The five remaining ski areas in the United States that ban snowboarders from their slopes claim that strategy has been succesful for them and don’t plan to change. Each points to their policies as part of a business, marketing, and customer-service equation and state, “We have nothing against snowboarders, but our customers prefer it this way.”
Free Taos Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico has emerged as the most aggressive in terms of marketing its snowboard ban. Last season, the resort used the tag line, “Because you love to ski” and explains that “our commitment to ski purists means snowboarding isn’t permitted.”
“It not allowing snowboarding is always going to have a presence in our marketing,” Taos Marketing Manager J.P. Rael says. “We’re out there competing with all the major resorts and we see it as one way to differentiate ourselves and possibly gain additional marketing and media attention.”
And Taos is confident that they can always pull 300,000 skier visits out of the skier-only market.
“Taos loves not having snowboarding,” said Chris Stag, Taos Ski Valley vice president. “It’s been a great boon to us. We feel like we’re gaining skiers from it. And at this point, we have no reason or intention to allow snowboarding at some future date. If all the skiers turn into snowboarders and there are no more skiers, we reserve the right to reconsider it.”
Alta Won’t Alter “Alta does not allow snowboarding at this time because of economic reasons,” said Connie Marshall, director of public relations for the Utah resort. “We continually evaluate our product and ask ourselves, ‘Are we doing okay?’”
The 50-year old privately held area on Forest Service land is doing a strong business, and as Ski magazine said on the topic last year, “If Alta were just about money, lift tickets wouldn’t be 31 dollars.”
The area did 487,433 skier visits in 1994, hit 513,897 the following year, and last year saw 422,055 skier visits–more than Snowbird, Sun Valley, or Jackson Hole.
“The parking lot is full at Alta,” said Ed Ryberg, winter sports program coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service. “There is no motivation for them to change, and they have a unique perception of themselves. They do things differently.”
Doing Deer Valley Alta’s Utah neighbor, Deer Valley, doesn’t release visitor numbers –the area is on private land–but the ’96/97 season was its best ever and the ’98/99 season shaped up to be its second best season, according to Deer Valley Communications Manager Krista Thomas.
“The no-snowboarding policy has nothing to do with terrain and safety or because we don’t want snowboarders here,” said Thomas. “The guest feedback that we’ve received is very in favor of a ski-only area in Park City. We never say never but for now the ban is really working for us.”
And Deer Valley’s customers are both passionate and vocal about it. A magazine ranking in 1997 inadvertently listed that snowboarding was allowed at Deer Valley. “We got hundreds of phone calls in a panic,” Thompson said. “People were really concerned that we had switched.”
Aspen Shrugs “We continue to get more letters about not opening the mountain than we do about opening the mountain,” said Kitty Boone, Aspen Skiing Company vice president of marketing. “Since we have four mountains, we are not hearing this huge stampede of ‘You’ve got to do it.’”
Aspen Mountain’s skier visits peaked at 395,591 in ’91/92 and have been on a downward trend since, reaching just 301,670 in ’96/97.
Neither Aspen, Deer Valley, nor Alta make a great deal of noise about the noo-riding policy and Aspen makes a concerted effort to point out that they have 3,000 acres of snowboarding at neighboring Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass.
Boone says company research points to expense as being a bigger factor than the riding ban among those deciding not coming to Aspen. However, it’s still a marketing concern that because there’s no riding on Aspen Mountain, people may think there’s no riding in Aspen/Snowmass at all.
It’s enough of a concern that Aspen Skiing Company President Pat O’Donnell has recommended to ownership that they lift the ban, but to no avail.
People’s Choice Mad River Glen in Vermont sees about 68,000 skier visits a year. It’s the only co-op ski area in the country, which means anyone can buy one of the 450 outstanding shares for 1,750 dollars and then try and convince the other 1,400 shareholders to open the mountain to riding.
“When you get a two-thirds majority of our shareholders to lift the snowboarding ban, then it will happen–but I wouldn’t hold your breath,” says Mad River Glen Marketing Director Eric Friedman. “The first season as a co-op we did a poll of our shareholders and 78 percent voted to keep the ban. It’s a hardcore group of skiers.”
But Is It Discrimination? Jake Burton expressed his ideas on the topic to the nation last season with a parody ad in Ski magazine entitled “Supreme Skiing” sponsored by “The Federation of American Resorts to Thwart Snowboarding.”
The ad took aim at rich, pampered baby boomers who are more interested in shopping, sequins, and SUVs than getting out early for fresh powder.
“I think the snowboarding bans are age discrimination,” Burton says. “That’s how I personally perceive it. And snowboarders are sort of caught up in the drift of it. They are just down on having a large number of kids on the hill. Last time I checked in this country, that wasn’t okay.”
According to Patti Adler, an associate professor of sociology at University of Colorado, Boulder, “It’s not age discrimination, it’s class discrimination, which as a business they are entitled to do. You might not like it, the young people might not like it, but they the kids will win eventually. They will grow into these economic groups and they will have the resources to demand inclusion.”
Despite using economics as a justification for the snowboarding ban, some of the resort managers admit allowing snowboarding could actually help business. Friedman at Mad River thinks his business would go up by ten percent. Rael believes he would see a first-season spike at Taos and then it would level off. Afterall, Keystone saw its business jump fifteen percent the first season that riding was allowed in ’96/97.
But for now these resorts are willing to hold their ground–despite the tide swelling against them.–Brent Gardner-Smith