Kids Key To Growing Resort Business Says NSAA Panel

“Kids really make the decisions for the family and where they go to ski and snowboard,” said Stratton Mountain’s Michael Cobb, in one of the most interesting panel discussions at the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) National Convention and Trade Show that took place last week in New Orleans. “It’s not where the family buys a home. If the kid isn’t interested in that mountain, they’ll make the family go somewhere else,” he continued.

Cobb was on a panel titled Success Stories For Mining New Customers that included Mountain High’s Karl Kapuscinski, Hyland Ski and Snowboard Area’s Fred Seymour, and Wachusett Mountain’s David Crowley, and was moderated by Booth Creek’s Julie Maurer.

At Stratton Mountain, Cobb explained that high-profile events like the U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships and the young crowd it attracted clashed directly with the home owners who also make up much of the resort’s business. “When these home owners come and complain, I tell them that we have to stay cool to kids to keep them there. If we’re not, their own kids will want to go somewhere else. The owners usually understand and agree with me.”

Kapuscinski explained that resorts really need to I.D. what their market is and go after it. Five years ago, Mountain High was only getting 180,000 visits per year, but now has raised that to almost 500,000 per season. “We’ve brought more people into the sport, and kept them in it,” he said.

The key was focusing on Southern California’s youth market. To do this, he added young staff members (17 to 20 years old) to the marketing department to stay in touch with the market and to communicate properly and legitimately to it. “You’ll don’t have to be afraid to let youth make decisions.”

The resort also offered a heavily discounted season pass. The resort limited the number of those passes sold to 12,000. “Now I have 12,000 sales reps in the market promoting my resort, and bringing their friends who have to pay full price for tickets.” The resort also sells tickets that are good for a certain amount of runs or with much more flexible times. These cater much better to the youth and drive market and the time constraints they have.

Hyland Ski and Snowboard Area is small. It only has 175 vertical feet and 75 acres, but Seymour said that one third of terrain is dedicated to the terrain park and halfpipe to keep the snowboarders happy. They’re also the first parts of the mountain opened each season, knowing the early season customers want those things.

“We spend time on the terrain park and keep it interesting, because if the kids lose interest in it, they’re gone,” said Seymour. “And if they’re gone, so are the parents who pay for everything.”

At Wachusett Mountain, using the internet in a very simple way helped increase business. On the resort’s web site there was a pop-up window that appeared the first time anyone logged on, asking for their e-mail address. The resort ended up getting more than 35,000 e-mail addresses on its list, then used that list to offer special discounts.

One was for a coupon they sent out the day before heavy rains were forcasted, offering a 10-dollar lift ticket the next day. Instead of having no one show up at the resort because of the weather, Wachusett got more than 1,000 visitors that day and taught customers that skiing and snowboarding in the rain could still be fun.

In a great ending statement, Kapuscinski offered his opinion to the question of what was the biggest challenge the ski resort industry was facing? “We’re the biggest challenge to our business,” he answered. “Can we change as fast as the youth market does?”