BANFF, Alberta -- With their industry challenged by a
combination of an aging, largely male user base and by a reputation for
exclusivity, Mountain Travel Symposium (MTS) panelists and featured speakers
last week emphasized the need to market skiing and snowboarding with more
inclusive messaging while finding more creative ways to attract both novices
and international visitors.
And in a week when President Trump reversed many of the
Obama administration's policies designed to address climate change, some industry
leaders warned about the prospect of shorter ski seasons and encouraged people
to be politically vocal about their concerns.
While MTS presenters waxed poetic about the joy of winter
sports, they acknowledged the challenges of expanding the number of
participants, which domestically has changed little in the past couple of
decades, and stressed the importance of inclusiveness.
For example, while winter sports have been on the forefront
of using social media to further the appeal of its lifestyle, MTS speaker and
ex-GoPro education and training manager Kristian Jamieson said resorts and gear
suppliers were falling short by focusing on expert participants and beauty
"We are not inspiring on Instagram," Jamieson
said. "What we are doing is making people jealous. The days of 'shred porn'
[videos of hardcore skiers/snowboarders tearing up the mountain] are over."
Many of the Forum's panelists also acknowledged the
male-centric emphasis on much of the sector's marketing efforts, noting that
the combination of the industry's predominantly male leadership and "bro-ish"
image of younger participants has caused the sector to fall behind when it came
to including women in both its marketing message and leadership ranks.
"Inspiring millennial women translates to real dollar
signs," said MTS presenter and Expedia market manager Jessica Robbins, a
millennial. "Let us know that we're welcome."
Organizers of the conference, which was held at the Fairmont
Banff Springs and attracted about 1,100 travel buyers and suppliers, did their
part to emphasize women's growing winter sports prominence by bookending its
two-day Forum sessions with keynote speeches by winter Olympian Kelly
VanderBeek and Paralympian Amy Purdy.
The Forum also featured presentations from Deanne Buck,
executive director at Camber Outdoors (formerly the Outdoor Industries Women's
Coalition) and Kim Locke, vice president at Lake Louise Ski Resort.
Industry leaders hope such image enhancements will help spur
new users to a sector where U.S. participation has been essentially flat for a
couple of decades. For the 2015-16 ski season, U.S. snow sports visits to
resorts fell 1.5%, to 52.8 million, which was about even with typical annual
visitor numbers during the mid-1990s, according to the National Ski Area
When discussing potential new blood, MTS panelists focused
on millennials and overseas visitors. Locke cited the need to address a
younger, urban contingent that is less likely to own a car needed for a
mountain road trip, while Mammoth Resorts national sales manager Stephen
Remillard acknowledged that some problems ski hills have attracting millennials
"Millennials prefer to travel in large groups,"
said Remillard, also a self-described millennial. "Compared to the other
options available, our booking process [for groups] is too time-consuming."
As for international skiers and snowboarders, Kristi
Kavanaugh, managing director of global sales at Aspen Skiing Co., said her
company's visitor contingent is broad enough to necessitate ski lessons in a
Moreover, that international contingent could surge as China
prepares to host the Winter Olympics in 2022. By that year, as many as 300
million Chinese will regularly engage in winter sports, compared with the
approximately 120 million people who currently ski worldwide, according to
University of South Carolina College of Hospitality director Simon Hudson.
"With the international market, it's not all about
skiing," Hudson said. "One in five [visitors] does not ski. These
people are spending more money than the people on the slopes."
Still, the largest factor in future winter sports growth
might merely be scientific. MTS speaker and technology crossover ventures
partner Erik Blachford cited the prospect of a permanently shortened ski season
because of global warming, or what he termed "the Big Melt."
Added MTS speaker and Liftopia COO Rob Webb, "If it's
Christmas week and it's 33 degrees instead of 31 degrees at the base of a
mountain, that's terrifying for us. The fight to save our industry from climate
change is an extremely effective way to fight against climate change as well.
If you come in with an argument that includes jobs and economic value,