Senior Skier’s Network Update

Thanks to you, the Senior Skiers’ Network is growing like a weed. As our three months anniversary approaches we have 8,633 readers in 82 countries around the world! Each of you reads more than one article when you visit, with a very low “bounce rate” of only 11%.

You prefer news about the snow sport markets around the world by a 3 to 1 margin. That kind of surprised me. The most popular articles concerned the Vail Resorts and Aspen/KSL acquisitions

Articles about inexpensive alternatives are the second most popular, followed closely by Do It Yourself ski instruction.

Well Done World!                      Thank-you for your support!

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Senior Skiing To Grow 400% Worldwide

This article in SkiAsia.com truly fascinates me! It’s really hard to pin down an exact number of active snow sport participants in the world. Outside of Winter Olympic news, The whole notion of skiing in China has been mostly off my radar. Bad analyst..Bad analyst!

So, just thinking “out loud”….

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Many resorts don’t report visits and many people who haven’t skied in years identify themselves as skiers in blind surveys. The number is estimated at around 100 Million worldwide.

Whatever the real numbers are in traditional winter sport countries, the emerging markets in Eastern Europe, Russia, China and elsewhere are on the verge of swamping existing demographics in a very profound way.

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The US has roughly 12 Million active participants who generate about 55 million visit/days each year. It has been that way for a couple of decades.

Now, here is China setting a goal to increase the number of skiers and riders in their country from their current 15 million to 300 million over the next five years!

You read that correctly Three…Hundred…Million…New…Participants.

In Five Years!

The American ski industry has struggled for 20 years just to break even on participation growth.

In reality, the US industry has not created a net gain in participant numbers in a VERY long time. In fact, if you look at this chart, there appears to be a serious “down-bubble” on its way in the U.S. as the number of new, young participants has been shrinking and older participants “age-out”.

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According to the 2017 Laurent Vanat report, the recognized authoritative study of global snow sports market data, while Vail Resorts, and Aspen-KSL are making headlines by moving the deck chairs around the Titanic, China has grown to 646 ski areas and Russia to 354 resorts. Sure, many of them are on run with a surface tow but, it won’t stay that way.

A friend of mine from Kyiv just sent pictures of her Ukrainian ski vacation. Good slopes, good snow, great accommodations and the food was 5 stars on any gourmet’s chart. All at the cost of about 20% of a Colorado vacation.

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For a long time, in the US, the number of participants and the number of visits per season has been either flat or declining. Western Europe is seeing declining numbers as well. Switzerland is tanking in a major way.

Revenue growth has come almost exclusively from price increases.

Coupled with declining visitation, that model is unsustainable as fewer skiers are forced to pay ever higher prices to float the industry boat. VR and Aspen/KSL may enhance their margins by aggregating revenues and creating some economies-of-scale but it doesn’t change the industry’s foundation elements, declining numbers and rising prices.

Products like the Epic Pass are merely the hand the magician wants you to be fascinated with while he lifts your wallet. With declining numbers of customers, the only way they can keep their investors happy in the long term is to raise prices. They have proven incapable of creating new customers.

Faced with emerging, growing markets with cheap and in some cases, government subsidized pricing, it will be much less expensive to enjoy your annual winter vacation in China or Bulgaria than in Colorado.

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China recently flew its first domestically designed and manufactured airliner. 

China recently announced it will open a new “Silk Road” for western trade.

Do the math folks. The world’s fastest growing economy plus 300,000,000 new participants plus government built and operated airliners plus millions of acres of new government subsidized ski resorts. They already manufacture an awful lot of the equipment you buy.

Should China decide one winter to offer free flights, lodging and skiing to Europeans and North Americans, what might be the result? Overnight, the entire western snow sport industry might well become what has been sneeringly referred to as a “feeder resort”.

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The pressure on prices in the western industry will be tremendous. In the short term, the pressure on publicly held North American consolidators may well be more than investors are willing to bear.

Certainly there will be downward pressure on pricing at destination resorts as more options become available in emerging markets

The good news is that small non-destination venues that do not rely on snow making will enjoy a significant competitive flexibility. If they can cover the costs of operating the lifts, they can stay afloat. Highly leveraged operations will struggle…unless…

Unless, large western operations can involve themselves in development of resorts in these emerging markets…(They probably have and I have just been focused elsewhere) It certainly puts the Whistler acquisition in a whole new light for me!

And, it makes sense for them to do so. Pricing in traditional western markets has been treading the tipping-point of the supply & demand curves for a long time. Growth in participant numbers are flat or declining.

Conversely, Eastern Europe, China, and Russia are creating new snow sport participants in very large numbers already. Now that China has made snow sports compulsory for kids in Beijing, the number of new participants may grow as much as 40% year-over-year for the foreseeable future.

