To look at the way mountain resorts target families, you’d think the youth market was key to the industry’s survival. In a way, it is.
Industry officials know that getting kids interested in skiing and snowboarding not only bolsters the all-important family travel market but also creates future clients. After all, no matter how much easier the learning curve is than it was a generation ago — thanks to better equipment and improved instructional techniques — the conventional wisdom is that if you hook them young, you may hook them for life.
“The youth market represents the future of snow sports,” said Kelly Davis, director of research for SnowSports Industries America (SIA), the member-owned trade association for the snow sports industry, which has been taking a hard look at this sometimes-tricky market.
To that end, SIA developed the 2013 Youth Snow Sports Market Intelligence Report with an eye to providing insight on what kids are doing now and are likely to do in the next 10 to 15 years as snow-sports consumers.
A summary of the report findings shows that the 2012-13 ski season drew 4.4 million kids ages 6 to 17 to the slopes, bringing in $306 million, or roughly 9% of total snow sports sales for the season.
Overall, 25% of alpine skiers are under the age of 17, and, not surprisingly, snowboarding drew more than 2 million young visitors to the slopes last season, representing nearly half of skier visits in this age group.
With all this in mind, resorts are going full tilt to entice families with children, especially during the all-important school vacation weeks, by offering enticements such as cool all-terrain parks, snow forts and even costumed characters on skis posing for pictures with youngsters.
But is all this enough to counter the sometimes-high ticket price of a family ski vacation?
One way that resorts tackle this challenge is by offering ski and stay packages that include free lift tickets and accommodations for children when accompanied by a paying adult.
In Colorado, for example, packages include everything from winter outdoor activities at night for children at Aspen/Snowmass to a generous Kids Ski Free program with no blackout dates and no adult lift ticket requirements at Keystone.
In California, Sierra at Tahoe at Mammoth Lakes and the Aston Lakeland Village Beach & Mountain Resort in Tahoe have created packages that allow kids to stay and ski free.
Meanwhile, Ski Areas of New York is among the East Coast entities targeting families with a Kids Ski Free program at any of the state’s 25 ski areas.
We could go on, but in reality the resorts not offering some sort of freebies for children are in the minority, and we predict this trend has nowhere to go but up.