- As baby boomers retire from snow sports, the industry is looking for younger and more diverse participants.
- The pandemic’s outdoor boom offers a crucial time to retain the next generation of skiers.
- I went skiing in Vermont and saw three hurdles facing a multi-billion dollar industry.
I grew up learning to ski on the local Connecticut mountains, which are more like hills. A few times a winter, my dad, younger siblings, and I would hike four hours to Vermont where we would stay at a friend’s house or at a bed and breakfast.
Then I went to college in North Carolina. Although I welcomed the warmer temperatures, I was only able to ski twice in my four years in the South.
Most people my age have similar stories when it comes to snow sports. Even if you had the privilege of learning young, travel soon became increasingly rare.
Over Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, I went skiing at Okemo Mountain in Vermont and saw three ways the snow sports industry is struggling to attract — and keep — people. new attendees.
1. Despite all the discounts available, it’s still too expensive
Skiing and snowboarding have experienced a increase in participation among younger, more diverse demographics in 2021, likely thanks to the flexibility of remote working. But as more baby boomers retire from the sport, the industry is desperate to attract and retain the next generation of skiers.
The main problem: most young people cannot afford it.
Skiing has long been known as a sport dominated by whites and the wealthy – more than half of snow sports participants earn more than $75,000 a year and more than two-thirds are white.
First, there are travel and accommodation costs. Like most places, the housing market in mountain towns has exploded over the past couple of years as remote workers have chosen the outdoors over urban centers. The cheapest Airbnb near Okemo Mountain is $103 a night, with the majority of homes priced between $200 and $400 a night.
Then you have hardware. A basic pair of skis, poles and boots costs around $40 a day – more if you want a demo or an advanced set. Snow pants, a ski jacket and goggles can cost hundreds of dollars each, but last for several seasons.
The biggest splurge is the chairlift tickets. If you are an avid skier, the best value for money is a season pass. the The Epic Pass is $783 (down from $979 last year) and provides access to more than a dozen mountains in partnership with Vail Resorts around the world.
If someone in your group has an Epic Pass, you can get discounted day tickets as a guest or “buddy”. At Okemo it took my ticket from $130 to $99 per day.
“Going to the window to buy a lift ticket is a lot like going to the airport and buying a ticket for that day,” said Adrienne Isaac, director of marketing and communications for the National Association of Ski stations. New York magazine.
But unless you plan ahead and do your research, the ATM may seem like the only option for many Americans.
2. Travel and logistics take a lot of time and effort
Most of the big mountains are in remote areas where you definitely need a car to get around. I was pleasantly surprised to see the Hampton Jitney parked at Stratton Mountain 45 minutes away. His winter road takes you from New York to Stratton and costs $37 each way.
Still, unless you’re staying in a ski-in ski-out condo right on the slopes, you’ll need a car to get to the mountain — and preferably one with four-wheel drive.
Thanks to our employers’ remote working policies, we were able to leave for Vermont on a Thursday evening and return on a Sunday afternoon. For people who do not have this option, it is difficult to plan a trip away from the local mountain.
Time is also of the essence once you’re on the slopes, as highlighted by viral videos showing incredibly long lift lines (which we thankfully didn’t experience).
On Friday we skied from 10am to 4pm with no problems. But the next day we had to cancel our tickets due to dangerously cold temperatures of -15 degrees, showing that even the best planned trips can be easily foiled by mother nature.
3. Snow sports intimidate beginners due to avoidable information gaps
Gen Z skiers who ski infrequently “are more apt to believe that snow sports are hard to learn, dangerous and too cold” compared to their peers who ski frequently, according to National Association of Ski Areas.
In other words, sliding down a mountain sounds really scary until you try it.
The same idea goes for navigating the trails and weather conditions, as well as knowing how to dress for the weather. Overall, the information gaps make skiing and snowboarding seem more daunting than most other outdoor activities.
The good news is that social media helps educate the general public about sports. A quick scroll through #SkiTok shows tips and tricks on how to turn properly, what layers to wear in freezing weather and Olympic medalist Shaun White reacting to a snowboarder’s jump.