skip to main content
Got 2 minutes? I'd love your advice. Take the 2018 SlopeFillers Survey→

Growing Skiing
Is the Business of Ski School Holding Back the Ski Industry’s Growth?

divider image for this post

A year or so back I read Edna Dercum’s autobiography. Her husband, Max, did some pretty awesome stuff in the ski industry including the creation of Arapahoe Basin and Keystone in Colorado as well as helping create the Professional Ski Instuctors of America system.

According to Edna (who attended the PSIA organizing meetings with Max)…

“The variety of techniques really confused ski pupils. They might take a lesson at a Arapahoe, then go to Aspen, where a modified Arlberg technique was taught, then to Stein Erickson’s Norwegian ski school over at the Highlands, and then lessons at Sun Valley with a French ski instructor. Something had to be done. The formation of a universal ski-teaching technique was necessary, at least in the U.S.”

There’s little doubt that the PSIA has been a catalyst to the growth of skiing by increasing the success on day 1 and, along with it, the likelihood of ski addiction. And for good reason, if you quickly and correctly learn how to ski, you’ll fall less, turn more, and have a better time.

So, how could that be holding us back? Let me see if I can explain where my thoughts have been taking me.

Another On the List
There are a few disconnects in skiing.

  • We love beginners but make fun of them if they dress wrong
  • We rely on families and boomers but highlight images of extreme skiing
  • We know that cost is a barrier but insist on professional instruction

And why do we insist on taking a lesson with a pro? Well, if we try on your own or have a friend teach us, both of those systems are considered prime territory for failure. And they often are.

But, like many things, I think we’ve drawn a line in the sand and said there are only two choices: you either ski with a friend and fail or pay to ski with a professional instructor and succeed.

Choices, Choices
If I want to learn French, I have dozens of great options…books, community college, videos, you name it. It’s not a matter of either, a) taking government certified courses at the airport before I enter the country, or, b), skipping those courses and stumbling my way through a terrible vacation.

So why is it that we only seem to have that one, solid option in skiing? Why are we keeping the tool that turns non-skiers into lifelongers behind a pay-to-play door?

I don’t know the answer for sure, but I fear it’s because we’ve let ski instruction become too much of a business and too little of a tool to grow our sport. It’s more revenue stream now than education.

Another Way
So what are our other options? I think at the core it’s returning to the fact that ski instruction is education and freeing that knowledge so anyone and everyone can learn.

A few of the ideas that have been swirling around in my head:

  • Turn ski instruction into a series of free, professional quality videos and make these videos available through a well-managed YouTube channel, mobile app, and DVD
  • Give every skier on the mountain the basic ski instruction skill set so when they take their friends to the top of the lift, they’ve tripled the chances their friend will get down with a smile on their face.
  • Or, when they see a newb trying to learn solo, they can have a reason to stop and give them a few pointers.
  • When people pay for lessons, teach them how to teach others – one of the most powerful tools in pedagogy is the idea of learning by teaching

I suppose it’s about giving the opportunity to learn how to ski to everyone.

I May Be Crazy
I may be crazy, but something tells me that if we can make it super easier, cheaper, and faster to learn how to ski, the long term rewards could be much bigger than any hit we take to our ski school revenue in the short term.

If we can give people more people the knowledge, I believe that more will want to use it.

  • Chris Lamothe

    If the biggest barrier to growth is new skiers, then why not simply make ski lessons free. Every day, 10am, 2 hr lessons and activities for beginners, followed by a free hotdog lunch for anyone who sticks through the lessons, and a 2 for 1 ticket as a certificate of acheivement. BOOM.

    • Love it.

    • Stephanie

      If it could only be this easy… Decreasing profit margins more than they already are is probably not the way to enhance the future of the ski industry. And you want to through free hotdogs in the mix! Let me know where you work and I’m coming over! ;)

      • Who said it would decrease profit margins? Keep paid lessons, have a big, free group lesson every day, and I’d bet you could get enough people to learn to ski that you’d more than make up any cannibalization of ski school revenue in future ticket sales, food, and rentals down the line.

        • Stephanie

          At our resort we offer affordable packages that include a beginner area lift, lesson and rental, it’s about as ‘free’ as you can get while still collecting income. This year we are enticing our season members to introduce their friends to the sport for practically nothing… That way we can get the newbies information and try to get them to come back again (for the next phase – a 4 week session). I guess if free lessons and lunches can work in your market area that’s great! I’d love to see how it turns out at the end of the season… We all hope our ideas will work, I think this year more than ever we are hoping the people that already love skiing/riding will introduce 1 new friend to the sport…. We can all dream big!

