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post #1 of 31
Thread Starter 
Getting tired of looking at the same old topics.

So here's a new one. Brian Fairbank, NSAA Chairman/President, recently remarked, citing studies, that if the ski industry can keep a new skier interested for three days, the likelihood is that he or she will stay with it long term.

Then Michael Berry, Chief Executive of NSAA, gave a riveting presentation that made the point that the ski school is the key to future ski industry growth.

So, given that there is renewed interest from upper management in the ski school, how do you see this playing out?

Will it be a good thing for instructors or will it just set us up for taking the fall?
post #2 of 31
Good topic, Nolo.

I see it as an advantage for the ski schools. Perhaps the resorts will take an interest in marketing ski teaching as a good thing to do while on a winter vacation. This is something that has been lacking in the marketing strategies for some time.

As for we instructors taking the fall if we don't succeed, I think it is incumbent on the Directors to insure that they have competent teachers. To insure competentcy, or retention of competent teachers, moore money is going to have to be paid in salaries or fees.

post #3 of 31
This will have a minor effect on the overall industry. Why? Too many ski areas are in the same position as my local areas. They have a clear monopoly and already have solid consistent skier support during the main ski year. They are also virtually impervious to ideas and marketing proposals, which contain risk.

My position has always been that the ski school one of the keys to skiing growth. And if ski areas were thinking outside the box they long ago would have realized that the greater the skiers ability the more days he/she skis, the more likely he/she will demo skis, the more likely he/she will use other services like lockers, and the bar. They buy more equipment and more expensive equipment. They are also more likely to take the family skiing and quite frankly, it is the family that the resorts should be seeking. The kids are the future of skiing. So the goal of the ski school should be to move people into the resort as beginners and then to move them up the ranks.

How to do that is a question, which has perplexed resorts for years. Oddly they all have the same answer. Charge a substantial amount for group lessons, and offer no other incentives to skier improvement. Teach large groups and be satisfied with minimal progress of the students.

The result is skiers take just the minimum number of lesson and then ski on their own. They become intermediates and never move up the ranks. The resort is satisfied to leave them in this condition and the skiers are for the most part satisfied to stay there. A small number of younger skiers will “naturally” progress to the upper ranks of skiers. Many of the rest will drop out or become social skiers, skiing only when the weather is nice and friends can ski with them. They seldom wax, or tune their skis and frequently have 10 – 15 year old equipment. From the resorts perspective this is an utter failure.

One way to change this is to offer a 6-ski lesson pass. The pass would guarantee the skier would progress to a specific level or have the right to repeat lessons for the remainder of the year until the level was achieved. The package for beginners would be cheap, $40 for lift, lesson, and rental. Once the lesson pass was completed the skier would have the right to purchase a season pass for a small amount, perhaps $200 – 300 (first time package buyers only).

For more advanced skiers the same package would generally apply, including 6 lessons with guaranteed results. But for intermediates or above, the pass would include only lesson and lift for $40. Market these “lessons” as specialized clinics designed to help good or great skiers become even better. These skiers would alternatively be able to buy a season pass and get the 6-lesson pass as a free “perk”. These perks would continue up and through the expert skier/racer ranks.

All participating skiers would receive a 20% discount card, which could be used to purchase anything at the resort, including tuning services, food, equipment, and specialized clinics. They would also have first crack at demo sales, etc.

Offer repeat season pass/lesson pass holders a $120 discount on the season pass/lesson, if the skier purchased the package during the spring or early summer.

Why do any of this? Some will say it just reduces the bottom line. My guess is it would have the opposite effect. The number of season pass holders would zoom since the cost of the pass would be “lower”. It would also instill a sense of continual learning in the resorts regulars. The discounts and perks would tie more skiers to that specific resort. Guarantees would make the initial sale simpler and make more skiers more comfortable with the concept. The ski school would have a stable base of skiers. Spring and summer purchases of the passes would guarantee some income stability during poorer snow years and still offer the skier a tangible benefit.

There are a million other win/win ways to skin this cat but I see only the smaller “Avis” ski areas taking any steps to market these models. The bigs are just too complacent, at least locally where I come from.

Is this even on subject?

post #4 of 31
Thread Starter 
A lot of good ideas, Maddog. On subject.