Let’s talk about Brain-Drain.

You cannot pack 300 Million new people on the existing slopes. There is going to be a whole lot of building going on.

North American resorts are ALREADY having trouble finding enough ski instructors to cover the demand.

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China and Russia and Eastern Europe will need expertise and the only place to get it in a hurry is from the mature markets of Western Europe and North America.

With Snow-Job wages in the US as ridiculously low as they are, it would not be hard for subsidized, emerging markets to drain off the best and brightest. Resort design, engineering and construction talent, snow making experts, resort operations and travel experts, all of these skilled workers, and many more, are targets for predatory hiring practices.

American snow sport organizations such as NSAA and PSIA already spend a lot of resources on fishing for new instructors on college campuses. The North American instructor corp is already an aging population.What happens to the supply of new, young instructors should China decide to offer a one year paid internship with free housing on American campuses..or worse..to already certified instructors?

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There are a variety of competitive responses available to western snow sport operators, not many, but some very interesting possible outcomes. The one that I find the most worrisome is this…

The NUMBER…..300,000,000 new participants is mind boggling, breath taking.

Add that to growth in other emerging markets and who the heck cares about a paltry 12 million Americans?

If I am Vail or Aspen/KSL I get over there and develop a cut-rate feeder market and drive North American skiing development into THE destination for the global elite. Private gondolas and $20,000 per night rooms….THAT kind of “elite”.

Broad based North American participation from the middle class would no longer be a significant business consideration. If you can consistently attract 60,000,000 visit/days out of the world’s wealthiest skiers, who the heck cares if Joe the Plumber can afford to ski?

What bugs me is that current operations such as Aspen/KSL and Vail are already boiling that frog. Pass prices are going down but the cost of everything else associated with a ski trip are going up at rates higher than inflation.

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They have their Old-Schoolers too! Very Old school 🙂

Slowly as the glam and bling rise, and the western middle-class declines, snow sports are increasingly out of reach for a growing number of traditional participants.

But, with millions of new participants on the near horizon there may be enough of the world’s newly minted millionaires in China and Russia that the western ski industry can afford to simply walk away from it’s traditional base.

The article doesn’t spell out HOW China will create these millions of new skiers and riders. Even if it is just all grade school kids, they will grow up one day.

Time will tell and I will be watching closely from here on out. Now if you will excuse me I have to go read Benny Wu’s market studies on the Chinese snow sport industry….

Stay Tuned!

Hail Gordon!

Summer is upon us and time to go hike the mountains..deeper than we can go in winter…
 
I am constantly amazed by the daring, ingenuity and perseverance of our ancestors. Just when you think you are farther back in the mountains than any human has been before, you round the creek bend and there sits the remains of an old steam “Donkey engine”. Backing the day if it couldn’t be packed on your own back or a mule..you didn’t go…makes an AWD SUV seem kind of ridiculous.
 
Proud I am of my own people and proud of our neighbors to the north with their own story to tell….to the railroaders..and the 10th Mountain who showed us what is possible. ..and this man for so many decades of great music!

Senior Ski Lesson Myth Buster: “Standardized Ski Instruction”

A reader, obviously an instructor, posted this comment to an article last week. It raises a number of interesting dynamics within the profession of snow sports instructions so, I thought I would go through it piece by piece. We all see the world through the lens of our own experience but, when their are customers at stake we cannot afford the luxury of living inside that bubble. We must look beyond and take a cold hard look at the facts and make sound business decisions from them. So here goes….

“So I’m wondering why the assertion that traditional ski schools still use a wedge and focus on the outside foot?
In all three schools (at Aspen now) I have taught for in CO the direct parallel/inside foot initiated turn has been the move of choice in beginner instruction. My teaching career started 15 years ago. I will use a mild gliding wedge for people who struggle to balance in a parallel stance. The turn is still initiated one of two ways, inside foot steering and/or simply pressing the little toe side of the inside foot flatter.
Also I recall way before I taught skiing, in the 70’s in Aspen they used the GLM combo of a very short (120cm if I recall) ski and a direct parallel progression to ski parallel the first hour let alone the first day!
I have no doubt there is a small area or two somewhere and a few out of touch instructors who may be what you say. Let’s not take that as dogma industry wide as it assuredly is not!!
Clendenin Method has a mogul skiing focus to some extent. Moguls are a skill blend reuiring a lower edge angle and skidded turn shape.
Harb is more focused on carving so an edge biased method is an obvious result.
All mountain skiing requires a varying blend of both edging and rotational movements along with varying blends of the three pressure skills: fore/aft, foot to foot, and magnitude.
5 skills, quite simple actually and that is current PSIA tech. A rigid “cookie cutter” approach to beginners would totally ignore the guests fitness level, coordination, learning style, fears, level of self esteem, age and expectations. You are a good example prefering as you say above to go out and be shown and try vs the wordy explanations in the Harb materials. There are those out there that love and need that stuff too.
I have never had a guest ask for a formulaic lesson. If that happened I would point out that progressions can be regarded as an outline that is then customized to guest movement needs, level of skill, desired outcome, daily snow conditions, age, fitness and reachable expectations. Custom on the spot for the person in front of me or a formula? The choice is obvious.”

