I especially thank the men and women of the highway crew who do an AMAZING job of making the road up to the mountain safe for us to travel. It doesn’t seem to matter if it is 3 feet of January powder or, a half inch of March ice they make sure we can get there by staying up all night.
Even when my pants are clean, I always hoist my first glass of apres in thanks to the hundreds of people who made the day possible.
It takes a helluva lot of people to make Happy Pants! 🙂
A heartfelt handshake and a thank-you go a long way. If you saw their pay stub, a hefty tip at season’s end goes a fair distance. A beer, or a bowl, whatever suits your style of thanks-giving…..
Anyone who reads these tropes of mine regularly know that I am a huge supporter of educated feet. All “Good skiing”, no matter how YOU define the terms, gegins at the feet.
I almost stayed home.It was blizzard conditions up top, 4 degrees, snowing hard, and blowing hard. I conjured the voice of Me Dear Ma and dressed accordingly. Bibs are something you wear when you mother gets cold 😉
I actually made first chair and first tracks on my favorite warm up run and, on six inches of yummy coldsmoke. That was unusual enough.
Things only got better.
After 3 runs the chair lift had to be shut down for repairs. I went to ski elsewhere. After lunch, I just happened to be first chair AGAIN when they fired the that lift back up. There was six MORE inches of powder and the wind had filled in all the tracks from the morning.
First Chair… First Tracks…TWICE…on the same Pow day!
As the legendary coach Cal Cantrell said, “It’s the feet, stupid!” Yesterday, my feet proved the value of a good education. None of my other sensory tools were available.
It was snowing at a rate of two inches per hour. The Southwest was wind at 20 mph and gusting as high as 35 mph. The top half of the run took me straight into it’s teeth.
There was no sign of the separation of Earth and Sky, nothing to mark the way ahead but the ghostly gray suggestion of pines along the fringes…only the most vague sensation of gravity provided any evidence of the effort.
There was no sense of forward motion.
The snow was so soft and quiet that only at the end of my turns, where the pressure builds, did I really feel a connection to the planet.
A feeling of weightlessness dominated my senses. It was almost as if I had ceased to be and I had became part of the storm. It was like living inside a frosted light bulb. It was college-in-the 70s all over again..deja vu…surreal. (who needs a pot shop when you own skis?)
The weather had deprived me of sight.
The wind howling in my ears robbed me of my hearing.
It was like skiing in a sensory deprivation tank. The only part of me that provided any clue as to my whereabouts, was my feet. They spoke. I listened. Call it “skiing sole-fully.
I became deeply aware of every inch of skin inside my boot. If I felt the pressure on the inside of my left foot, I surely MUST be turning right? Well, maybe but, once I decided not to care, I stepped through the Looking Glass into a world I had never experienced before.
My eyes tried to probe for obstacles ahead, trying to focus on a scene that my camera refused. The auto-focus only whirred in confusion. “Help us Landru!” (gratuitous Star Trek reference)
There was nothing out there to focus on. No objects. No light. No dark. No shadows. Just white. Opaque. Impenetrable.
I wonder if GoPro or, NASA might mount a radar to a helmet? Infrared would be of no use. Nothing ahead but raw, white cold.
The snowing finally slowed and the sky lifted just enough to see ahead 40 or 50 yards. The rest of the day was a joy of Freshness.
Twelve inches of uncut powder, in places punctuated by shots to the face, as I blasted through hip deep wind drifts and knee deep board slashes.
Deep Harbor Chop crud had always been a nemesis. I didn’t ski it well. I avoided it. The problem is that crud is everywhere. NOT skiing it closed off a lot of the mountain.
This year I made a goal to change that. I find the nastiest snow I can and force myself to stay in it. Learn it. Embrace it.
Discovered new ways of using this ancient body. It works.
As it turns out, that junk snow is actually a heck of a lot more fun. There are slashes and cuts and piles to provide a launching pad. I move from feature to feature as if running down a dry creek bed hopping from rock to rock.
Rediscovering the power of play. Every turn is different. Every turn has new and different vertical dimensions. New shapes. Leave the drudging, dreary sameness of corduroy turns behind and go play. Go BACK young Senior Skiers! Go BACK!
