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Growing the snowsport industry - part 2

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From skier/boarder recruitment and retention to the use of economic indicators

One of the major themes at the Canadian Snow Industry Symposium in Tremblant, Que., last month was the recruitment and retention of skiers and snowboarders.

"We're continually trying to draw people into skiing and snowboarding," says Jimmie Spencer, the president and CEO of the Canada West Ski Area Association. "But what we're trying to do is sell the whole winter resort experience."

According to Spencer, ski resorts are trying a number of different programs, including learn-to-ski and -snowboard packages aimed at adults and, more importantly, children.

The Canadian Ski Council is the driving force behind two different programs.

The Discover Skiing and Snowboarding program offers beginners, and skiers and boarders who have been away from the slopes for a while, discounted lift tickets, lessons and rental packages.

The second CSC program is SnowPass, which offers Grade 5 students three free lift tickets and deals on lessons and equipment rentals.

Ski areas across Canada offer both programs. Whistler-Blackcomb does not participate in the Discover Skiing and Snowboarding program but does offer its own discounted packages.

The National Ski Areas Association offers similar programs in the U.S. as well to attract skiers and boarders to the sport.

According to NSAA projections, skier/rider visits in the U.S. will drop by 40 per cent to 30 million in the next 20 years because of an aging Baby Boomer market, which makes up a large percentage of skiers.

Spencer also participated in a seminar at Tremblant that focused on the importance of "feeder" areas.

According to Spencer, most skiers and boarders start out at small or mid-sized ski areas near their homes before moving on to destination resorts.

"This leads to more skier visits for the bigger areas" such as Whistler-Blackcomb and Lake Louise, he explains.

But Spencer says resorts are now offering other winter activities besides skiing and boarding – such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, tubing, snowmobiling and dog sledding – to try and lure people to the mountains.

He also notes that ski areas are also morphing into four-season resorts that offer sightseeing, hiking, and mountain biking – among other activities – during the summer.

"There's something in it for everybody," Spencer says. "We're trying to promote resorts as a whole."

But Spencer and the rest of the ski industry are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to trying to increase skier/rider visits.

Total skier/rider visits have been flat at resorts in Canada and the U.S. for the past decade and skier numbers have fallen drastically during that same period.

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