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….
In an exchange between instructors on a social media site, they were talking about how things haven’t changed much since the 70s, except that instructors don’t get the respect they used to.
Even after all the big, high profile acquisitions and all the real estate and the $35 breakfasts, there aren’t anymore snow sport participants today than there were 20 years ago.
In any other industry failure to grow is failure, period, yet the lift served market keeps chugging along and prices grow at rates higher than inflation. Make me wonder why it isn’t growing. There are two ways to grow revenue. Get more customers or get more money from the customers you have. But what happens when those customers finally stop coming?
So, what is so unique about these three screen shots? Can spot it?
One organization represents the people who protect the public while they ski. The 26,000 members of the National Ski Patrol have one job, to make skiing and and snow boarding as safe as possible When people do get hurt, get them to help as soon as possible. Thousands of people are employed by ski resorts for this purpose.
The address of their headquarters 133 South Van Gordon St. Denver, CO
The second has the responsibility to teach people to ski or ride proficiently and safely. PSIA-AASI claims more than 30,000 members who are known as instructors, employees of the many ski resorts.Their address is …
133 South Van Gordon St, Denver, CO.
The last is the association of all ski resort owners in America. Their members are the employers of thousands of ski patrollers and instructors. Their address..is…yep…you guessed it…
133 South Van Gordon Street in Denver.
Am I the only person on the planet who has a problem with two organizations that represent employees of ski resorts, whose sole responsibility is the safety of the skiing public, sharing an office with the organization that represents employers and voracious new coporate interests?
Does the AFL-CIO share a headquarters with General Motors? Does the IBEW share it’s office space with Verizon? Probably not, yet, here is NSAA, whose members enjoy government granted monopolies, which operate on public lands, sharing their headquarters with two organizations that represent employees of NSAA’s members.
PSIA-AASI will be the first to tell you, loudly, that they are not a union. OK, fine..whatever. They have been granted an effective monopoly to collect money from its members. Members have no choice. One can only hope that money is utilized to serve the needs of those members. Yet, in some cases resort schools pay LESS to maintain their PSIA accreditation than individual instructors pay for their certifications. That doesn’t sound right to me.
If the US Forest Service wants to hand out monopolies that’s one thing. Forcing people to pay membership dues to work in that environment, on public land, is somethings else all together.
While the costs of membership to NSP and PSIA are borne by their members, the VALUE of that membership accrues to the resorts. That ain’t right. Their members pay what amounts to “union dues” but get no representation. The resorts profit by it.
Do Aspen, or Vail, or their share holders really need their employees money that badly? Perhaps the glory of all the recent acquisitions ain’t so glorious when billionaires have to live off the backs of their servants simply because they can get away with it.
All is not well in the fife. The serfs are slowly revolting. Most senior skiers have no idea how instructors get paid. Although they are required to obtain and maintain expensive professional certifications they often make less in a day than the kid running the french fry machine. This article from 2 years ago spells out the trouble in paradise.
It’s high time to make things right. Senior skiers are asked to pay hundreds of dollars for a lesson and ALSO pony up a gratuity to subsidize the low wages paid by large corporations. You pay $900 for the lesson Vail get $700 to $800 of that and expects YOU to make up half the instructor’s income for the day.
I have been told employees have to sign what amounts to a gag-order, with dire consequences for speaking to the media without permission. Some are willing to talk anyway. Several instructors have told me that Vail’s response to the wage issue was to put up signs asking patrons to tip more. Really??
These Multi-billion dollar snow sport companies operate on the same labor model as a 19th century coal mine. People work at Vail and get paid minimum wage and turn around and pay it back to the company for slum living?
Local taxpayers wind up subsidizing mega-corps while their share holders profit. That just isn’t right. Beaver Creek patrollers voted to unionize and a movement is underway to unionize instructors at Vail. If all was bliss and light with Vail, these things would not be happening.
What can you say about a company that would fire an instructor with 18 years of experience because they couldn’t balance on a sponge? What kind of bureaucrat dreams this stuff up? Seems like Vail tries to implement all kinds of 19th century labor polices and then has to back track when they can’t find enough people to work for them.
Astronaut John Glenn famously said, “I guess the question I’m asked the most often is: “When you were sitting in that capsule listening to the count-down, how did you feel?” Well, the answer to that one is easy. I felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of two million parts — all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract.”
