Adults who both ski and snowboard could be the industry’s saving grace

The snow-sports industry’s best hope for growing in the future could be increasing the number of young people who both ski and snowboard, according to a study presented at the Mountain Travel Symposium (MTS) in Snowmass on Thursday.

That’s because the group tends to be more affluent and engaged in social media than other demographics, said Douglas Quinby, principal analyst at PhoCusWright, a travel market-research company.

Over 60 people filled a small conference room to listen to Quinby present results from the report that analyzes skier consumer trends. The Mountain Travel Symposium is an annual conference that brings professionals together to network and share ideas on how to improve and grow the industry.

The study sampled 1,611 people who were above the age of 17, skied or snowboarded at least twice in the past year and visited a resort once. The people who were surveyed are typically older, wealthier and more adventurous than the nation’s average traveler, the study says. One common theme throughout this year’s conference is how the industry can grow when its best customers are the aging baby boomer generation, who will soon retire from winter sports.

One group that defies those trends are the people who both ski and snowboard, Quinby said. Only about 16 percent of those surveyed do both sports, but the majority of that demographic is under the age of 35 and they outspend other groups on gear and accommodations, according to the study.

“This group is an anomaly,” Quinby said. “This is a contradictory segment. This group, they ski more. They travel more. This is your most passionate, most engaged, your most advanced segment of the ski travel population.”

The interdisciplinary travelers probably own smart phones and tablets, and they are the group most likely to engage in social media describing their trips, the study says. That makes the demographic valuable not only in terms of their buying power, but also in their ability to influence others through social media, Quinby said.

“They’re sharing whether you like it or not,” he said. “So if you can win them over, there is an enormous opportunity in the social sphere.”

The results of the study surprised many professionals in the audience, and a panel made up of three industry leaders offered their opinions after Quinby’s presentation.

Maile Keone, chief marketing officer at VacationRoost, which specializes in online vacation rental sales, said it would take additional research to figure out what would be the best way for resorts and brands to reach that demographic. Still, the group’s influence would be worth the effort, she said.

Evan Reece, co-founder of Liftopia, a site that sells discounted lift tickets, noted that the people who ski and snowboard are customers who probably already have a defined identity in the industry and are not newcomers. The challenge for the resorts will be how to target that demographic while also trying to attract more people to be like them, he said.

Knowing more details about when those consumers decide to ski versus snowboard would be useful in figuring out why the demographic is so influential, added Pete Hayda, director of sales and marketing at Aspen Skiing Co.

Over the past decade, skier visits have been flat nationwide, according to a MTS press release. During a symposium event held earlier this week, participants offered potential solutions to that problem. Solutions ranged from taking more risks, playing with pricing, planning more for leadership succession and marketing more to non-skiers about mountain experiences, according to the MTS statement.

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