ABCs of ski: Family market -- generations coming together

Nothing warms the hearts of people in the ski industry more than families. "All ski areas are trying to go after the family market," says Craig Cook, president of Travel Organizers, a travel wholesaler/retailer in Englewood, Colo. "They know that if they get the kids into instructional programs, they will get built-in skiers for life."

"Ski resorts had nurseries before it was chic because they had no choice," says Dorothy Jordon, editor-in-chief of Family Travel Times, a 15-year-old newsletter. "If you're at the beach, the kids can stay with you. That's not the case at ski resorts."

Child care at ski resorts, says Jordon, is no longer just babysitting but involves "doing fun and educational things. The resorts are almost going overboard and doing remarkable things to make kids happy because happy kids mean happy parents who will come back."

While children's activities can be expensive, says Jordon, "they do offer good value because they include activities, instruction and meals. And, depending on the resort, they might be commissionable to agents."

Crested Butte in Colorado is one of those ski areas where almost anything sold by an agent, even a la carte, will be commissionable. That includes ski school and other activities for children. (Crested Butte Vacations, the area's reservations center, commissions all lodging, lift tickets, ski rentals and instruction. Day care is not booked by the center and is not commissionable.)

Even an area known for hard-core skiing has made a broad gesture toward the family market. Jackson Hole, Wyo., introduced a new children's facility called Cody House with an on-slope playground, learning carpet and Kids Ranch.

Aspen, which has a state-licensed slopeside day care center, has introduced private lessons for toddlers from 18 months of age.

At the Peaks at Telluride, Colo., the Activity Center has anticipated the needs of children of all ages. There are toddler rooms full of toys, infant gyms and crib rooms, instruction and even a glass kiosk to the central romper room so parents can look down on the kids undetected, then slip back to the slopes. The area will rent out car seats, strollers, backpacks, safety gates, toys, cribs and other items.

The Peaks at Telluride even has a KidSpa program for children featuring spa cooking classes, yoga and relaxation techniques.

At Vail, a new on-mountain activities area named Adventure Point will feature a tubing hill located on Keystone Mountain. Additional children's skiing attractions, located near the Spring Dipper, Upper Paymaster and Silver Spoon trails are also on the horizon.

On certain dates at Sugarloaf/USA in Maine, kids 12 and under get free lift tickets, rentals and lessons. And such special activities as tubing, movie and game nights -- all supervised -- are offered.

All these efforts may be having their effect. A study by Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade organization, of Colorado skiers for the 1996-97 season indicates that families accounted for the largest proportion of skier/snowboarder visits, 40.2%, compared to singles (36.7%), empty nesters (12%) and couples without children (11.2%). Families and empty nesters have been the fastest rising segment of the market.

Parents bringing their offspring to a ski resort should be ready to ask a few questions, says Jordon. One is how far a children's center is from the slopes.

"It could be a half-mile away, up hill," she says. "That's too far. It's more important to be close to the children's center than to a restaurant or other facility."

Another important consideration for families, Jordon says, is space. "I'd rather go on a five-day holiday with extra space than seven days with a tight space," she says.

Finally, says Jordon, agents should be aware that reservations must be made for any kind of child care or activity. She recalls that her brother "neglected to make reservations and ended up playing tag-team skiing with his wife because one had to stay with the kids at all times."

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