Monopolies never serve their customers’ best interests. Monopolies serve the best interests of the monopoly. When a major resort has to offer it’s employees a $1000 bonus to pirate a ski instructor from another resort, something just isn’t right. If it takes that sort of measure to get people to work there you have to wonder if you are getting the best service available. Instructors at Vail make a lot less than instructors are paid at Aspen. You have to wonder which place might offer the best learning experience.
There can be no question that, from an economic perspective, seniors skiing at these resorts would be better served if there were competition for on-mountain services.
Is this truly the future of American skiing? As a customer, do you really want to entrust your multi-thousand dollar family vacation to a mega-monopoly who treat their employees this way?
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?
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.
From Wikipedia, In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionreport Health Effects of Gentrificationdefines the real estateconcept of gentrificationas “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
So Geezer Guys & Gals, senior skiers aren’t any different than our younger counterparts. We want to be in control, have fun and look good doing it! To accomplish these goals, it might be a good idea to schlep off for a specialized senior skiing lesson lesson once in awhile or, apply ourselves the process of self-coaching. It isn’t as difficult as some folks think to teach old dogs, new tricks.
But whoa Nelly! Not every ski school out there has certified Senior Specialists. PSIA-AASI is the organization that develops standards for instructors and administers proficiency testing. Actually, PSIA-AASI is 10 separate companies, one “national” company and nine regional divisions.
Each has its own tweaks to the standards and to top that off, on-resort training staff may add to or modify some aspects of the training process. The idea of “standards” in that environment has to be loosely interpreted.
Only the Western and Northwestern divisions have programs that certify “Senior Specialists”.
The Northern Rocky Mountains division has been using examiners from the Northwestern division to certify people in their division.
I have attempted to make contact with clinicians and education staff members at division levels and the national organization in regard to senior-focused programs, with no response.
Whatever it is they offer to senior skiers seems to be a closely guarded secret. If you want to know what it is, you have to pay for the lessons. I recommend you call ahead to the snow sport school where you will being skiing and ask them what they have.
The manuals can be summarized this way; “Senior skiers are risk averse, mentally and physically challenged and tend to get cold easily” There is almost nothing in the manuals about how to modify movement patterns for someone who experiences joint or back pain when they ski.
Some ski areas have instructors who operate clinics especially for senior skiers but these clinics aren’t standardized. It is not clear if they offer anything new or different, in terms of movement patterns, from the usual ski school fare. Many of these clinics are simply social in nature, a chance to ski and learn with people your own age.
The problem is this, many of us have sore parts.Skiing can be hard on your back, hips, knees, and ankles.
It is important to have an instructor who knows how to modify standard ski school methods to alleviate the aches and pains.
Back in 2015, I was fortunate to chat with some folks from The Over the Hill Gang (OTHG) at Steamboat Springs in Colorado.. In 24 hours, 35 of them had snapped up all the slots in two camps put on by the coaches from the Clendenin Method ™ organization. After the camps were completed, they were uniformly giddy about the transformation in their skiing. So, what sets CM ™ apart from any other method out there? John Clendenin.
Clendenin Method offers a way for seniors to ski smoothly and comfortably.
John Clendenin is not your ordinary senior skiing instructor. He is a two-time World Freestyle Champion, winning back-to-back in 1973 and 1974. In April of last year, he was inducted into the US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame. John knows a thing or two about skiing.
The mogul competitions in those days were wild, edge of insanity affairs. The body takes a lot of abuse skiing that way. John told me, “I realized that if I was going to keep skiing later into life, I had to find a way to take the THUMP out of skiing. We all have a finite number of THUMPS and mine were all used up.”
John studied the masters, Killy, Stenmark, Brooksbanks, Mosely, Plake and many others and distilled the essence of their styles into his trademarked CM. He opened his own school in 1994, and is still headquartered in Aspen. He now offers camps in Aspen, Steamboat, Park City, Beaver Creek, Portillo, Chile and Val d’Isere..
The skiing method he created is totally, visually unique.
In an industry full of gorilla-shaped images carving arcs with knees crooked and hips dragging through the snow at breakneck speed, CM stands out.
It is controlled, graceful, upright, and effortless, exactly what we senior skiers are looking for!
His method has been distilled and simplified into a formulaic progression comprised of four key words and 9 drills. If you master them you will master the method. No more mysteries or millions of moving parts that require endless, pricey trips to school.