Studies also show that the committed core are proficient skiers.
post #5 of 31
I have known many people who have taken a one-day lesson with the typical modest gains and decided that it was not worth the cost to take additional lessons. They just never went skiing again. "I tried but it was too hard" "or the boots were killing my feet" and so forth. With the advent of soft boots, if the lesson issue is dealt with more effectively we would have more lifetime skiers.
post #6 of 31
Thread Starter 
I guess my worry would be that SAM doesn't see that it's not just ski school, it's the whole system that needs attention if we want to romance the new skier. Boots that work for beginners. Skis that work for beginners. Terrain. Lifts. Simplify the hassles, clarify the mysteries, and soften the sticker shock. Work on organization culture, keep employees, tear down the department walls.

Ramp up training. Pay instructors a premium to teach beginners and reward them if they get students to return twice. Reward students who return three times. Some areas reward them with a season's pass.

In my opinion, while my first impulse is to regard the NSAA's new focus as good news, I can see how this could blow up like all the other grand initiatives if we don't accurately diagnose ALL the problems with "the beginner experience."

For 85% of beginners, the experience is not good enough to try twice.
post #7 of 31
Have there been any studies of the Perfect Turn system with beginners? How they hand-hold them through the boots and skis process, show them videos, and basically make it a supportive experience?

wouldn't work for everyone. I've had teens and 20's aged people who were almost paralleling in 2 hours, and were as gung-ho as anything, but for the older skiiers, surely the PT way helps?

My exprience in Colorado was that many (I taught A LOT of first timer group lessons!) were trying skiing because a spouse or friend had brought them, or they were with a group, and they wanted to learn so they could ski with the others. Or else they were in groups (the dreaded church groups) and the lesson was part of the package.

The idea of more lessons was one they hadn't considered at all, their perception was that you take the lesson, and then you can ski. Maybe next vacation would be to Florida, where they'd learn to waterski.

Many of the private lessons I taught were to people who'd booked the lesson for a specific purpose...their knees hurt, they were feeling out of control too often, they'd heard there was a new way to ski the new shaped skis, they were getting tired too easily, some actually just wanted to improve!

I never detected any awarness of PSIA in any of my people, or recognition of what those badges were.

In a perfect world, PSIA could use its national position to ride point on the subject of skiier retention and the role of ski school in increasing it.
post #8 of 31
Thread Starter 
ant said:

I never detected any awarness of PSIA in any of my people, or recognition of what those badges were.
Why should they? When I get my hair cut I don't care what the background of my hairstylist is. I care what my hair looks like after he/she is done.

In other words, what's PSIA got to do with it from the consumer's point of view?

It seems to me that the leverage is in dealing with large scale quality issues. PSIA as an influence is nowhere near as large as, for example, taking a hard look at evening out stocks and flows.

[ June 04, 2002, 09:15 AM: Message edited by: nolo ]
post #9 of 31

One idea I think is worth considering is something along the lines of what major airlines do with regional airlines. The regionals effectively "feed" customers from smaller cities and more remote areas to the major airline hubs. At that point, the major airline takes the customer on the long-haul routes.

Something similar could be done with skiers.

I think a very large percentage of first-time skiers experience the sport at smaller, non-"destination", ski areas. If the major destination resorts could somehow co-market with the smaller areas, the effort could help both the smaller hills and the destination areas.

Having the big areas join the little ones in things like local advertising, package promotion, lesson subsidies, etc. might help make that first ski experience more enjoyable. Every first-timer who turns into an avid skier at a small area is going to end visiting a destination resort in Colorado or California or Vermont, etc, before too many years have gone by.

If the first ski experience is fun, exciting, and affordable, there's a good chance you've made a skier for life. If that experience is so-so, the industry has lost an opportunity (for that customer) that may never come again.

The airlines cooperate by sharing marketing, facilities, people, etc, and both the regionals and the the majors benefit. I don't know that I've ever seen anything similar in the ski industry.

Just a thought.

post #10 of 31
Interesting idea, one which Vail tried many years ago. The concept failed miserably because of several factors. I speak to this because I was a Asst. GM at one of these areas. But because Vail failed, doesn't mean that it can't work somewhere else!

A few of the areas Vail was coordinating with- Wilmont, Massanutten, Eldora, Broadmoor, and several others that I can't remember their names at the moment.

The attempt was to create a "feeder" system, such as you described.

Where it came apart was-
- Distance from the feeder area (f/a) to the "destination area" (d/a). There was no real discounting going on to encourage skiers to go to the d/a.
- The price difference between the f/a, run as a loss leader, and the d/a. The sticker shock of accomodation, tickets, and lessons was still out of reach of the average consumer, despite marginal discounting.
- The cultural differences between the f/a and the d/a. I think we can all realize the differences between our small home areas compared to the giants. Beyond cost and size, the clothing, the shopping, the attitudes. The smaller areas have a "friendly, small-town" feel that attracts new skiers, and the larger areas do nothing to contribute to that feeling.
- There were very few similarities between the f/a and the d/a. The systems, the distances, the volumes were so different, it felt to consumers as if it were "a completely different sport".