If I get to a section where the snow looks like something new or difficult, I slow down so my feet can learn to feel it. A new bit of code for my skiing app:)
And so, here they are. Happy Feet.
Tired and cold feet to be sure but, feet whose “eyes” and education made the day.
Six hours of the rich taste of fresh snow and cold air does something to the aroma of wood smoke and the flavor of a glass of Pendelton (neat) that I am sure the distillers never counted on….But then…they weren’t me…Not on a day like today 🙂
Like the golfer who makes that one hero-shot keeps going back to the grass in the hopes of making two such shots the next round. (My personal golfing goal is to play 18 holes without cursing)
Every once in awhile, Mother Nature decides to reward us and despite the prospects of another day on New England Blue…we go…and go again because…..you will just never know…unless you go. And, listen to your feet. Just because the are smelly doesn’t mean they aren’t smart 🙂
We have some product reviews coming your way that you won’t want to miss.
You will likely finish reading this installment confused by the many twists and turns and incomplete directions. GOOD…You darned well should be! The ski industry is slowly killing itself and the reasons are as complex as they silly.
Trust me though, I’ll get you straightened out on it all by the end of this season 🙂
What finally shook me out of my summer doldrums were two articles from the same author and source. Both articles referenced “experts” who talked about why the ski industry isn’t growing. I am always interested in that subject and I read them both, several times.
What struck me was not the specific opinions of the two experts but how two experts could be looking at the same industry and come up with conclusions that are perfect opposites. Could it be that the industry is failing to grow because there simply isn’t anyone who knows what is really going on?
The first article I saw was posted by ISPO.com and you can read it here. READ ME.
Basically it claims that skiing is too “elitist” and needs to find a way to get more people from lower income demographics to participate. The article didn’t say it in so many words but I had the distinct impression that the intent was to socialize or, at least, to have governments subsidize snow sport participation.
China plans to grow snow sports in an unprecedented way. If they are successful they would nearly double the number of active participants in the world. I wrote about that last year in…
If the rest of the alpine world is to survive, they may well have to learn how to compete against government subsidized resorts in China and Russia.
From that perspective, I can sort of understand where this expert is coming from. BUT, it seems like “experts” in Japan, Korea, OZ, NZ, Canada, and the US are gearing up for what they believe will be a Wave of affluent Chinese coming their way.
Given that China has proved it can build a world class ski resort in less than a year, it is likely that millions of folks from Japan, Korea, OZ, NZ, Canada and the US will pass them in the air…on their way to China...to enjoy government subsidized, world class skiing…on a free seat on government owned Chinese Airliners.
What I am saying is that China would very easily take the decision to offer free everything from travel to lodging to meals and lifts. One or two seasons of that could absolutely trash the ski industry in most traditional alpine countries.
Sometimes I wonder if Vail Resorts and Aspen/KSL understand that the 30 some resorts they own between them will be the only ones open in 15 years and are aligning themselves to serve only the wealthiest of the wealthy from around the globe. It’s already cheaper to take the annual ski vacation in Europe than it is to Colorado. How soon before it is even cheaper to enjoy world class powder in China?
First, I am curious to know who gets to decide if YOU are an “elite” or a member of “the masses”. That decision almost never works out for you when you don’t get to make it.
This second article I didn’t spend a lot of time with. From the perspective of industry specific knowledge, the “expert” didn’t seem to have much. It was more like the standard Google/SEO – blast the world with “branding” thing that appears 400 times a day in my Facebook news feed.
From my view, it is really just a guy trying to sell some consulting time. I based that on the claim in the article that in a market populated by fairly affluent people he seems to think that dominating Google is the strategy of choice.
My thought is that the more easily you can define a target the easier it is to hit it. You go on LinkeIn, search keyword “ski” and bang – 1,000,000 affluent skiers that you can contact directly. His claim that “targeting” is dead is foolishly myopic and “tech-centric” and flies in the face of everything we know about how people in those “elite” classes make buying decisions.
Look, I am a free market guy and if you can get someone to spend $40 for a Cheeseburger by putting it on the menu as “Boeuf Haché avec du Fromage”…congratulations! PT Barnum told us many decades ago how that works.
I will make a prediction right now that $40 cheeseburgers and $300 lift tickets aren’t going to save the ski industry. Neither will socialized skiing.