          • Glad to hear you’re working to make skiing more affordable.

            I think the “skill collecting income” is the crux here. If we know the value of a skier in the long term, hanging onto revenue instead of unleashing the power of “free” may not make sense.

            May make sense for you guys, though. Sounds like you’ve done the lifetime-value math.

          • Skieo

            We have 8000 kids and parents filling almost every bed on the hill for up to 5 days – and they come twice – total upto 10 days -, and they pay $200 a week to park the car below the snowline, pay $20 a head for oversnow transport to their lodging (one way), $80 lift pass per day and $75 for dorm room beds, not fancy 5 star hotels. And then a bunch of them do the same at several other hills. The snow depth is 2 feet. Half the lifts can’t run. Its marginal skiing too and unreliable snow (with recycled waste water from hotels for snowmaking). And they grow into regulars: 220,000 a year ski in one region of Japan after flying 12 hours ‘door to door’ over the Pacific. Meantime US resorts go up for sale or close. Wtf?

          • Hmmm, didn’t an area in NZ close this year ;)

            That is amazing though. I think the issue is a bit more dynamic that it sounds on the surface, but it is interest to put the two industries side by side.

  • Adam

    As someone on the teaching side of this debate, I absolutely believe everyone should receive instruction and that proper instruction is a catalyst for industry growth. Lessons not only help drive return visits but also makes the mountain a safe place – try riding on a small PA mountain mid-day Saturday, it’s scary.

    I’ve often thought about how ski/snowboard instruction would benefit by becoming privatized, independent of a resort. What we’re looking at right now is a monopolized industry – you have to take lessons through the resort so they control the price. Allowing competition would create more options for resort-goers and effectively drive down the market price of a lesson. Those who wanted the high-quality lessons could pay resort prices. Those who wanted something cheaper could go with the dude in the parking lot offering free hot dog lunches.

    There are a lot of intricacies to this: insurance, lift tickets, boundaries of resort services, etc. But it’s a good debate. Cheers, winter is coming!

    • Great perspective, Adam. Well said – it’s a monopoly. That was fine when skiing was booming, but, like you said, some competition could help.

    • Sam Mortensen

      I have a good friend that offers private lessons outside of resort control. He is a certified instructor who offers his services (advice) to people…often for free or at a more affordable cost for the particular guest.

  • AK

    This would so achieve the goal of making new skiers at an increased rate.

    It would also explode the current business models that rely on the direct revenue to pay the large ski school departments. Time to hunt for a method to subsidize on a grand scale, and sadly, not seeing Kickstarter as a viable option on this one..

    Maybe some place could conduct some “one day tests”, midweek of course.. Baby steps.

    • I think that, again, might fall into the either a) or b) mentality. Can we give this knowledge to the masses and not hurt ski school sales too much? I think so.

      • Madeline Rockwell

        Check out some of the programs that offer “Mom and Me” lessons, which focus on teaching the parent to ski effectively with their child.

        You could expand this to ski with a friend.

        Again, if you could just post good instructors out on the hill giving free tips to those who need it, the payback might be in private lessons for those who wanted more.

  • Robin May

    Here’s a model for you. All First time lessons are free. The ski school is no longer the revenue stream it was. And….we adopt the euro model wherein Ski Patrol services are pay-as-you-go…and Ski Areas sell insurance….let the Patrol Director worry about labor to revenue for a change….I will go have fun with the newbies!

    • First time lesson are free? I like it. Web apps have proven this model works (freemium), so with some fine tuning I see no reason we couldn’t get it to work in skiing.

      • Robin May

        Actually this has been done many times (here as well). It has done little except show SAM to be squeamish about losing revenue. LSSM probably represents the best hope for growth. 3-5 day passport programs and loyalty programs work well too.

        • From what I’ve seen, that squeamishness often arises from not knowing and measuring the lifetime value of a skier. If I’m losing $100 up front and can’t connect it to $1000 being made later on, I’d be squeamish too.

          I think LSSM has done some great stuff, but it still pushes everyone toward the “pay to take lessons with a pro” funnel that I worry is exactly what is holding us back.

      • Sam Mortensen

        Wouldn’t every lesson become “first time” lessons?
        “Is this your first time?” “It’s free? Why yes it is.” That still gets people in lessons, but you gotta draw a line. Saying, first time lesson are free is easier said than done.