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The Meat

Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) is the organization that is tasked by the National Ski Area Association (NSSA) to create and promulgate industry standard practices that pertain to the teaching of snow sports.

What most people don’t know is that “PSIA” is actually 10 separate organizations. A ‘national” organization and nine regional divisions. The national organization creates manuals and defines the testing and certification of instructors in all the various disciplines.

The nine divisions may or may not adopt all of the national standards. Many have their own tweaks to the processes of training, education, testing and certification. Further, every resort ski school has it’s own in-house training program that may further change the standard practices defined at the division level.

In the case of corporations, they may have their own policies and practices that may or may not be tweaked by individual resort schools.

It’s like that game “post office” we played as kids. PSIA (national) whispers into the ear of the divisions … the divisions whisper into the ears of the corporations … the corporations whisper into the ears of the resort schools … the resort schools whisper into the ears of instructors….and the instructors have their own individual implementations of the standards.

By the time the “standard” reaches the ears of a customer, it may or may not reflect the original intent of the standard…any built-in efficacy may be lost.

“So I’m wondering why the assertion that traditional ski schools still use a wedge and focus on the outside foot?”

Below is a screen shot of a Bing search on the terms “PSIA Required Tasks”.

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“Required Tasks” are those movements a candidate must perform correctly to be considered qualified for certification” If you open and read these documents, it is readily apparent that everyone has their own take on the subject of testing and certification.

It is also readily apparent that Alpine instruction candidates at all three levels must demonstrate proficiency in wedge and wedge-christie skiing. There are no required tasks that would indicate that the instructional organizations, as a whole, require proficiency in teaching “Direct-to-Parallel” methods.

To buy into the commentator’s notion that wedge based learning is NOT pervasive would mean you also have to believe that all ten of the various PSIA entities are wasting a lot of time and money publishing, distributing, testing and certifying methods that no one uses.

I applaud Aspen and any other resort who is adopting Direct to Parallel (DTP) methods. If there were broad, top-down efforts across the PSIA-driven instructional industry to adopt DTP methods, guys like Harald Harb and his PMTS methods wouldn’t be out there accrediting ski schools.

As far as the outside foot thing goes…find me a video by any of the experts that says anything at all about the inside foot and I will show you 100 that do not.

To make sound business decisions we must take the facts as they are rather than what we believe them to be. 

Fact 1: The wedge and wedge-christie are still the beating heart of ski instruction decades after Direct-to-Parallel methods were first developed.

Fact 2: We know from the reader’s comment that not all resort schools are created equal and that “standards” are more like “guidelines” and subject to a significant degree of modification. 

 

As a customer, it behooves you to ask a lot of questions before you plunk down a large pile of dead-presidents when deciding on where to take a lesson.

“Also I recall way before I taught skiing, in the 70’s in Aspen they used the GLM combo of a very short (120cm if I recall) ski and a direct parallel progression to ski parallel the first hour let alone the first day!”

I was there. Been there. Done that. The t-shirt is worn out. But, this is my point, DTP methods have been around a long time. They were, for a short time, pervasive but were dropped and are now..40 years later, slowly coming back into vogue.

“GLM” stands for “Graduated Length Method”. It was created by Clif Taylor, a veteran of the 10th Mountain Division in WWII. You would start off on really short skis and as your skills improved you moved up in length. Back then the Spademan binding and matching boots allowed you to switch skis with out having to adjust the spacing of the heel and toe pieces. During a lesson, if you felt your student was ready for a longer ski, you could just go grab a pair and set them to the right DIN with a pocket screwdriver.without having to take a lot of time away from the lesson. Really handy!

 

Spademan

Not only did GLM get people skiing in parallel very quickly, the associated Spademan binding saved a lot of labor in the rental shop. One has to wonder why something that was so effective came and went so quickly and why, today, the instruction industry is still not committed to Direct to Parallel methods. There seems to be a persistent willingness to resist anything that makes learning easier.

“I have no doubt there is a small area or two somewhere and a few out of touch instructors who may be what you say. Let’s not take that as dogma industry wide as it assuredly is not!!”

