Ski resorts are turning to the turning to technology and new experiences to attract millennials. But if they don't like to ski or snowboard, it's hard to imagine them hitting the slopes as they age.
The ski and snowboard industry is healthy — at least for now.
But there is concern throughout the snow sports industry as the baby boomers and generation Xers get older, the millennials are not picking up the slack and hitting the slopes as often as the aging generations.
“The industry is extremely healthy, we’ve been really consistent for a long time,” said Michael Reitzell, president of the California Ski Industry Association. “But we’re not like hotels, we’re not building new properties, and millennials, and even gen Xers, are going less often, less days per year than the previous generation.”
Reitzell said millennials, people who range in age from 17 to 37, are approaching life differently than previous generations. They are waiting longer to purchase homes and to have kids — much longer than the baby boomers, ages 53 to 77. The more narrow generation X group ranges in age from 38-52.
Reitzell said millennials want outdoor adventures but they look to do more than just hit the slopes while on vacation or on days off work. They may play in the snow one day and find other stuff to do on other days. Millennials make up the biggest group at resorts, said Reitzell, but they’re not consistently strapping on the board or skis.
Some also say it’s too expensive. But that perplexes Reitzell who says season pass prices today are as good as they’ve ever been.
“They are looking for outdoor adventures, but they’re not buying tickets,” Reitzell said. “It really does have a lot to do with demographics. What people are deciding to make as their priorities and do they want skiing to be part of their lives?”
The explosion of backcountry winter adventures is likely putting a dent into daily sales at resorts. Adventurers can earn their turns by hiking to a mountaintop and sliding down, avoiding lift ticket prices altogether, but also missing out on a leisurely ride up the slopes.
Additionally, adventures in the backcountry are not simple, or safe. Everybody who ventures into the snowy Sierra Nevada needs to have some education about essential gear and avalanche awareness.
Resorts are trying to get creative with how they market their product.
Sierra-at-Tahoe, an independently-owned resort about 20 minutes west of South Lake Tahoe off U.S. 50, wants their guests to leave their mountain with an “authentic and unique” experience, and be able to tell their story to others no matter what generation.
“We strongly believe that millennials along with others are driven by that ‘experience’ and being able to go home with a story,” said Thea Hardy with Sierra-at-Tahoe. “We work hard to craft our interactions, messaging and on-mountain experience to be a part of that story and something that keeps them coming back. The ‘millennial’ skier and snowboarder are strong in presence here. We believe because of our convenience, history as the place to learn, Olympic heritage, great value and location makes us appealing to the millennial generation.”
Heavenly Mountain Resort, owned by Vail Resorts, is reaching out to millennials by teaming with Tahoe Mountain Lab to “re-imagine the definition of ‘work hard, play hard.'”
There is on-mountain shared workspace, about 600-square feet, with Wi-Fi for remote professionals who want to take a few runs then return to the mountain office.
Their guests can also be toured around the mountain by a certified ski and ride instructor while learning how to use a borrowed GoPro camera to capture their adventure.
“Millennials are attached to their technology,” Reitzell said. “Resorts should tie that in with what they do, it helps people decide what resort they choose. They like to post photos and videos and they might get service at certain places and that affects their decisions.”
Heavenly and Kirkwood mountain resorts senior communications manager Kevin Cooper wants to make it easier for people to have a good time. He says it’s not about racing or competition, but to get out there, have fun and get away.
“We’re looking for intimacy through social media and we want people to get what they want out of their experience,” Cooper said.
With the ever-changing technology and new digital gadgets seemingly offered every few months, resorts are scrambling to keep up and trying to come up with fresh ideas to attract and keep people coming back, especially the millennials.
“Times are changing,” Retizell said. “We’re going to have to start thinking about different ways to keep people in the sport. If you’re a die-hard you can show people how fun it is. As the industry goes, so does the community that it supports.”
“We know our relevance and adaptability is key,” Hardy said. “We will continue to grow with trends and create a welcoming and experience-driven ski environment that will keep them coming back.”
Photo credit: In this March 1, 2016, file photo, a snowboarder takes a jump at the Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Resort near Echo Summit, California. Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press