On paper, the concept has merit. But it must be thought through more completely than it was, and it must be supported by more than just the d/a. Entire resorts must be involved, since they will benefit too!

post #11 of 31
I remember the Eldora Experiment!
I have long advocated such synergy. A place like this, with 17 million 3 hours away....Intrawest acquires it...5 day intro package, you get a pass at the end, discounts for lodging and tix at Mammoth, discounts for airfare to Whistler, Copper...etc. Shoulda been the model when they acquired Mountain Creek...but it wasn't! I bent Hugh Smythes ear about it on a tour once. A feeder area makes sense with a population like this...ethnic etc.
With all the pissin and moanin about retention out of the NSAA...how else will those resorts keep selling condos?
post #12 of 31
As others have pointed out, there are difficulties in execution with the model Bob proposes. I think, though, that there is perhaps a narrower focus that might be successfully implimented. I think that making instruction and coaching the linchpin to the association could more easily work. With the linking of ski schools and approaches to skiing there can become a natural association between local/feeder and destination resorts. With this model there are all sorts of possibilities include short term instructor exchange, inter-resort insturctor training, sales promotions, etc.

This fits right in with my advocacy for some (smart) resort owners to create a primary marketing approach around instruction, coaching, and learning. If you can reach out and build upon a person's motivation for improvement and proficiency (of which I believe there is no lack thereof) the opportunities to bring them along in the sport of skiing and traveling to destination resorts can be dramatically expanded.

I know this will only be attractive to a segment of the market but I think this is a critical segment. Tennis has a similar situation. There are many recreational players who play on public courts and never get involved with leagues, clubs, and lessons. However, there are also those that do. I would guess (but don't really know) that when you look at spending (clothing, equipment, club dues, lessons, court fees, etc.) you find that those linked to a club are mostly responsible. I suspect this is even truer for the sport of golf. I am always amazed at the number of people who travel on golf vacations. As I am pretty sure that these are no less expensive than skiing vacations, our only task is to make skiing as enjoyable and addictive. With modern equipment, alignment, and teaching; the beauty of the winter mountains; and alluring resorts we have effective tools to tackle the addictive part (I would hypothesise that with a proper approach proficiency in skiing is easier to obtain that that in golf). Hopefully that can in part make up for the perceived hardship of playing in the cold or high altitudes.
post #13 of 31
The statistics you speak of are for all skiers combined, isn't it?
People don't return to skiing for a lot of reasons, cost, not fun, no where to ski, you name it, even there was an aardvark in the driveway. We can't control all the reasons and excuses, but we can and do make a difference. I believe that people who take lessons from professionals rather than from friends and the GLM (top of the mountain, push them off and yell good luck muther) come back to ski more often. We have all heard from the guests how their friends and family left them.
The mountains can do their best to lure these new skiers away from the no pay instruction, but getting all of them will be difficult. Isn't it true that less then 20% of all skiers and riders have had formal lessons. Until that number increases there is little we can do.
As for those we come into contact with, we can only do the best we can to meet their needs and expectations. If we are lucky or good we do that and it comes back to us as a repeat skier.
Food for thought. Have you ever complained that there are just too many skiers, too long a lift line, waiting is just not fun? As instructors we are charged with the duty of making more skiers, longer lift lines, longer waits. We find great powder on a run and tell everyone, we know of a lift that isn't too busy and we tell, we love skiing and how great it is and we tell. Is this self defeating? I am beginning to question my sanity on this one.
From the padded room,
post #14 of 31
Thread Starter 
The statistics you speak of are for all skiers combined, isn't it?

The statistics have to do with beginners. Only 15% of beginners make it to the "core," according to a study that came out in 2000 (Michael Berry's NSAA Model for Growth).

Subsequent study discovered the 3-day rule: that a beginner who sticks with it 3 days will make it to the "core."

The core is you and me and all of our ski-lovin' friends and family.
post #15 of 31
Thread Starter 
Maybe it's time for another question:

What is the difference between retention and conversion?

Are they synonyms?

If they are used synonymously, why trot out both words separated with a slash, as in retention/conversion?
post #16 of 31
I gotta here more about the Eldora experiment! It's not like Rocky Flats is it. Do I need to see a physician?

In all seriousness, Eldora is a wonderful example. We are very different and I bet similar in that sense to other small areas areas. I say small, however, we supposedly have more skiable acreage than Stowe or Tremblant.