It can take you anywhere on the mountain, on-piste or off and in any kind of conditions.
Most mogul clinics focus on tactics, but without the unique skiing method, moguls will still wear you out.
According to Tom Saddlemire of the OTHG, “What amazed me is how easy it is to learn. There are 4 Words ™ and 9 Keys-to-the-Kingdom™ and you don’t need an doctorate in anatomy to understand it. In over 1000 days of skiing, I have taken 50 days of instruction and none of them transformed (he used that word a lot) my skiing the way that 3 day camp has.” That is a pretty strong recommendation, and it is echoed by every CM graduate I have spoken with. Their 50 percent return rate speaks for itself.
I can make a high recommendation that you get the book and DVD and give it a try. As part of my role as your Crash-Test-Dummy, I spent the whole of the 2014-15 season focused on learning this method.
Over the previous two seasons I had begun to develop pain in my knees by mid day. I am happy to report that CM ™ has put an end to that pain AND made more of the mountain available to me.
Clendenin Method is unique in DIY senior ski lesson arena in that he has a book, a DVD, multiple ski camps you can attend, and he also offers remote video coaching. Send in a short video of your skiing and he will analyze it using the latest in movement analysis software, overlay his voice recommendations and send it back to you.
You just gotta give this picture a Like and a Share!
My fellow Geezers, we brought this on ourselves. Back in the Hey Days of the 70s and 80s, we represented the youthful exuberance that was the core of the sport. To this day, thanks in part to us, The Industry still sees itself as youthfully exuberant. In the following quote from Snowsports Industries America (SIA), they write seniors skiing off and turn to face a youthful market.
“… Nowadays, they (Boomers) are encouraging grandchildren to ski and snowboard and are buying snowsports gear for the family. Although as participants, they were once prolific; as a target audience today their roles as elders in the family are most likely more important than their personal participation behavior in snow sports….”
That is a bold statement in light of the findings of the National Ski Area Association’s study represented in the chart below. The Industry still expects you will encourage young people to participate, buy their gear, and pay for their winter vacations.
They just aren’t encouraging YOU, the senor skier, to participate. You’re done, washed up. The WrinkledIrrelevant. And yet, we ride an average of 26.7% more days per season than The Industry average.
The ongoing issue is the way in which the industry chooses to define itself, by “generation”. A handy pigeon hole perhaps, but it is strategically misguided.
The SIA DCIP document identifies senior skier/riders over 55 as making up 10% of the total market. Yet, when drawing their conclusions, they say that Boomers make up only 5% of the “downhill” market. Which is it, 5% or 10%? Don’t confuse yourself. This ain’t Common Core. It’s Common Sense.
The chart shows the 55+ market segment is holding 16.7% of the market. That is significantly more than SIA’s 10%. I would go with the NSAA numbers because the ticket window gives them the best view of the market.
The chart also shows that the only segment that has grown over the last 10 years is…Geezers. The SIA’s ballyhooed youth under 25 have declined 5%. That suggests SIA’s assumption that seniors are bringing their grandkids to the sport may only be wishful thinking.
On the other end of the spectrum, folks 55 and older have increased 5.5%. It is significant that the average age of snowsports participants continued to rise to 38.4. Most importantly, the total market is comprised of individuals who are all continually aging. Here is a senior skier in all of use just waiting to emerge!
The Industry loses nearly 20% of its market between 45 and 55 years of age. I would call that a “magic moment” for a marketing opportunity!
Studying the chart, The Industry loses 19% of its customers between 45 and 54. Physical, psychological and economic issues related to aging have a dramatic effect on the senior skier’s decision to remain in our sport. We get promoted. We sit behind desks. The kids need cars and tuition for college. It piles up and the sport loses a customer.
This severe drop out happens 20 years before The Industry is willing to tell itself that aging is a business problem and address it.
When you do reach the magic age of 55, The Industry is willing to tell itself that seniors skiing isn’t relevant? I will suggest that with advancements in equipment, technique, medicine, and health maintenance, a 45-year old skier has 30 years or more of participation left. Is The Industry willing to write off senior skiers with 30 or more years left as customers? The evidence is clear that it is.
The Industry is working hard to bring fewer and fewer young people into the sport only to glibly let them slip away as they age. That is strikingly, irrevocably myopic.