I think you've hit on something significant. Forget all the gimmicky promotional schemes. If they love the experience they will come back. Concentrate on the beginning skier's environment and the quality of the experience. Work to make that experience not a grim, scary and possibly humiliating one but an appealing one. Doesn't sound like rocket science but how many ski areas have suitable beginner terrain or terrain for beginners that doesn't have more advanced skiers skiing through it, or places for them to ski that do not invite the (imagined) scorn of experienced skiers? Very few ski areas seem to have large amounts of beginner terrain. All too often that terrain is where they decided to build the parking lot. It's almost as if they didn't want that segment of the business
Agreed. I'm not in the business, but my sense is that areas around here very much want beginners and their money. Indeed, I suspect they make the least money from hard-core regulars, who demand extensive terrain and lift systems, take a lot of chair rides, ski-off a lot of snow, buy season passes or otherwise discounted tickets, and bring their lunches in paper bags. I see areas creating a lot of programs to attract beginners, kids, and kids' families. For example, my favorite area offers full-on season passes for low money to any kid with good grades.
As far as the extent of beginner areas, I think resorts make the calculation that beginners don't need a lot of terrain by pure numbers, and that novices may even feel more comfortable not having to make too many navigation choices. However, your point about the quality of that terrain and the aesthetics of the experience is extremely well taken. Not to sound too evangelistic, but Saddleback is a model for this in my opinion, and I think it has been an effective strategy for them. The beginner area is on the opposite side of the base area from everything else (you start by skiing, not by riding a lift), it has nothing but easy green terrain, views are great, and it offers a relatively long run. They emphasize the non-skiing satisfactions of the experience by consistently calling attention to the remoteness of the setting and the long tradition of fishing and other wilderness activities. That perspective is underlined by the design of the lodge, the tone of their advertising, etc.