We have a fairly large population nearby. It seems our market either comes up the canyon or hits I-70.

Our ski school biz is kids and women. We have a very large Sat/Sun kids program and a large women's weekday program.

I would wager there are very few lessons given to 25-45 yoa males who reside in Boulder/Ft Collins. Their kids are in a program on the weekend and their wives are are in a program during the week.

Our client can't stand the traffic and crowds involved with the destination resorts. They may sneak over to Summit County on a Tuesday, however, they won't go west of Loveland on a weekend and they'll be sure to be in the car by 2:30 if they do hit the superhighway.
post #17 of 31
I've heard there's a few pretty good instructors at Eldora.
post #18 of 31
Thread Starter 

Did you know a guy named Don Roth at Eldora? He started working at Bridger last year and appears to be one of the instructors SCSA mentions.

Does anyone know how long these big sister-little sister alliances were allowed to develop?

I suspect that one reason such experiments in the ski industry do not bear fruit is because they are not given enough time to develop roots.
post #19 of 31
Rusty- I'll PM you with more details of the Eldora/ sister resort deal. Plus I'll tell you "the rest of the story".....

Last season Vail began offering it's beginners a package of 3x lift/lessons/ rentals for the cost of a single day, relying upon the same data you have stated. It'll be interesting to see how the numbers turn out!

post #20 of 31
Killebrew has gone thru more SSD's than sh*t through a goose! Including some real talent (Martha Marno-Rose)! Now they are looking again! Does the rest of the story include what happened to Chris Easton? Rusty? VSP?
post #21 of 31
My first post targeted any resort desiring to lure new skiers and make them “stick”. What follows are my thoughts on linkage between destination resorts and the “smalls”.

But first, I don’t like Bob’s idea of a feeder system, unless the DR owns the feeders. The airlines are backing off the system because it is too costly. But for sister resorts to honor season passes and the like is good common business sense. After all if I have a pass to Bupkis Mountain and I have a choice to go to Vail (unrelated) and pay full price or go Big Bupkis Mountain (a true Destination Resort) (related) and my ticket price is $0 or half price, which do you suppose I will take? Then Big Bupkis can reap the $ in secondary sales. It also cements the skier’s relationship with the Bupkis Mountain group of ski areas. This arrangement I see quite frequently.

But how about this: Vail says that any season pass holder at any resort can present any season pass and ski for half price. Vail co-advertises this “reward” through the small-unaffiliated mountains most of us ski at. Vail also puts out a policy that if these smalls agree to provide a proof of purchase on the six lesson package I discussed in my first post, then any skier who presents this at Vail can ski three days for the price of two. If the skier takes two lessons he/she gets the third free. Also, Vail offers the six-lesson package patron a 20% discount just like the skier gets at home. So, how does Vail make $$$ on this arrangement? First, by creating a group of new skiers interested in Vail. Second, many of the people who qualify for these discounts will travel with others to whichever DR the group decide upon. Anyone qualifying for the discount will lobby hard for Vail, resulting in more groups coming to Vail. When skiers pay less for lift tickets, they are more likely to spend $$ at lunch, etc.

We all agree that if a skier stays with the sport long enough he/she will go to a DR. Vail, Aspen, Sun Valley, Deer Valley, and a few others probably don’t need to follow this kind of strategy, but there are many of second name mountains, which could and which would likely take $$$ from the "bigs", if they did. It also would be a good thing for skiing in general, since it would tend to bring in new skiers and encourage them to ski a DR early in their skiing career.

There are a thousand ways to do such a system, but all should be designed to 1. Capture the beginning skier. 2. Move the beginner into intermediate, then on the advanced, then on to expert. 3. Retain these experts through incentives, and accordingly gain their families and friends as skiers.

Some other thoughts: the lack of guarantees in the lesson system is a serious issue in my mind. Ron Popiel became a multimillionaire by selling stuff on TV. He found that by guaranteeing the performance of the product and the satisfaction of the buyer, he sold far more products. Ski schools should follow suit, guaranteeing the skiers progress when buying lessons sold in packages. Sell the packages cheap. Convert 30% of the newbees instead of 15%. Make far more $$ in the long run. Develop a ski school favorable mindset among the resorts skier base.

Some have said that there are few 25 to 45 year old male lesson takers. Why? I am in this range, but I have never taken a lesson. Why? 1. None of the mountains I ski at actively advertises clinics for advanced or expert skiers. They do at Alta, right under the lifts, and surprise, I seriously thought about taking a “clinic”. 2. My impression of my mountain is that its ski school is designed for beginners only. Why would I waste my time or $$$, I am not a beginner. 3. A one-time two-hour lesson with six other people is a waste of $$$. 4. The mountain won’t guarantee I will have the same instructor the next time I take a lesson. 5. There are no guarantees that I will progress. 6. There are few reasonably priced multiday immersion clinics geared to my skill level. 7. The ski school line up is guaranteed to waste about 45 minutes of my day standing around waiting for someone or something (while I have not taken lessons, my son has, the waiting is frustrating).

