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The 2 Major Reasons Why Millennial Participation is Weak in the Ski Industry

The goal here is to point out constant problems facing the ski & snowboard industry in engaging with the Millennial generation, and to offer some solutions.

Last June, the New York Times published a fantastic read: Oh, to Be Young, Millennial, and So Wanted by Marketers. I reflected on this report for quite awhile and often share it whenever I find myself discussing Millennials with others. The article correctly points out just how desperate, confused, and frustrated many marketers are in trying to engage their company or industry with the Millennial generation. Having spent the last year working in the ski & snowboard market as a Millennial, I discovered that this paradigm holds astoundingly true for our industry. Millennial is a buzz word everywhere, but it's such a frequent topic of discussion in the ski industry that entire panels and seminars at industry conventions have been dedicated to understanding the 18-35 year old. At the heart of the discussion: why is Millennial participation so weak in the ski & snowboard industry? While in some ways I would consider myself a ski industry insider, I still feel like an outsider in most ways. As an outsider, there seem to be two overwhelming reasons for the challenges resorts face in engaging with this generation: inefficient technology and a lack of transparency, variability, and justification in pricing.

One of the most common numbers we cite at Snowvation, as RRC Associates first reported, is that Millennials are skiing or snowboarding just 5 days a season on average whereas Baby Boomers are participating about 10 days on average per season. It becomes abundantly clear how problematic this will become as Baby Boomers drop out of the sport and are replaced by the half-as-engaged Millennial. The first major shortcoming has to be attributed to technology and e-commerce. It’s no secret within the industry that our technology and software has inhibited the guest experience for years, but that problem is exacerbated for Millennials. This is where I may start to sound like your average arrogant, lazy, self-centered Millennial, but please reserve judgement! I grew up helping my family book vacations as a teenageer. It was so easy for me to hop on Expedia and arrange our travel plans by the time I was 16. By the time I was 18, I could book dinner from my phone or laptop. By the time I was 19, I could get a car service from my phone. At this rate, Amazon may be delivering groceries with drones before a guest can book a ski lesson from their smartphone.

Before I became involved in the ski industry, I recall trying to plan a multi-day multi-resort trip with a friend, just over a year ago. My experience in booking the trip was incredibly challenging and drastically different at every resort. At many resorts, there was nothing I could do sans picking up the phone and dialing a resort agent. By the way, this is an agent who is being paid to do what a computer or software could do for free. At other resorts, I had some level of an e-commerce experience but it was either tedious, time consuming, or incomplete. Resorts are certainly complicated with many products and more nuances to their processes than a hotel or restaurant. However the e-commerce experience and process effectively makes it seem as though my lesson, lift ticket, and hotel are each occurring at different ski resorts. My skiing buddy was aiming to take a private lesson at one resort on our trip. We visited this resort’s website, and found their online booking tool for private lessons. Great! We clicked through, and discovered it was simply a chat box with someone at the resort. We opened the chat box, asked to book a private lesson, and we were given an 800 number. Keep in mind, this was a world-class resort.

Now let’s talk about part two of the problem: pricing. Many Millennials reached adulthood during the Great Recession. We are deal hunters and we are used to having complete information, many options, and many deals when making purchases. While this could be dismissed as purely anecdotal, I will never visit a restaurant or hotel without first visiting Yelp, TripAdvisor, or a similar platform. I can assure you that most Millennials rely on these sites more than one would think. But, let’s not forget, it’s not just Millennials who have come to rely on these platforms. All generations possess new expectations as consumers. The biggest expectation may be transparency and justification. If CUT at the Beverly Wilshire wants to charge $70 for a steak, I am going to read at least 5-10 reviews to make sure that this is going to be one hell of a steak! To draw a parallel to the ski industry, if a resort is looking to charge up to $1,000 for a full day of private instruction, the Millennial (or any) consumer absolutely wants to know exactly what this product is. Who is the instructor? Who is the best instructor for me? Why does the ski school get to pick the best instructor for me? Why is the most popular instructor at Resort A, with all his PSIA certifications, and a background teaching around the world, charged the same exact price as the average part timer? But let’s leave that for a separate discussion (bottom line, instructors should be dynamically priced). Great, now that I have decided to book my $900 private lesson with Patrick, why is it so damn hard to actually buy it!? Millennials spend money; there is no doubt about it. It’s well known that our generation prefers to spend the big bucks on experiences, traveling, and events, rather than items, like cars or houses. Sure, that might not be the most wise decision, but it’s what we do! As a resort owner or operator, this should be embraced! Millennials are willing to pay up, but the product needs to be clear, justified, and most importantly, easy to purchase.

Millennial rant over. Now that I’ve completed my daily dose of complaining and portrayed that classic Millennial sense of entitlement, let’s talk about some solutions. First, the e-commerce and technological infrastructure at resorts needs a total overhaul. Forget about another face lift or band-aid solution, throw everything out and start from scratch. That might seem like a daunting task, but technology is meant to make our lives easier. The first couple of times I used Uber was a rough around the edges (probably for the driver too). However, it didn’t take long to figure it out as a customer, and for Uber to figure it out as a startup. The pieces eventually come together, and I’m a firm believer that the value of new technology far outweighs the initial headaches that come along with it.

Getting back to ski specific solutions, let’s create one streamlined process where I, as the guest, can keep my total click count below say 15.  I can do everything from my iPhone, and I can get that instant gratification which every Millennial desires. I can visit my resort’s website, decide I want a private lesson, and meet all the Pros at the resort online. When I find my desired instructor, I can see her exact availability up to the minute for my upcoming visit next weekend. By the way, that gets rid of the tired customer service agents managing the phones all day and taking away from your bottom line. I can book my instructor for a 2 hour lesson at 1:00 PM. I know what she looks like, I know what she excels at, and even more revolutionary, she might even know something about me before I get there! What’s the benefit here? Not only are we simplifying and streamlining the process, we’re also creating a deeper relationship between the guest and the resort.  Further, we’re increasing the chance for repeat visits, more spending on lessons, more tips and kickers for the instructor, and higher employee morale! Yes, this is one very specific fix with finite benefits, but it’s symbolic of how much opportunity the industry has to innovate.

We can’t boil the ocean with technology, but over time we can make meaningful and lasting improvements internally and externally. It might seem like a risk, but all it takes is the willingness to let go of a few antiquated ski industry processes at a time. Let’s adapt to today’s consumer, the Millennial, and together we can grow the sport we all love.

Article by Michael Stocker, Founder and CEO of Snowvation