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Resort Operator Questions

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 
If you had an interview with the General Manager of your home resort and your intended topic of discussion was to be...

"What do Resort Operators want from Ski Schools?"

What are some questions you might ask?

Here is an example of one I intend to send in advance, but I cannot decide which way to word it.

"How does (Resort Name) measure Ski School success?"


"How does (insert GM name) measure Ski school success?"

Which of those two is the best and why.

Any other possible questions?

[ March 26, 2004, 10:29 PM: Message edited by: Roto ]
post #2 of 23
I would think they'd tell you that it is non of your business, but should you get an answer, most likely it would be: The same as we measure the cafeteria success, by the number of customers, the satisfaction of customers and the profit contribution.

Good luck, Roto.

post #3 of 23
Roto, I'm leaning toward your second option. Resorts don't take measurements, people do. But if the statement is directed to the General Manager take out the 3rd person thing.

I'd say;
How do you, as general manager, measure ski school success?

My questions would be:

Would you, or have you ever, considered farming out the ski school operation?

Any thoughts on what elements a proposal from an independent would have to contain to spark the interest of the Resort?
post #4 of 23
Of the 2 you threw out, I'd use the 2nd option as well. If you really want specific answers, however, you need to ask specific questions. My experience with broad, open ended questions is that you get "canned" answers that dance around what you truely want to learn.
post #5 of 23
In the medical field, to qualify for HMO contracts, many of the require that you implement a survey and feedback system.

My wife and one of my two sons (and me for that matter) had very bad first lesson experiences. I'm the only one of the three that ever skied again. No survey was sent out, no follow up phone calls were made. In this resort's case I would not see how they would know that their ski school was turning off a certain percentage of skiers from ever skiing again. In my sample survey that was a 2/3rds non-retention rate.

It would appear they are counting heads like the cafeteria line to guage success and have no idea of retention rate or which instructors are good or bad or even a good idea of relative customer feedback to other schools.

Perhaps the PSIA sanctioning body could push and centralize some sort of survey system requirement for students to go on-line and rate their experiences with a set of questions. PSIA could run the system for the benefit of all ski schools.

Nothing in any business can not be improved without first establishing a consistent baseline of measurement. Profit alone will not tell a business how much profit they are loosing and how much could be gained by improving the quality of the product.

But, that was just my and my families experience. How many ski schools do have a customer feedback system? I'm sure the better ones must.

In my own experience with camps, both PSIA and PMTS, they both have survey systems in place and actively work to improve their product. But, how many of the standard ski schools at resorts do?
post #6 of 23
"Perhaps the PSIA sanctioning body could push and centralize some sort of survey system requirement for students to go on-line and rate their experiences with a set of questions. PSIA could run the system for the benefit of all ski schools."

Benchmarking ski schools is something PSIA has assiduously avoided to this point. I think PSIA could do much to raise its image, enhance its credibility, and acquire a new income stream by positioning the organization's seal as the Assurance of Quality for skiing consumers, like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
post #7 of 23
You think that would ever happen NOLO? They'd (PSIA) anger a lot of their membership.

And as far as the resorts are concerned I would guess their attitude is "if it aint broke, don't fix it". Ski school as it stands now is a money tree; little capitol for big margins. So they lose a few customers to poor quality, so what. To raise the quality bar they would have to pay higher wages to instructors to raise retention rates. That would demand higher student numbers just to compensate for the lower margins so they could come out the same on the bottom line. Why bother. And if they don't want to raise pay rates what would they do with the info the study provided, fire the lower quality instructors (which is the majority of most ski school staffs) and replace them with even worse candidates, the ones that didn't make the early season cut? They could implement more training, but that can only do so much for a low level skier/teacher.

I don't see such public accessible customer feedback studies/ratings coming from the resorts or PSIA anytime soon. Perhaps an outside organization (a Consumer Reports type) would be better suited to perform that public service.

Perhaps it could be done right here on Epicski. Hummmm.
post #8 of 23
I think most place run under the accountancy system.