Wow, that was rambling, sorry.
post #22 of 31
Thread Starter 
Wow. Maddog. Delete the message and sell it to Vail!
post #23 of 31
You guys are really starting to peel away the layers of the onion - it's great.

One note: Studies have shown that fewer than 2% redeem money back guarantees. So while I think the guarantee message belongs somewhere, I think it should be framed up more along the lines of, "We want your business so bad, and we're so sure that you'll love our product, that we guarantee complete satisfaction".

Don't mistake a guarantee for a "must have" reason. First identify the burning problem, then build your pitch (aka the marketing hook) around it. Build your pitch around the "must have" reason, throw in 100% satisfaction at the tail end of the pitch.

post #24 of 31
SCSA is right. The money-back thing should be a backup, a reassurance. But it's basically a negative: people won't buy because of the guarantee, they'll make their buying decision based on the marketing hook being right. The guarantee will simply reassure them that the investment is sound.

People generally don't like having to claim the money-back guarantee in any situation, and many don't.
post #25 of 31
Nolo- I do/did know Donnie. He is a good guy. A level II that worked at Eldora is going to apply at Bridger next winter. Rock solid CU grad who was a favorite of my nine year old daughter. He made a fortune teaching kids full time.

Robin- Chris left of his own accord for a pretty lucrative situation with a local builder. He had been looking for quite some time. I think he did a great job. He certainly was a good skier and seemed to be well thought of as an examiner. He was awfully good to me. Who is the woman you mentioned as a prior SSD at our place?
post #26 of 31
Was Martha Marno, now Martha Rose....I guess about 8 years ago....she plays with Weems over at Aspen and is pro's pro.
How long have you been Eldora, I used to go and race on a team at night "the Gonzo Ski Team" way back...Dave "Gibby" Gibson was the SSD then.
post #27 of 31
This will be my third year working there. We still have racing under the lights on Thursday nights. It's a great deal of fun. Chris was there for five seasons.

We have a new lodge that is actually fairly nice. The resort is one strange run down little place, however, I call it home. I really like Nederland and have thought about "retiring" up there. Were you ever in the little town below the resort that is actually named Eldora? It's a semi ghost town with a couple of hundred residents that are making a "comeback". It is certainly rural and fairly brisk in the winter.
post #28 of 31
I usually stayed in Nederland with friends. Jay Simons was MM there and Curt Hanlen was in charge of rentals.
In the old days the racing was hot...lots of pros and ringers....lots of beer too!
post #29 of 31
Thread Starter 
The recent issue of Forbes talks about "the elite 10% of Web users who communicate much more often online. When satisfied, they typically share their views by e-mail with 11 friends; when they are miffed, they zap 17 friends on average...Some 60% of these avid users read unsolicited e-mails."

Recent surveys show that on-line use in the skier population is very high. How do you get the upper 10% of that group to be your apostles? (We're talking about conversion, right?)

Friends and family are who bring most first time skiers into the sport. Loyal customers who bring customers to your business are saving you a ton of money. Reinforce them with meaningful rewards AND send them coupons and promotions that allow them to spread the wealth among their friends.

Speaking to Bob, Si, and Maddog on a feeder-destination scheme, I agree that a resort company like Vail or IntraWest could do this very well if they did their homework in matching the hatch.

There are a lot of great ideas in this thread. Thanks for playing.
post #30 of 31
After Martha, a woman (I think her name was Gladys) ran the school for a year. Then a friend of mine named Dan Raleigh, from Tahoe, came out for a season or two, followed by a RM regular named Tom Hazzard. I believe Chris Easton followed him.

I almost ended up there, with the demise of the sister area program. Chuck Lewis and Floyd Bachant (sp?) were running the place, and at one point offered me the job. But the $$ wasn't what I would have liked, so I went back to Vail. I have discovered that I much rather prefer to teach, than to administrate!

With the arrival of Billy K, after he sold Heavenly to the Japanese, things were changing rapidly. You probably know more of the recent history than I.

But I promise to tell you some stories of the Sister Area era that might amuse (being diplomatic) you. And how certain individuals used Eldora as a stepping stone to bigger (not necessarily better) things.

As I referred to earlier- "the rest of the story"!

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