        • Not really. It’s the content of the lesson, not the skier’s ability, that would act as the filter. A beginner lesson would cover the absolute basics. If you don’t need those, there’s little value – and reason- to take it.

  • Perfect North Slopes has offered a introductory lesson included with EVERY lift ticket for several years now…and it works! Plus on the site is a video showing where to go, what to bring and what to expect. That way the customers don’t have the “deer in headlights” look when they arrive.

    • Totally awesome. Love that idea, Steve. Also love the video. Some resorts send pre-arrival emails to upcoming lesson takers with similar info. I think it goes back to our lack of ability to understand the beginner that was discussed last week. We’ve forgotten how intimidating it can be to enter the skiing world.

    • Bryan Thomson

      Love the video showing what it’s like. I do a lot of lessons with students on the autism spectrum and what they don’t know often terrifies them. Having a video to watch on their, often own personal iPad, would be huge to let them know what it’s like to be out on the snow, have googles or sunglasses on, which lift(s) we take, and which trails we go on.

  • James Keddington

    As a marketer, not yet in the ski and snowboard industry, this exact topic has riddles my mind. Great article Gregg. I have thoroughly loved reading all the great comments as well. Maybe the answer lies in a combination of some of the comments.

    Perhaps people do not take lessons because of they fear they wont like it, and they will have spent $150 – $200 for a lift ticket, gas up the mountain, rentals and lessons…all on a day they are not sure they want to repeat.

    However, maybe anxiety can be reduced by offering a series of free group lessons and rentals (rentals instead of hotdogs :)) if they purchase a multi-day pass. My thoughts are if you can get someone to invest $500 in a 5-day pass, that might create the volume needed to justify free rentals and unlimited group lessons on any of the five days they use that pass. My guess is that 80% would not need more than 3 total group lessons. You just offer more to make a it a sweeter deal.

    • So true, James, these comments are great. I’ll be wrong all day long if it starts discussions like these.

      Yeah, there are a million options for lessons and your ideas sound great.

      I guess I’m hoping that if this discussion goes somewhere it hasn’t, it goes to my bullet points in the post. Specifically, turning every skier in to an instructor. Taking the knowledge we’ve kept under lock and key for decades and spreading it far and wide to every corner of the county and web and industry.

  • jj

    No affiliation with Killington, but their recent offering offers a nice twist on today’s topic; charge for multiday lessons, but give away free skis upon completion.
    [For the 2013-14 season, Killington Resort has partnered with Elan to offer a new pair of skis and bindings to any new skier who completes a four-day adult Learn To Ski package. The four-day package costs $249 and includes a two hour lesson, rental equipment and a lift ticket each day. Upon completion of the fourth day, participants will receive a new pair of Killington Resort branded Elan eRise skis and bindings (MSRP $499) along with a discount voucher for new boots and poles.
    “Our goal is to transition first time skiers into lifetime skiers by offering four lessons and a free pair of skis and bindings,” stated Dave Beckwith, director of snow sports for Killington Resort.]

    • Glad you brought that up, JJ. I’ve read about that and am very interested to see how it goes. I’ve never considered the cost of equipment the reason people don’t ski for the first time, but maybe if that’s the reward at the end, the price will be justified?

      Love the innovation, though, will definitely watch it closely.

  • Stu Hyderman

    In our little urban ski school I often see hordes of 30-40-something parents standing at the bottom of our bunny hill watching and videoing their kids in lessons. I have often wondered why they weren’t on skis and joining in the fun. I like the general idea of Chris Lamothe..I have suggested we give these parents a super deal on a two hour rental and an introductory lesson and get them on the hill. As it stands, we have instructors trying to sell them a private lesson often successfully. I just think a really super deal will help entice them to buckle up and come ski with us!

    • Fascinating. How many of those parents are skiers themselves? If not, why are they getting their kids on skis? Is this a snowsports version of putting newborns in pumpkins and boots just so they can take cute pictures of them?

      • Stu Hyderman

        Yes, I believe that’s the case sometimes Gregg, but their situations vary. Other times, the parents are skiers but are just prepping their kids for a mountain holiday and don’t want to be bothered skiing on our little 200′ hill.
        Many times we find the parents “used to be skiers” when they were young and are just trying to provide an activity to their kids other than hockey.
        And there are many others who never tried skiing and probably wouldn’t because they feel at 35 they’re “too old” or out of condition (which some of them clearly are) :)

        • Man, what I’d give to have a voice recorder and a few hours to interview those parents. Fascinating stuff. Thanks, Stu!

