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Ski industry retaining older participants

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People are skiing further and further into their golden years according to a recent study by the U.S.-based National Ski Areas Association.

“That was a very encouraging sign and I think it follows a trend in general… that people are staying more active in their later years of life than they were 10 or even 20 years ago,” said NSAA spokesman Troy Hawks.

“(It) is an encouraging sign for the sport given the vast number of those people who make up the baby boom generation.”

The 2007 NSAA National Demographic Study found that the average age of participants has risen steadily from 33.2 in 1997/98 to 36.6 in 2006/07.

It also found that the proportion of skiers and boarders aged 45 to 54 has increased from 14 per cent to 19.4 per cent: the proportion aged 55 to 64 has almost doubled from 4.6 per cent to 9.4 per cent; and the proportion aged 65 and older has almost doubled from 2.4 per cent to 4.2 per cent.

There are conflicting reports about the number of people taking up the sport said Hawks. The demographic survey suggested that the numbers were down but the end of season survey showed strong numbers with youth under the age of 18 making up about 30 per cent of skiers and riders.

In the U.S. Midwest kids make up 50 per cent of the participation levels said Hawks.

The study has been conducted annually since the 1996/97 season and is designed to track demographic and trip characteristics of skiers and riders over time. The results are based on brief surveys of skiers and riders conducted at participating resorts around the U.S.

Equivalent data for Canadian ski areas was not available at press time.

A record total of 92 of the U.S.’s 485 operating ski resorts were represented in the study this time around. The resorts accounted for 29.9 million of the nation’s 55.1 million skier visits. Previous to this year the number of resorts participating had fluctuated between 64 and 80.

A total of 138,919 surveys were completed.

The study also found that snowboarding levels were continuing to level off, a pattern that has been clear over the last four to five seasons. The sport did show a slight decline this year but Hawks said the NSAA was unconcerned about the blip.

“According to this study it looks like participation may have dipped a little bit,” he said. “But we don’t necessarily get too concerned about any one given year. We look at it over the long term and I think for the last few seasons it has stayed at about 30 per cent participation levels.

“When snowboarding first came on board there was massive growth at first and now it has just leveled out and it has been remaining steady.”

The aging trend also influenced other factors, including an increase in skier ability, season pass use (now at 31 per cent up from 26 per cent previously), a decline in the use of rental equipment and lesson volumes have been flat.

The study also found that helmet use is on the increase. Overall, 40 per cent of survey respondents were wearing a helmet when interviewed, up from 38 per cent last season and 25 per cent in 2002/03.

The study also looked at gender. It found that it has remained fairly steady over the last several years with the male/female split remaining within historical ranges at 61 per cent male/39 per cent female.

Females comprise a relatively large share of beginners, lesson takers, visitors planning to ski/ride just once in the season, equipment renters, and participants who have dropped out of skiing and riding at least one year out of the previous five seasons.

“The data suggests that the industry is fairly effective in inducing first-time trial of snow sports among females, but it is less effective in converting females than males into accomplished, frequent participants and in retaining female participation and reducing dropout over time,” states the study.

The results of the study are used by ski areas to help them formulate plans for future growth and development. The results are leading ski areas to diversify their marketing and their operations said Hawks.

“They are recognizing that their customers are different and they want different things and I think some of the resorts are capitalizing on this,” he said.

“They are offering groomed terrain for the older participants but that does not mean they are ignoring the younger participants either as they are offering them challenging and fun terrain and terrain parks. There are also events held at night, and some have erected movie theatres for the teens to go to after the ski hill is closed.

“They are offering all-women ski camps and really diversifying not just their marketing, but also their activities on and off hill.”

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