I first want to pick the bone that “small area” is a bad thing. Small schools are usually family or community owned so they tend to be much more client-focused than the massive corporate areas. They know their customers intimately and have the freedom to work with new ideas that corporate school directors may not. So, could we please drop the ridiculous idea that big and glitzy is always better?    I’m OK now…let’s move on…

Let’s ask Merriam-Webster…

Definition of dogma

1a :  something held as an established opinion; especially :  a definite authoritative tenet b :  a code of such tenets pedagogical dogma

Definition of Pedagogy

  1. the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept:

     

Wedge and wedge-christie movements are still the documented and pervasive required tasks across the instructional industry. Movement patterns that suggest a Direct to Parallel methodology are conspicuously absent from lists of “Required Tasks”. I would contend that the industry’s commitment to snowplow teaching methods are still dogmatic in nature. There has been some progress in the 40 years since “GLM” but it has been glacial in nature.

 

“A rigid “cookie cutter” approach to beginners would totally ignore the guests fitness level, coordination, learning style, fears, level of self esteem, age and expectations.”

This is exactly why the snowplow teaching method is still pervasive. Assessing whether or not a beginner is ready for Direct to Parallel methods is beyond the skill set of many Level 1 instructors. The snowplow IS the cookie cutter. I suspect that if you asked a few “risk-management” folks they would tell you they would prefer that the school sticks with the snowplow, less liability.

“I have never had a guest ask for a formulaic lesson.”

Many customer expectations, across many vertical industries are never articulated. By “formulaic” I mean that the process of how to learn and what to learn should be consistent from school to school, instructor to instructor and it isn’t.

I keep going back to facts…

Fact 3) According to a study conducted by NSAA, roughly 70% of people just leaving a lesson said they “would not” or “were not likely to” recommend the experience to a friend or relative.

Fact 4) According to an NSAA study, roughly 10% of skier “participation days” result in a visitor taking a lesson. Many of those students may not have volunteered for school but were put there so their parents can ski alone for a few hours.

Translate these numbers to other industries.

Municipal Water Service – 70% of the people who drink it once won’t drink it again

General Motors – Only 30% of the people who buy their cars from GM, like their cars. The                                 other 70% tell their friends and relatives that GM cars suck.

Con-Edison – Your lights and the refrigerator work 7 hours and 12 minutes per day.

Are there good, fully committed professionals teaching snow sports? Abso-frickin-lutely there are! LOTS OF THEM…However, looking at the facts that define the quality of the ski instruction “product” in the US one can only conclude that, on the whole, the facts represent an astounding customer service failure.

A book by Theodore Leavitt, “The Marketing Imagination”, a business has only two functions, to GET and KEEP new customers. The snow sports industry in the US has struggled with both tasks for decades.

Proficient skiing..or lack of it..is part of the problem. Poor technique is tiring and as people age the athleticism that poor skiing requires has many people quitting in their 30s and 40s. A frustrating lesson for a beginner sends them packing never to return.

People don’t plan their vacations and spend thousands of dollars to do things they suck at.

The great part about having a government granted monopoly is that responding effectively to these kinds of problems isn’t as much of a priority when the competitive element is removed from the equation.

All ski schools are not created equal. Part and parcel of the King’s Wardrobe of standards is that there are, in fact, resorts with schools with very progressive methods and deliver a high quality product. There are also resorts whose schools process customers through like cattle. Employees are disengaged by poor wages and poorer treatment.

W. Edward Demming is considered the father of modern quality assurance. He defined “quality” as the adherence to defined standards. In as much as standards are subject to change at several levels of the hierarchy, and the adherence to standards of any kind are highly localized, we have to conclude that the value to the client of an over-arching “standards”   organization is limited.

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Ski School finds a customer

Unfortunately, like choosing a doctor, it’s nice when you finally find one you like and want to go back to. You just pray the search process doesn’t kill you first…

Unless and until, the instructional side of the industry adopts a customer driven business model and a commitment to consistent standards, I am certain the 70% failure rate and 10% attendance will continue to be facts of life. Poor proficiency will still be a limiting growth factor in lift-served snow sports.

The problem with all these industry studies is they only ask “what” is going on. The questions and methodology never delve into “why” something is happening. Until they do, it leaves business managers and industry organizations to stumble around a darkened room fumbling along the wall for the light switch.

But, being a monopoly means you don’t have to be customer driven. When business drops off, just raise the prices. ….(read more about the monopoly effect here)

Stay Tuned to Senior Skiers’ Network. This summer we will see if we can discover why only TWO of the ten PISA organizations have a certification program that focuses on senior skiers…