  • David Lague

    Our son is an instructor at Pats Peak in NH and they have the instructors looking for beginners and provide them mini lessons for free on Saturday nights. Gunstock in NH offers twenty minute sessions on Thursday Nights for free. Some ski areas are starting to offer lower mountain lift tickets that include a large group lesson. I do think that there are a number of resorts that are thinking outside of the box but…. I think many of the big $$$$ ski resorts are so profit driven they do not recognize those customers and leave it to feeder programs elsewhere or expect people to pay full fare!

    • David, thanks for the perspective and interesting on Pats Peak’s strategy. I like the idea of sending out idle instructors to help beginners who are struggling. A nice act of good will as well as increasing the chances of a successful trip for those beginners.

      • Madeline Rockwell

        I’ve suggested this and met resistance. If we could tame the liability bugaboo this should work for students and teachers alike. And if the instructor could be covered while giving out free tips, this would be a Good Thing. And a wonderful avenue for PSIA to pursue. If certified instructors were covered while teaching outside a structured lesson, that would give ski areas a reason to hire the certified instructors.

    • Mike Crichton-Struthers

      Searchmont Resort in Sault Ste, Marie ON has a policy that aims for 100% retention, including minimum half day beginner lessons (paid). And a floating ski and snowboard instructor on the beginner hill at all times. It’s so innoculated into their staff that when I was teaching a Level 2 CASI snowboard instructors course, I had to tell my candidates that they couldn’t stop to help everyone (even though they were on “their” own time) who was struggling as we had course material to cover and a limited time frame.
      Made for one part of a great, very open and welcoming feel at the resort.

      • Floating instructor on the beginner hill? Very, very nice touch. It does keep the knowledge bottled up, but helps those that choose to go to non-lesson route to have a good day. More than anything, love the mentality adopted by the staff. Thanks for the heads up, Mike!

  • Justin Rowland

    We do make the first time beginner lesson free at Ski Apache. First time lesson and lift ticket is the same price as the lift ticket.

    • Sounds similar to Perfect North. I like it. I doesn’t break the knowledge out of the ski school vault, but it’s a good start.

  • We have tons of great resources to learn to ski. Who cares that they show extreme skiing in images? Everyone knows you can’t start there. Most experienced skiers aren’t at the level where they would be photographed for a magazine or a poster. Also, most of the skiers I know who are good, all started in jeans :)

    I run, a ski forum / community focused on the Northeast, and one thing I hear a lot on the site is how the community of skiers thrives on each other, we always have newbies asking questions and experienced skiers providing answers. Sharing our knowledge and love of skiing on and off the slopes.

    Personally – I don’t think the issue with people taking up skiing is so much an intimidation factor but more a “we are getting lazy as a culture”. A lot of people, I’d guess maybe a majority, would rather sit at home on their tablet than be outside enjoying nature and the winter.

    Interesting article. Found it via a post by SAM magazine via FB.

    • The resources exist, but they are hidden by resorts who are the very people that should be sharing them because of the nature of the ski school industry. Ski schools have a proven system for teaching skiing that, from what i’ve seen, hasn’t been matched by most other resources. If we can unlock that knowledge, I really believe great things can happen.

      • Hmm… I’ve never been an instructor so I can’t really comment and I put my wife and will put my son into lessons when he gets to the slope age (2? :) ) but it seems to me there are a lot of instructors and resources who can give you the knowledge offline, but there is no way to apply it without practical, on-the-snow time.

        Edit: Isn’t January learn to ski or ride month? Plus they have incentives across the Northeast and I think across the country for “bring a friend day” and other tasks like that.

        • Exactly! If they have the knowledge, the only way to apply it is on the snow. The only way to get on the snow is with a lift ticket and the only way to get a lift ticket is to buy it.

          Give people the knowledge and they’ll want to use it which generates revenue.

    • Madeline Rockwell

      Yes, people who are tuned in know that extreme skiing is, well, extreme. But, and this is a big but, a major target for creating new skiers is the mother of 2.4 children, and if she’s timid, her reaction to cliff jumpers is “I don’t want my kid ever doing THAT. Let’s go to Disney world.”