You (read ski school manager) run a cost centre. You have to absorb x amount of the overheads of the business, minimize your direct costs (labour, premises and dedicated snow area) and generate maximum profit. You have a budget which thou shalt not exceed and a customer satisfaction (complaints) criteria which will be monitored. Supervisors are an indirect cost which must be minimized as much as possible.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it.
Good luck.
post #9 of 23
From today's Financial Times:

Ski, but it ain't no theme park
By Arnie Wilson
Published: March 26 2004 17:36 | Last Updated: March 26 2004 17:36

High in the Hohe Tauern mountains of Salzburgerland, Ernst Benedicter, the wiry and wily chief instructor at the ski school in Badgastein.

Ernst recently returned to ski in America after a gap of some decades. "I didn't like what I found," he said. "Too many rules and regulations. I know what I'm doing, but they don't like it if you have a mind of your own. In Austria, you take responsibility much more for your own actions. Unlike America, Austria isn't some Alpine theme park. So here I stay."

Quoted with permission. So what do you think?


Full story here:
post #10 of 23
Perhaps the rules and regulations found in the USA are due to the litigious society we have... I understand that in europe the cost of the law suite is borne by the loser....perhaps that keeps a lot of cases out of court and thus keeps the CYA rules and regs down to a minimun....
post #11 of 23
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the replies, folks, unfortunately (not really) I left for the mountains earlier than expected and just (unfortunately, for real) got back.

I suppose it would have been better to give more background on what I am doing and why, but I just started, this was my first interview of this kind and I wasn't sure how it would play out. I seem to have started a bit of a research project which will (I hope) involve many more such interviews with many more GMs or other resort management personnel.

The intention is to step outside the Ski School & PSIA society to get a sense of what Resort Operators really want from us, as well as IF they see PSIA as a resource or HOW PSIA might better become a (better)resource for them.

I know that if it weren't for the skiers and riders who come up to play in the mountains we wouldn't have jobs, but the same thing can be said of resorts; if there were no resorts operating well... hopefully you see my point that there is a case for resort operators being our (organized snowsports instruction's) customers in a way.

I see and hear a lot of niggling about what resort operators need to do for us, how much more we should be paid, supported etc. etc. and while I do not disagree with all of the points people have, there are many ways to bring about change.. and one of those is

If we want to be more valued (by our employers) we should make ourselves into a better value.

Becoming more relevant to the industry at large can only offer us success! Sometimes success doesn't turn out to be what we first aimed for since we often change on the journey to reaching it.

A short time ago I realized that after 20 years of doing this I know next to nothing about the industry from any angle other than that I get from inside ski/snowboard schools. It actually took me several hours of reasearch to even come up with some questions that were not totally from inside the "Ski School box."

I had the interview, took some notes, and am currently digesting the results. I won't be posting any of the answers here but will discuss ski school and resort operator issues if anyone shows interest. I am sure in these ranks there is much perspective on the subject.

Ott. I didn't get a "none of your business response." I felt rather welcomed both in asking for the interview and during it.

Fastman, you have no idea of the irony of your questions. If you want me to PM you on this issue, just ask.

Coach13. Really the question put out in the post was only first part of the question, it did contain some specific references to "measurements."

John M.

Powerful anecdote. I have seen several attempts at surveys, with varied percentages of response. It's is tough to get the employees and customers to mesh on the surveys

the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) did some studies, and came up with a national retention rate of 15%. That means for every 100 people who try snowsports for the first time, 15 become skiers or riders for real.

NSAA has worked with resorts, ski schools, associations etc. to put into play a movement in the idustry to change that. They convened two panels of people; one of pros from many different parts of the industry , and the other panel a group of customers who gave feedback not only on their experiences, but on the ideas of the panel of industry pros. From this a number of experimental (sports introdcution) systems were designed, and locations selected to put them into place so the results might be tracked etc. I think there were something like 10 sites or so. The first roud of results haven't been published yet. But I guarantee you, that NSAA influence upon the industry with their study and subsequent presentations etc. made some waves and spurred a decade of change within resort oriented snowsports.


It's funny. I used to be pretty sensitive to all those rules etc. but i guess I'm just used to them now. I do know that when I get out in the backcountry, or just to very relaxed mom & pop areas and such that there is a different quality to the experiences that reaches deeper, gets in touch with how I was intorducced to skiing, not as a sport, but life itself (in Norway as a kid)I used to XC ski a lot in Norway, but never did it again in the States since I had to go to 'a place' to do it rather than just going out the door and going skiing...
post #12 of 23
Wow - only 15% retention. That's worse than my family sample. I would think that what these resorts do with the first time skier needs a real good re-evaluation if that 15% retention is an accurate number.
post #13 of 23
Roto, I was one of the pros in that RRC Panel for the NSAA last spring in Boulder.
I believe Michael Berry is genuine in his belief that ski schools are integral if not pivotal in the survival of the sport/industry. He also knows that SAM is giving lip service to the growth model and SS's influence on it. Concensus was among the group that the 800 lb. gorilla and resort expectations. The small group/station teaching/1st year (last year) rookie, poor compensation/less than 40% labor to revenue/discounted entry level lesson model is broke!
Good luck in your quest to understand the position of management! Are you talking to Ron Nova?

post #14 of 23
As a skier/ski school customer, it is wonderful to hear your statement "should make ourselves into a better value". I think that it is going to take a tremendous team effort from NSAA, PSIA, SAM and especially from folks like yourself on the frontline to increase the dismal 15% retention rate.

You should interview Michael Berry, NSAA President, who may be able to give you access to the NSAA Model for Growth deliverables from Phase I (Industry Model for Growth) and Phase II (see below) . Also, after the NSAA convention in May, he may be able to share the detailed final report. The resorts GMs should have access to this information as well.

Here are a few links that you may find helpful if you haven't already seen them. Marketing Practices Section - Branding to Attract Younger Members presentation - part 2a Industry Marketing Initiatives - NSAA NSAA Model for Growth explanation NSAA Model for Growth Best Practices Database


The NSAA Model for Growth grew out of NSAA's and RRC Associates' efforts to develop a method for critically analyzing the future of the ski/snowboard industry. A significant part of the analysis was to identify the obstacles that need to be overcome in order to grow the sports over the next 15 years. The Model quantifies the impact on skier visits of factors such as unfavorable demographic trends, increasing "time poverty" among a major portion of our population, and ongoing climate change. Also documented is the explosion of alternative leisure-time activities that range from golf, cruise ships and gaming to various types of international and domestic travel, amusement parks, sporting events, movies, and school-related activities that hinder the ability of families to travel during the winter. The initial value of the Model was its ability to both identify and quantify the impacts of these factors with respect to the ski industry, and to project what would happen over time were the industry to continue to operate as it has over the past 30 years.

At the risk of oversimplification, if individual resorts can focus attention on providing the best overall experience for guests new to the sport or, for that matter, those new to the resort, over time skier/snowboarder visits will grow substantially. As an industry, we convert only about 15 percent of first-timers into long-term participants. Individual areas should continue to improve the quality of their ski area operations, product improvements and marketing incentives. If they can add to these efforts, a renewed focused commitment to growing their first-time skiers and snowboarders by 6 percent annually and gradually improving the conversion rate from 15 percent to 25 percent, the industry can accomplish the overall turnaround that is badly needed.

Resorts have responded by developing a variety of "hardware" methods to combat these issues: state-of-the-art learning centers, ticket, lesson and equipment deals, increased attention to beginner equipment and employee incentives. In return, more first timers are trying snowsports. In fact, trial has actually maxed at a number of resorts near urban centers, especially during peak times. While these tangible efforts are encouraging, conversion ("software issues") has emerged as the predominant roadblock in the industry's ultimate goal of growing the sport by 10 percent. The intangible "psychology of conversion" and the "golden hour" between trial and conversion must be more effectively addressed.

Recognizing this, the next stage of the growth model study was developed. The program is designed to sustain the momentum created by the Model and to build upon its points to maximize resorts' ability to attract and, more importantly, convert new participants.

