vacation Planning." Utah Skiing, Utah's Guide to Ski Vacation Planning. Utah Skiing, n.d. Web. 12 May 2014.
Past Year Lift Ticket Prices:
Information obtained at this year's NSAA Spring Conference. Source will be added after the full Kottke Study is published.