      People who are turned on by extreme photos are already sold on the sport. We need to aim at those who may become skiers. And in a lot of families, Mom is the one who makes that call…

  • Sam Mortensen

    The ski industry (nsaa) is so reluctant to change. It took 20+ years of snowboards before ski companies started changing their technology. I used to give the old guys a hard time for skiing on Big Kahunas. Now, everybody does. Snowboarders climbed in snowshoes, then approach ski’s, then FINALLY the split board (we were making split boards in the garage in 2002). My point is, the ski industry is just stubborn and hard headed. They are never willing to change, and now they find themselves losing participation, fighting high costs, and losing small privately owned areas. Brilliant article Greg!!!

  • Evan Reece

    I love this topic, and you obviously have hit quite a nerve given the response rate. We talk about lesson infrastructure often within our walls (obviously outside looking in since we are not instructors, so take these comments with a grain of salt). One potential area of discussion is to change the success metric of a lesson program away from proficiency and towards an overall positive experience. While some people who enter our sport do so because they aspire to technical proficiency, most try it for the first time because they aspire to the (fun, inclusive) experience we push in our marketing material. Too much focus on proficiency means newcomers are inundated with comments on the canting angle of their knee as opposed to comments on how they can enjoy themselves more. It is arguably more important for instructors to be high quality customer service “hosts” than for them to have high technical ability.

    • Great, great point, Evan. I honestly had never even considered this but it makes a ton of sense. If we “kept score” in skiing, then absolutely proficiency would be the name of the game as it is in tennis or golf or whatever. And surely, proficiency can and does impact the enjoyment of skiing, but if the first goal is that joy, let’s make that the measuring stick. Well said.

    • Adam

      Love the idea that lessons should align with the overall experience being pushed by marketing messaging. I hope I can speak for most instructors/coaches with experience: if you’re students aren’t having fun, the lesson won’t be successful. In fact, Fun ties into the larger mantra adopted by PSIA/AASI: Safety, Fun & Learning. The cant angles you talk about fall under learning and these should never be mentioned in a lesson unless that person is technical in nature or a highly developed skier looking to fine tune their pole plants.

    • Bryan Thomson

      Full Agreement Here! I teach in the adaptive/disabled market at Mammoth and what I’ve learned is that the technical is important because without a functional skiing technique then the questions of “how is this student going to get down safely?” is critical to lesson success. Terrain selection is HUGE including crowds, necessary trail merges, overall terrain steepness, is the student going to ‘feel’ safe on a particular trail, and are their egos bigger than their potential ability, ei: they get in over their heads on steep, crowded, or difficult snow and you have to rescue them therefore making the lesson not enjoyable.

      But it’s all about the delivery of you technical knowledge and you’re decisions to give them the most enjoyable lesson they can imagine. You don’t have to get down to canting, angles in the body, or any other high level jargon. Instructors have to be great people readers to find out what the student(s) really, at their core, want, how they learn best, and what kind of instructor teaching method they learn best. (Examples: Determine Goals-Adjusts as the lesson goes on; Thinker, Doer, Feeler, Watcher, a combination, or Multiple Intelligences if you want to get that technical; and a Dictator, Collaborative, Problem Solver, Buddy, Coach, etc.)

      The truest thing I’ve discovered is that instructors are in the service industry. So we have to service our clients needs and not are own to say at the end of the day, “my students went down the black diamond today, hahaha.” Instructor’s egos have to be non-existent the second we step on the snow. Students need to, in this order, Be Safe, Have Fun, then Learn something. If we don’t deliver in that order then the students won’t have a enjoyable lesson and come back to ski or snowboard again.

  • Greg Wright

    Classic. We did all of this when I was at Sierra at Tahoe:

    First timer pass – 3 first time lessons (beginner lifts only) and once you complete those (and only after) you now have a season pass. It was under $400. And yes the season pass was for all lifts. I think we converted a crap ton of snowboarders to skiing via this (scamming gone good/bad).

    Free lessons – intermediate and above only. Every day twice a day.

    Full day ticket/first time lesson trade – if someone bought a full day ticket and tried to teach themselves (or be taught by a friend) you could bring that ticket into ski school (once you realized the error of your ways) and take a full day lesson.

    Beginner only trails – complete with gentle berms to help initiate turns.

    And you know what the most effective method was? Tubing. Yep. Sliding down the snow doesn’t have to be PSIA/Perfect Turn certified. So yes, ski school is killing growth because it’s a major profit center (gotta keep growing that), PSIA is dated, and as Evan said – PSIA is too much about “keeping score.”

    It’s about fun. Tubing is fun. Tubing makes a crap load of money. Tubing is easy. Tubing requires almost no gear. Tubing is the gateway drug (as is sledding). