I just love the days of wood, leather and wool! Maybe take some truly senior ski lessons!
I just love the days of wood, leather and wool! Maybe take some truly senior ski lessons!
Enough of this off season! Last Spring was chock full o’ news with Vail Resorts and Aspen/KSL running amok with huge bags of cash buying up resorts. We’ll be keeping an eye on how that all shakes out.
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.
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.
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.
The outlook for increasing average proficiency is pretty bleak. Instructors with a lot of experience are “aging-out” of the profession and not enough young people are taking it up.
Instructor shortages are so severe that resorts are offering $1000 bounties to any employee who helps them poach an instructor from a another resort.
The outlook is so bleak, in fact, that the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) have taken to designing instructional programs for companies who make teaching machines.
But hey, it’s almost December and the local mountain is open. So, we’ll just keep on skiing and riding and muddle through somehow.
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.
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”
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??”
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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”.
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….
After last week’s examination of the seemingly unstoppable juggernaut, Vail Resorts, (Senior Skiers Sound Off – Vail…Beauty or, the Beast? ) I had planned to put out something a tad more light-hearted. After all, the season is winding down and we need to maintain the stoke for the 2017-18 season, yes?
But, you can’t let news like this just slip by. In recent news, the Aspen Ski Company has announced an agreement to buy Intrawest for $1.5 Billion. Intrawest owns Winter Park and Steamboat Springs in Colorado, Mount Tremblant in Canada, Stratton in Vermont and 3 other resorts.
Does this signal a head-to-head slug fest? Crown versus Katz, in the street at high noon, for primacy in the North American snow sports market? Will this touch off a kind of Corporate Chinese Downhill where competition serves the marketplace by driving down prices? Doubtful.
As we have seen with VR acquisitions, traffic goes up and prices go up. While season pass prices have gone down compared to 20 years ago, the total cost of a ski vacation has risen.
As Aspen enters the corporate snow sport fray, we won’t know how they intend to manage these new properties until they actually begin operations. If they are to echo the Aspen Experience, we have to assume they will want to draw their business from the higher income brackets. Today’s announcements that not much will change seems carefully calculated to insure stability in share prices until the merger can be completed.
To think a management team, driven in the public eye by the Aspen name, will go off into the future without even taking advantages of economies of scale is naive in my view.
Everywhere that has happened it tends to pull prices for all goods and services upward, out of reach for the average senior skier. This is yet another signal of a kind of “gentrification” of the lift served snow sports market. Have Senior Skiers Been Abandoned? The Wrinkled Irrelevants…
From Wikipedia, In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report Health Effects of Gentrification defines the real estate concept of gentrification as “the transformation of neighborhoods from low value to high value. This change has the potential to cause displacement of long-time residents and businesses … when long-time or original neighborhood residents move from a gentrified area because of higher rents, mortgages, and property taxes. Gentrification is a housing, economic, and health issue that affects a community’s history and culture and reduces social capital. It often shifts a neighborhood’s characteristics, e.g., racial-ethnic composition and household income, by adding new stores and resources in previously run-down neighborhoods.”
What we are likely to see in the coming years is an economic stratification, which also implies racial and ethnic stratification, in lift-served snow sports. Those who can afford the Disney-esque immersion, that is now being called “experiential” skiing, will likely appreciate the up-market move.
But, this up-market move does two things. It relegates those who cannot afford the “experience” to venues who will struggle to keep the lifts running, and it vacates the mid-priced segment.
In other industries that has tended to pull prices upward across the board. In an industry that has struggled to find new customers for 20 years, it does not bode well. It is an industry for which the cost barrier for new client acquisition is already significant.
Should the gentrification of snow sports pull prices upward away from its blue-collar roots, it may well accelerate the closure of down-market venues; more crowding, and further economic stratification, as the industry bleeds customers from the lower income brackets. Perhaps the Alt-Ski community will see some growth ( Seniors Skiing on the Cheap – An Alt-Ski Community )
In that light, numerous programs to introduce poor urban kids to snow sports almost becomes a form of mockery. “Hi kiddies and welcome! We hope you love skiing and riding now because you will never be able to afford it when you grow up”. My more libertarian sensibilities cringe at the notion of public lands being used to enrich the lives of a relative handful while driving their availability to others downward.
“From All according to their lobbyists, To those few who can afford them” – flies in the face of American democratic traditions.
As snow sports become less and less affordable, the Aspen-Vail cage match may well create a hue and cry that endangers these government granted monopolies that operate on public property,
The “multiple use” policy of the US Forest Service ought to have limits that serve the interests of all. In the same way that a vacation to a national park has become corporatized, less affordable and less enjoyable through government granted monopolies, so too may seniors’ skiing.
In the last 20 years the number of active snow sport participants has held steady at around 12 million per season. According to the National Ski Area Assoc. there were 622 ski resorts in the 1988-89. Today, according to a chart at the Statistics Portal there were 463 during the 2015-16 season.
That’s the same 12 million people skiing and riding on 159 fewer resorts and a LOT less acreage.
We seniors skiing on these crowded slopes can testify that you have to have the vigilance of a combat veteran to get through the day. Eyes in the back of your head and your head on a swivel, just isn’t fun. Senior skiing ought to be about a sense of freedom…not survival.