This stage will provide blueprints for resorts to dramatically improve their learn-to-ski/ride program quality and penetration by tapping into the industry's best ideas. These insights will be integrated with those of a consumer panel to test the effectiveness of both best practices and ideas. A monitoring process measuring the successes of these ideas will be developed and instituted in a manner by which all resorts may benefit.

A panel of key ski school managers and directors who have focused their efforts on creating innovative beginner programs, both alpine and snowboard, was created. Approximately 15 such individuals representing all regions were included. This panel met in July 2002 to probe learning programs and experiences to understand specifically what techniques and procedures worked best from a teaching and a conversion standpoint. Each major component of the lesson process and structure of the learning process was evaluated.

Additionally, a panel of recent consumers was separately convened. These consumer panels from various regions of the country were comprised of individuals that have recently completed a beginner lesson or package of lessons. This group had definite ideas of what worked for them and what did not, from a consumer point of view. Also, this group offered different perspectives on the new ideas and concepts developed by the first panel of professionals. The objective of this second panel was to systematically diagnose their recent learning experiences and test specific recommendations for improvement (generated by the professional panel).

The ideas and recommendations generated by the professionals and consumer groups were synthesized into a detailed conversion "cookbook" that was distributed to a limited number of test sites. Each of these test sites also received a procedural manual containing specific methods for evaluation of success via a combination of qualitative and quantitative research techniques. As the program is administered throughout the season, feedback will be obtained from the test site ski/boarding school managers, related personnel, and consumers to determine how well these programs perform.

A summary report at the conclusion of the season will evaluate the performance of these programs and offer suggestions for additional refinements. Relative successes among programs will continue to be monitored and resorts will be encouraged to customize and integrate new ideas into existing programs.

This will be an ongoing process. As more areas adopt the recommendations of the new learn-to-ski/ride programs, the monitoring and refinement process will be expanded accordingly. Ski school managers and instructors will again be brought into the evaluation process to provide organized feedback into how particular innovations have worked for students and what suggestions they might make to improve conversion. Similarly, program participants (new skiers/riders) will be contacted through surveys to provide specific feedback about best practices and their commitment to continue participating in snowsports.

The research will continue to focus on development of tracking methodology in order to measure success and clarify where the industry is in meeting its goals. If we can work cooperatively to communicate with one another our best learning practices and successes, and collectively strive to achieve the best initial experiences for new customers, we will succeed in our effort to dramatically improve on the number of people who will develop a love of snowsports.


Phase II: Summary of Pro Panel and Consumer Panel meetings(9/2002)
Phase II: Ten Strategies for Conversion(11/2002)
Phase II: Overview of Beginner Research Findings(3/2003)
Final Synthesis of Findings (7/2003)
Youth Focus Group(10/2003)
Building Momentum: Findings from the NSAA Test Sites (3/2004)
post #15 of 23
Thread Starter 
Thanks Ski03. I have seen a lot of that stuff. I haven't seen phase II, but have been to several of Berry's presentations.

Robin. How was that? Being on the panel?
post #16 of 23
Being on the panel was an honor and a hell of a lot of auspicious group! Maggie L., Ron Hawkins, Bob Barnes (WP), Eric Shekelton, Pierre's buddy Rick Cunningham etc...funny though, at the time I represented Mountain High...the only west coast area represented (if I remember right). Musta been the enigmatic snowboard population or something! Obviously greater minds than my own were in play!
Wish I had a tape recording of the final dinner after the margaritas flowed and "off the record" insights were really revealed...that would be worth playing for a GM!
post #17 of 23
Roto, why don't you just ask both, first the first and then ask,"...and in comparison, if you were a customer how do you personally..."
I'd love to compare the two answers... [img]smile.gif[/img]
post #18 of 23
Ott's guy (see above) sure reminds me of my former Austrian ski school director. Boy did he ever expect everyone in his outfit to take responsibility. The guy was on top of everything and you certainly knew it if he felt you weren't giving your best. He made money for the company but couldn't be the organization man the new corporate types demanded and so he had to go. I wonder if the ski school has ever done so well since. What we got after his leaving were a succession of managers who could talk a good line of corporatespeak but who didn't seem to know a good product from bad unless it was something that showed in a spreadsheet. I'm pretty certain you couldn't build such a business or industry without such a feel for and understanding of the quality of your product and how it was being received but this newer crop of managers hasn't got it. They are just milking (and some would say, killing!)an industry built by others.
post #19 of 23
Thread Starter 
He made money for the company but couldn't be the organization man the new corporate types demanded and so he had to go.
what, exactly does that mean? I get the gist, but wonder if you have any examples or specifics

