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Kindling a passion for the mountains

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The new SIA study, in addition to quantifying the value of children, found that 45 per cent of parents with children would ski more if it were "easier to include children."

A survey by Skitops released at the organization’s meeting in Whistler confirmed that while business to Whistler was good again this winter and Colorado tours rebounded somewhat after two poor seasons, family winter vacations in general seem to be on a downward spiral.

Bruce Rosard, co-chairman of the Skitops Industry Vision Committee, notes that the cost of skiing, widely touted as the reason for the sport's lack of growth, is not a significant barrier to participation. More important are social and logistical issues, which respondents in the SIA study cited as "nobody to go with," "not fun unless good (proficient in technique)," and "hard to learn."

In recent years, the industry has made strides in developing user-friendly equipment and in teaching people to ski and snowboard more quickly than in the past. The new shaped or parabolic skis are shorter and much easier to turn, and instructors can actually get beginners to negotiate lower intermediate slopes on their first day. High-speed lifts have also made skiing easier. But industry studies show the public is still largely unfamiliar with the recent advances in technology.

"It's not exactly rocket science," says Rosard, who is also president of Moguls Ski & Snowboard Tours based in Boulder, Colorado. "The earlier people learn to ski or snowboard, the better they become. The better they become the more they ski and snowboard."

The targets of the new grassroots campaign are children and youth from ages 6 to 18.

"Our focus in sharing our collective passion for the mountains is to emphasize fun, recreation, education, physical fitness, the environment and personal growth," says Rosard.

Part of the effort will involve compiling and promoting the existing programs of the industry. For example, many ski areas offer free or low-cost skiing and boarding for children 12 and under, free or inexpensive lessons and gear rentals, and other perks such as free lodging for youngsters who are accompanied by parents.

"But it has been difficult for us working individually to get the message out to the public at large," says John Morgan, co-chairman of the committee and national sales manager of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming.

"There’s programs already out there for kids, but people don’t know about them," echoed Cook. "So we’re trying to educate people, we’re also trying to add to what those programs are, add to the excitement of that. Get the kids in younger, perpetuate the industry.