With over-crowding and collision injuries on the rise today, if this trend continues, the remaining slopes promise to only bring a degradation of the snow sport experience. And, that drives down demand (fewer skiers) and drives up prices even further. Up to a point that perhaps not even the Godzillas and King Kongs of corporate skiing cannot afford to remain in business.
Many people have reported a marked increase in congestion at VR acquired resorts. Aspen’s entry into gentrification may well accelerate the twinkly-light, gourmet-dining but over-crowded “experience”. Where you are seen in ski togs becomes more important than the quality of the on-snow experience.
Shops and hotels and restaurants in these acquired areas love the increase in traffic but that increase also adds unforeseen burdens on public infrastructure. Everything from constructing parking to traffic management systems to sewage and trash collection costs more in government expenditures.
Tax increases always happen whenever governments see the opportunity. Increased taxation tends to drive out locals on the lower economic strata. Homeowners who have lived in these town all their lives can no longer afford to remain and Gentrification becomes complete.
Back in the late 70s and early 80s, the focus of “smart money” in snow sports stopped being about skiing and started being all about real estate development in the area around resorts. Now that that fad has hit the wall and slid to the floor, I see this “corporatization” as an extension of that trend. It is just that the only remaining, available real estate in a ski town these days are the resorts themselves.
Once this fad has run it’s course and the stocks in these corporate giants stagnate, what will “smart money” do? Leave? Then what?
While the costs of a season pass might go down in the short term, the long term social costs in terms of diversity may well be unacceptable and unsustainable.
We do have a feel for where the upper limit is with this Gentrification movement. The once ballyhooed ultra-posh private Yellowstone Club near Big Sky has changed hands more times than a Christmas fruit cake. As Vail and Aspen probe upward looking for that line they dare not cross, the less-than-posh can only wait and ski.
Many people herald these acquisitions as if they represent the cavalry charging over the hill to the rescue. Well, the cavalry eventually retires back to its fort and we all know what a herd of horses leaves in the yard….and who has to clean it up
Time will tell.
So, my erstwhile editor forwards an email to me from one or another of Montana’s legion of “tourist” promoting organizations…Do you want to write a story about one of these dude ranches/senior ski resorts? That was the proposition…entirely up to you, old boy…stiff upper lip, what?
A smart person once said one ought to write about things with which one is familiar..as if “one” ain’t the same guy as “me”… any-who… recognizing the social importance of being earnest/ine, I sally forth..
Etymology: “Ski Resort” – A Proto-Norse phrase for “Costs Many Furs”
If you prefer its more modern root, “Ski Resort” means, “If you want to Ski, you must Resort to paying a lot of money.”
Way, way….waaaaay back in the day, in a time when snowflakes outnumbered resort employees and there was a difference, it became popular for sick city folks from..let’s say..Moscow.. to travel to Switzerland, or elsewhere equally upscale, to “take the waters”.
This implies, of course, that if you live in the city and you don’t feel well, try drinking water from someplace far removed from the place where folks empty their chamber pots. Everyone knows that the more you pay for water, the better it is for you.
Then it became about the air. Don’t feel well? Go someplace where the air isn’t laden with the drifting, sulfurous detritus of coal-powered living. Still today, living in cities makes people ill in one way or another. The evidence to support such a conclusion might be present in either stool or ballot box. Keep faith. There is a cure. Step into my office. Dr. Mike is in..
Eventually, man’s never-ending search for places healthier than cities led to a social movement (as opposed to the aforementioned movements) we know as “camping”, a craze where humans celebrated their dwindling dependence on outdoor skills by going off in the outdoors and starting fires.
Some were successfully extinguished, many, sadly, were not. The “camping” fad reached it’s zenith in 1945 when nearly 12 million Americans were out camping in all kinds of countries.
Then came the infatuation with the healthy and romantic life of the “American Cowboy”, an occupation whose romance is embraced by sleeping in mud, eating beans, breathing dust, and separating boy-cows from their boy-parts.
Then, decades later, a movie, ”City Slickers” marks that point in American economics when ranchers realized that selling cattle was for chumps. You can make ten times more money letting city folk come play with your cows for a few days...the modern “dude” ranch was born.
Now, keep in mind, “dude” isn’t the sort of “dude”, as in, “Doooood” that was a gnarly Cork, STOMP!”. No, today’s “Dude Ranch” has a split personality. In the summer, these are Dude Ranches where you get to play with cows.
In the winter they become ”Dooood Ranches” where you get to play the be-dreaded, tie-dyed, senior skiing snow-hippie you know you were or wanted to be. They are that filmy, haze-ridden, Vaseline-thumb-on-the-lense, reality-enhanced world of Ski-Jacoooz-Booze-Snooze where all that mattered is that you may recount the days but cannot recall the nights…at least in the presence of your mate.
The bottom line is that the more closely you remain allied to your youth, the fewer furs you will have to trap in Central Park to go skiing. Sometimes going “down-market” can be “Up Lifting” ..spirit-wise AND chair-wise and if, when you get home, you still want to buy a mink or a diamond or a $200 sirloin dinner..you will have the cash.
So, saddle up Buckaroos and ride with me as I explore the best-cheap ways for senior skiers to roll out your bedroll, grab ya some grub, and ride some Montana Coldsmoke next winter. We’ll meet some snow-freak characters who are livin’ it for real and for-cheap.
Try not to forget who STARTED all this skiing hippie business in the first place..hmmm?