From the late 1950s to the early 2000s, participation in snow sports has generally skyrocketed, as alpine skiing grew in popularity throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s, while snowboarding gained mainstream attention in the 90s. Despite this strong increase in demand, the industry is now facing a long-term decline in visitations, which may present a serious challenge for resorts going forward. With total ski visits falling to 53.6 million during the 2014/15 season from 55.7 during the 2013/14 season, there are notable signs that this downward trend is not slowing down. In fact, according to the Denver Business Journal, resort visitors have dropped off at a rate of 3% per year over the last decade; at this rate, total skier visits may drop down to 45.3 million by 2030.
The main reason for the decline in visitors is the older demographic of the average skier and snowboarder. With the majority of visitors between the ages of 30 – 54 and relatively wealthy, resorts have tailored their offerings to this audience. While this premium strategy has brought in increased revenue over the years, the outlook isn’t so rosy. For instance, baby boomers, many of which built the modern ski industry in the 1950s and 60s, are giving up snow sports due to their age. On top of this, the younger population is losing interest in visiting resorts as a result of changing tastes and a rise in technology. Due to its profound effects, this trend has left resorts wondering what can be done to reverse this situation.
With the added pressure of unpredictable weather conditions, many resorts are taking drastic steps to create a slew of new snow sports enthusiasts. For example, they have implemented 3- and 4-day passes that promote prolonged visitation and boost recurring visits. In addition, resorts have begun offering children’s programs at a discount to entice younger people to become lifelong customers and are targeting international visitors, who are increasingly becoming wealthier and traveling abroad. While the initiatives above have helped draw in more visitors, many resorts are overlooking the growth in Cross-country and Telemark skiing among younger audiences. These types of skiing, where the heel of the boot is not fixed down, are growing at a faster rate than alpine skiing due to their affordability and focus on fitness. In order to regain visitors, resorts must shift their focus on not only increasing their general number of visitors, but incorporating these “alternative” types of skiing into their portfolio of offerings. With that said, only time will tell whether or not these approaches will bring in enough new visitors to counteract the aging population of an industry that is in decline.