a good line of corporatespeak
isn't that an oxymoron?
post #20 of 23
Originally posted by Roto:
He made money for the company but couldn't be the organization man the new corporate types demanded and so he had to go.
what, exactly does that mean? I get the gist, but wonder if you have any examples or specifics

I can't speak for the man and his reasons but it was pretty obvious there was a clash of management styles and personalities. This fellow was completely involved in hands-on running the ski school, constantly interacting with instructors and customers. He would be seemingly everywhere, chatting with clients about their experiences, monitoring ski instructors, solving problems, selling the product. The new corporate management (new owner)were big on meetings, lots of meetings, and memos down to the staff from on high. There seemed to be quite a bit of power play going on. The former personel directors, for example, used to content themselves with just doing whatever personnel directors do. The new corporate person was forever issuing decrees: ie thou shalt not do this and that etc. and you could see that it grated on the guy who was used to taking care of his own show. The new management seemed to spend a lot of time in the office and expect their managers to be there too. Reportedly there were time consuming daily reporting requirements, daily spreadfsheets etc. Supposedly the director upset the others by trying to blow off the meetings which kept him from his job, as I think he saw it.

The replacement director was a marked contrast, someone whom you almost never saw, who delegated the actual management to a ski school "manager". The new director was actually a nice guy and a good skier but his time was almost totally absorbed in office duties. The ski school office tripled in size, pay scales were cut, supervisors were put to work teaching. There was very little feedback for us instructors. Supervisors griped about the lack of training budget and the daily speadsheet quotas they had to meet with untrained staff. When I was preparing for my level III exam I was told there was no money in the budget for training at that level. The whole business of selling ski instruction just seemed to degrade to a penny pinching, money taking kind of operation and the decline of business volume was noticeable to those of us at line-up.

"Triumph of the bean counters" kind of thing!
post #21 of 23
Originally posted by arcadie:
The whole business of selling ski instruction just seemed to degrade to a penny pinching, money taking kind of operation and the decline of business volume was noticeable to those of us at line-up.

"Triumph of the bean counters" kind of thing!
As I said in my post above. Having worked for many, many companies (big and small) over the recent past as a contractor, the beancounters are now saving the pennies and losing the pounds.
AND, they have the audacity to pretend it is long-term planning.

It is short-termist money-grabbing.
post #22 of 23
Jeez, and Nettie could ghost write my autobiography!
There is a kid I have known first as a friends son, then as his coach...all the way through JO's, then worked for me into management and finally succeeded he is 5 weeks from his MBA.
He hopes to waste his higher education fixing the industry.....but admits that most of what he knows he learned in the trenches.
post #23 of 23
Originally posted by Robin:
Jeez, and Nettie could ghost write my autobiography!

What the misson statement says (marketing) and what the companies does (fiddle the figures to please the shareholders) are unfortunately two different things.

In the UK financial system, for instance, you can manufacture too many goods in a period to artificially inflate profits. There may not be a market for the goods, but hey, who cares in this current financial year.

A company I worked for on many occasions, both as an employee and contractor, Marconi, was destroyed by money-grabbing. The financially astute, and hands-on CEO was replaced by the city moguls with someone who sold the company's varied assets and bought into a completely worthless, single basket of telecoms. Shares went from £14 to £0.35 to nothing in a matter of months.
But a lot of people in the city made a lot of money out of pension schemes and the little man. And it was all legal. And the new CEO didn't lose his job!!!????

I see little in the three ski schools I have worked for that implies they are doing anything different than the same short-termism. Most big investors have turned into parasites.
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