Again, the problems facing the industry in its traditional haunts has been the same problem for more than 20 years. The number of participants isn’t growing and neither is the number of times they go skiing each season. The industry has known for a long time that they need to do a much better job of hanging on to beginners.
The woeful statistic is that 82% of people who try it, don’t come back. NOTHING the industry has tried in the last 25 years has had any significant impact on that number.
According to the 2017 global industry study by Luis Vanat, participation in snow sports has been, and still is, in steady decline in traditional alpine nations.
The only places where it is growing are in Russia and China.
The only demographic data that tracks directly with the decline in alpine sports is the decline of the middle classes in traditional alpine countries.
This conclusion is bolstered by the fact that Russia and China enjoy rapidly growing middle class. It is also supported here in the US that of the 200 plus ski areas lost in the last 20 years most are predominantly small, local, low cost ski areas.
The cost of a day of skiing has grown much faster than inflation during a period when fewer and fewer people could afford even the low end of the cost spectrum.
All that boils down to that the ski industry really cannot have any impact of political and economic models. If current political and economic policies are eating away at your sources of revenue then you have to do something.
There are two ways to make a million dollars. Sell one million people a one dollar item or sell one million dollar item to one person. Between those extremes there are any number of potential blends of strategy and tactics to reach that goal.
So far, all we see are companies inching their way up the ladder. The cost of participating in lift served snow sports has been rising at a rate much higher than wage growth.
At a time when part of your client base is rapidly disappearing to economic policies, driving prices in the opposite direction only exacerbates the problem. Given the shrinkage in youth participation, the industry may well be heading toward a bubble that will fundamentally alter it and leave it no means of recovery.
When I was a kid in the late 50s and early 60s there simply weren’t many ski areas around. There were mountains of surplus military ski equipment that could be used on whatever local bump kids used for sledding. Our family “ski vacation” consisted of driving up Thompson canyon west of Ft. Collins and skiing the roadside ditch. Mom would drive us up and Dad would ski down with the kids. Then Dad would drive and Mom would ski with the kids. I had been skiing 15 years before I experienced a mechanical lift at a ski area. The current growth in a return to those halcyon days of hiking for turns is a breath of fresh air
In many towns these days the local sledding hills are shut down due to legal liability concerns. Kids are less active generally. Thanks in part to the explosion of a million cliff hucking, drowning-in-an-avalanche, GOPro videos, millions of mothers are deciding that skiing is too dangerous for their children.
There seems to be a growing list of reasons to NOT participate. At least, that list is growing faster than the list of reasons to give it a go and stay with it. The high costs certainly make it easier to stay away.
There are a lot of reasons why people don’t stick with it. Costs are certainly a part of that equation. Costs won’t change until the industry feels that is the only way it can survive.
One of the reasons that shows up in the annual surveys is poor proficiency. People think their skiing sucks and who is going to spend their annual vacation money doing something they suck at?
The problem is that there is much the industry can and should do about proficiency but they simply don’t care to do them. Lessons are expensive and will remain expensive, period.
When ski resorts are operating a government granted monopoly, there will not be any competition for the monopoly ski schools. Until there is, instruction will remain as expensive as it is ineffective and customer losses to “poor proficiency” will continue. Collision accidents on the mountain due to poor proficiency and over-crowding will continue to climb.
Sure skiing is expensive. The interesting thing is that once you reach a point in your life where you have the time to go skiing and you can afford to go skiing, the industry isn’t interested in you anymore.
Tony Robbins would have to admit that backing out of the Paris Agreement is a genius leadership move…
Ya, I know what you are thinking. But really…
I already went off on Vail’s climate announcement so I won’t repeat that (read it here)
Predictably, Aspen today announced they too are “#StillInIt” and all about living up to the Paris Agreement (PA) even if the evil Orange Dragon isn’t putting the federal government in the game. I am still at a loss about why on earth they aren’t saying, “Thank goodness!”
I will get to reasons why the lift-served snow sport industry ought to be thanking Trump for pulling the US out of the PA. I promise….
Most people, meaning those for AND against the PA, have no idea what is actually in it. (many will read it and still have no idea what it says)
So, how can they make an informed decision? Truth is, most people don’t. They take whatever collection of 15 second sound bites they have from whatever sources they prefer and they follow that.
We live in an “Information Age” but most of what we consume as “information” isn’t really information. It is a collection of other peoples’ conclusions. In the same way that computer models produce conclusions NOT “data”, consuming news only gives you the chance to vote on their conclusions it doesn’t give you “information” you can use to make your own decisions.
So, I read the PA It isn’t very long. Here is a link to the December 2015 version. Paris Agreement. (I can’t make the URL link work. I found it with the search terms “Paris Agreement Document) If you don’t want to read it, I’ll just tell you that someone at the DNC photocopied the first page and used it for the party platform.
The PA does nothing less than take for itself all the responsibilities of a government. The PA is going to eradicate poverty, promote LGBT rights, fight for the ubiquitous “social justice”, “climate justice”. Lots of justice in there. They will 3D print sliced bread, canned beer and real sex partners for everyone on the planet. The only shared feature of their various definitions of “justice” is the transfer of money.
Some people say. “It isn’t binding so why not just sign it?”
The obvious answer is that if it doesn’t actually DO anything then why bother with it at all?
If you were buying a car, the PA is that moment when the sales guy says, “Just sign the work up sheet here and I’ll go ask my manager to approve you”…unh huh….
But, the reasons run all they way down to our constitutional roots. It is deeply tied, believe it or not, to the current travel ban broo-ha-ha. If you recall, a judge held that the travel ban was discriminatory in its “intent” not because of the language of the executive order itself but because of things Trump said during the campaign.
If SCOTUS should uphold that decision it sets an interesting precedent. If Trump had verbally supported the PA, any regulation that doesn’t fit the PA mold could be overturned by citing the Travel Ban decision and Trump’s verbal remarks would carry the full force and legal weight of a treaty DOMESTICALLY without ever having passed a two thirds vote in the Legislative branch. That would essentially neuter the Legislative branch and turn the Executive branch into the hand maiden of the judiciary branch and effectively give any entity foreign or domestic the opportunity to circumnavigate the Constitution by filing a lawsuit. Any Ork with a pile of cash and a lawyer can become “President of Middle Earth for a Day”
Another popular meme is, “But only Syria and Nicaragua haven’t signed it”
My Mom used to say, “Just because all the other kids are jumping off the bridge does not mean YOU should!”
Ya, whatever, Mom, but seriously..read the PA. If you are the dictator of Bumfuckistan and you get millions in free western cash and are NOT bound by the PA to spend it on anything related to the climate, why the hell would you NOT sign it??”
The world is NOT a collection of unconnected dots, people. There are NOT 195 nations overflowing with love for the planet…yer gonna have to trust me on that..
All the PA really does is establish the global pecking order and loosely define the nations who will pay the bills and which nations will receive payments. The winners and losers have already been determined.
One thing is does communicate clearly. It does NOT like free-market solutions. It prefers money raised by taxation.
MOST of the payments will go to support the massive global bureaucracy that the PA calls for. In order to manage their involvement in the PA, every country will be forced to develop it’s own bureaucracy. Ka-Ching!
In the US that would have meant a new cabinet level position and many thousands of pages of new regulations. Ka-Ching!
Surely, those mountains of regulations would mean that cities, states and counties would have to have their own new bureaucracies…. Ka-Ching
Individuals and businesses (such as Aspen and Vail) would also have to pay the direct costs of compliance with all these new regulations as well as the incremental tax increases associated with the PA… Ka-Ching
Businesses such as Aspen/KSL and Vail would have to hire an army of people to cover the army of government employees who would want to see their plan, approve the plan and monitor the plan, receive massive reports on the plan. ..Ka-Ching
Because the technologies to make a huge reduction in energy consumption are not cheap, businesses would have to raise prices to customers, reduce headcount, reduce benefits, reduce pay raises…in short some pretty tight austerity measures…Ka-Ching
Or, receive massive government subsidies….KA-CHING!
We already know that folks in countries who have gone whole-hog for the renewable technologies have seen unsustainable increases in their electric bills….Ka-Ching
The price of fossil fuels, petroleum in particular, were predicted to rise 300-400% by 2030. We know that is a political target anyway. It was part of the Obama platform in 2008 and 2012. I can’t put that all on the PA.
When China surpasses the US in oil consumption, the trading currency would likely switch from dollars to yuan. The PA would simply accelerate the inevitable change. With US domestic oil production reduced and in many cases, blocked, the US doesn’t have a strategic fall back position…KA-CHING
The economic pressure of high fuel and electric prices is going to mean the end of vacation travel for millions of middle class households that currently participate in snow sports...Ka-Ching
You are maybe wondering who are all the beneficiaries of all this Ka-Chinging?
The simple answer is that if you love lift-served snow sports..it ain’t you…OK?
If you are a skier, YOU are the Ka-Chingee!
The cost of getting to a ski resort is going to go way up…Ouch
The cost lift passes and staying, eating and apres-skiing there is going to go way up…Ouch
There are going to be millions fewer customers who can afford to ski. Guess what happens to everything the resorts charge for and who will pay for that?…Ouch
Perhaps this gloomy economic outlook is the strategic driver behind the flurry of acquisitions? In the potential scenarios created by the PA, only a few resorts will survive. Only the top economic demographics will remain as customers and the dramatic increase in prices won’t affect their participation habits much. But what about all those small businesses in those ski towns who think The Consolidators are the savior returned? What about all that public infrastructure built to support twice the capacity?
Perhaps the “consolidation” craze is just preparing Aspen?KSL and Vail (who already own that market segment) for the inevitable and crushing demise of the lift-served snow sport industry. They intend to own the few resorts they believe will survive.
I was scratching my head over Vail and Aspen volunteering to live up to the PA…
But, if they can suck the budget-skiing resort owners into a “climate war” or influence legislation and regulations in a way favorable to their strategy, it would hasten the demise of those smaller venues, that’s a win. They are already positioned financially and, as they grow larger, will enjoy more political influence. A huge chunk of the funding for the US Forest Service already comes from VR and Aspen/KSL.
If you are one of the millions of participants who struggle or make sacrifices so you can go skiing or riding, there is absolutely nothing in the PA for you to be happy about.
People yak about building “awareness” and take fat donations to do that. I am just wondering if the problem is awareness or “careness”. Everybody from Kindergarten on up is aware of climate change….not that many people care.
The battle cry on the slopes these days is “save our winters!”
My question is, “For Whom?”
But let’s not stop there. Let’s spin the dreidl again and see what turns up.
Even though they are not going to be REQUIRED to suffer all the slings and arrows of outrageous legislation (and YOU won’t have to pay for it all)…
Aspen and Vail just said they are going to do it anyway, which means you will pay for it in one way or another.
BUT…because they won’t have the heavy burden of regulatory compliance and exponential growth in fuel and electric bills, it makes a nice strategic and tactical windfall. They have the opportunity to take the money they had set aside for the effects of the PA in their long range plans and put that money to good use reducing their elephantine carbon clog hoppers.
Aspen says they are STILL in it. That surely means they were ALREADY in it before today. I wonder how they were planning to deal with all the requirements of the PA. Let’s take a look at just some of the things that Vail, and now Aspen, have committed themselves to fund. I don’t mean “support” or “signal intent” or lobby or protest…I mean PAY FOR..send money…..moola…dinero….scheckles
Payments to “The Convention” to be distributed to foreign governments to;
fight poverty…. create food-security… support LGBT rights…create climate justice, social justice..the list is really long. How will Aspen and Vail determine how much money to send off every year? Without a government to tell them how much, it should be interesting to watch. I want to see a photocopy of the checks…
Maybe we are seeing the emergence of a Vail v. Aspen Slugfest (click here to read it)“climate competition” that would blow the roof off their goals. Wouldn’t that be something if free enterprise took the lead over tax driven, ineffective government bureaucracy?!! I mean, after all, the War on Poverty and the War on Drugs worked out so well….
So, I am heartened by these announcements by various companies to toe the PA mark and soldier on alone.
As Tony Robbins has often said, “Real leaders don’t create followers. They create new leaders”
+It just might be that backing out of the Paris Agreement has lifted America from becoming a band of dogged, slogging followers and created all these new leaders.
Rather than having surrendered “American Leadership”, the Orange Dragon just broke away from the pack of followers and unleashed these new leaders on the world.
To be fair, it just might turn out to be the most genius leadership move ever.
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.
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”….
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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?
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.
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….
Sometimes it is necessary to say the things that no one really wants to talk about. Much of the snow sport industry media is a never ending flow about all the happy things, and that is fine. There are a lot of happy things about the experience…..but…
People protesting Big Oil to save the environment leave behind mountains of trash, burning tires, and a dead body. We want to save our winters but we make that proclamation in a helicopter high over the virgin snows of untouched wilderness in Chile..after a 10,000 mile trip in a jet that burned several tons of fuel.
Several ton of hydrocarbon and flurocarbon wax gets flushed off the mountains into our streams. One large Ivy League school, renowned for it’s activism against white privilege has a ski & snowboard club with thousands of members, mostly white.
As Vail & Aspen gobble up ever more public lands for their enterprises, they become ever larger targets for political and environmental activism. Those attacks could take many forms from road-blocking to anti-trust suits. Most of the ski-able terrain is on public land in what amounts to a government granted monopoly.
The more I think about it, perhaps breaking up that monopoly may not be a bad thing. Competition for on-resort services like Food & Beverage, lessons and daycare will likely, in time, lower prices, improve the quality of those services and availability of those services, and wages as well. Lord knows the let-them-eat-cake philosophy behind these behemoths doesn’t sit well with America’s grass roots, bedrock egalitarianism….Just Sayin’
“Yellow Jackets” or Brown Shirts?
An acquaintance of mine was “pulled-over” by the increasingly infamous Yellow Jackets last month. She was told that “Acrobatics are allowed only in the terrain park…” Her offense? Drills. She was doing White Pass turns, Charlestons and Dolphin Turns and switch pivot-slips.
She wanted to get the drills down pat so she figured, “What the heck” and headed to the terrain park to practice. There she was stopped again and told that if she wasn’t going to be skiing over the various features she would have to go. Those 58 year old women are a dangerous and unruly bunch…
I guess if you want to ski on one foot at a Vail resort you have to pay the ski school a few hundred bucks for the privilege.
You Will Need that Arm & Leg for Skiing
As the costs of a western ski vacation promise to keep rising at the mega resorts, there are still a lot of venues out west that are silly-cheap. Perhaps the broad media visibility of the diamond-dusted resorts has everyone thinking that everything out here costs an arm and a leg and they just don’t bother coming out.
This summer we’ll take a look at a number of Rocky Mountain ski areas that have all that famous cold-smoke pow without the frills. Let’s call it the Alt-Ski Tour de Haute-Hillbilly.
My skis don’t care if I can buy a 2 carat diamond or a $100 12 oz sirloin or a fur coat in the lodge. When I am asleep, my mind is untroubled by the price of the bed. If it matters to my friends how much I spend skiing…I find new friends.
How does all this sound? $6.50 for a full breakfast? $26 lift tickets? $50 per night for your cabin? For less than a half the single day ticket price at Vail or Aspen you can pay for lodging, meals, and lifts for a day…and your legs will still be burning and your smile will be just as big and when you get home you will have saved enough money to buy your “off-to-college teenager a decent used car.
If you have heard of “kinesio-taping” you know it is the strategic placement of various kinds of tape that support weak or injured areas. Well, here are some garments that use various stretch panels to accomplish the same thing. The fun part is you can take it off and use it again the next day 🙂 We’ll have a full on-snow test and product review for you.
PSIA Endorses Direct-to-Carving?
BERP to ERP to EP?
PSIA recently took “Balance” out the old BERP model. Is “Rotary” out now as well? According to the maker, this gizmo can’t model wedge or wide angle steering movements. Effectively we have a high level PSIA personage starting beginners with what the maker implies is “Direct-to-Carving”? Seems to me that takes the elements of rotary and friction out of the beginner’s kit of turn shaping, speed control tools. IMO the carving fad is getting entirely out of control. Welcome to the EP model?
Carving is a low friction, speed enhancing technique…in a world chock full of beginners and Intermediates trying desperately to slow down?
I can see how more advanced skiers and riders would like this. It’s hard to tell exactly how useful this will be for teaching beginners. Since PSIA has developed a manual for this company and JB himself says this is a good thing…how about posting a video of teaching a beginner?
PSIA has quietly poo-pooed Direct to Parallel for many years and wedge and stemmed skiing are still part of the daily fair at ski schools all over the world. To more or less casually announce Direct to Carving is astonishing to say the least.
Below is a reply I posted on the “Harb” thread. Over the coming months I will be tackling some of these questions one at a time and doing a deeper dive regarding the inconsistencies in ski school services.
Here is one question to get you thinking…Obviously according to the original comment, Aspen is doing things differently and they DO have a reputation of having a great school. SO, In light of the size of Vail Resorts and now, ASPEN/KSL, what happens to the relevancy of PSIA if either or both of those behemoths decides to create their own in-house certification programs and not require their instructors to become PSIA certified?
One immediate answer is clear. Between the two corporations they employ many thousands of instructors. At the moment, PSIA’s long term survival is more dependent on how well they serve those two companies than it is on its membership.
On discussions of bio-mechanics…I have spent enough time on EpicSKi (R.I.P) and many other online forums to know that there is no such thing as consensus amongst instructors.
On generalizations…mine, based on observed behavior at 17 resorts are no less valid than yours based on observations at one resort. There are some very real studies that indicate something is deeply wrong.
1) Only 10% of visit-days result in the sale of a school “product”
2) 70% of people just finishing a lesson either were “not likely to” or “would not” recommend lessons to friends or family
3) Membership surveys show that older instructors are accepting of the role PSIA plays but not necessarily enthusiastic or engaged. The younger the instructor, the more dissatisfied they are, on some questions, 2.5 out of a max of 5.
These aren’t good numbers. The problem is there are many studies asking “what” is happening but they don’t get to the bottom of “why” it is happening.
Surely, some of the customer’s dissatisfaction comes from some expectations based on the price. There is no reason to conclude that an L2 at Vail gives a better lesson than an L2 at Snowbowl, but the difference in price of those identical products is $900 versus $180.
I am also intrigued by the information that PSIA has been involved in the development of software based Do-It-Yourself lessons. For the long term health of the industry, I think it’s a good thing. Proficiency surely plays a role when a customer is making the decision to continue skiing or quit and take up knitting. DIY learning tools offer proficiency at a MUCH lower price point than even the cheapest school lesson.
Compare these two messages…
1) “Take multiple PSIA lessons over 4 years at $300 each to reach level A proficiency”
2) “Buy this combination of hardware/software with PSIA lessons embedded and have the same 4 years worth of lessons for $250.
One has to be curious why an organization, that has resisted codifying a concrete progression for it’s members, would do that for the open consumer market first.
This is “personal” only in an indirect way. I have a ton of friends and acquaintances who pay their dues and teach and do a great job. they are getting the shaft but are afraid to speak out. So, I do what I can for them.
There are many questions and very few answers and THAT combination always piques my interest.
Later this summer I will be putting up an article on the astonishing new thing the OSV in Austria has done with their program. IN a nutshell, they went out and ASKED the public what THEY wanted to learn. That simple step triggered a brand new 528 page manual and the statement that “carving is out and elegance is in”
For many decades, a relative handful of “experts” have decided what the customer SHOULD learn without ever once asking the public what they wanted. It took some courage for the OSV to do that.
Nationalist snow sport organizations have a long history in reacting to market changes at a very glacial pace. How many years between the introduction of snow boards and the first certification of a snowboard instructor? How many decades passed between the first freestyle world championship and the first certification of a freestyle instructor?
In part, the poor market penetration and high levels of customer dissatisfaction can be blamed on an ongoing, major chasm between what the skiing public wants and what experts are willing to offer.
While I find the embedding of PSIA teaching in a software product as a step in the right direction, the Austrian market study may prove that the “carving lessons in a can” may still not be what the public wants.
In the end the long term value of that effort may accrue to the PSIA brand and to the resorts but not to the membership. What happens to how a customer sees YOU, the instructor, when they show up with this PSIA branded technology and ask “I am stuck on Lesson 4.2 and need some help” ..and you have NO IDEA what they are talking about?
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.”
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”.
“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!
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 tenetb: a code of such tenets pedagogical dogma
Definition of Pedagogy
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.
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.
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.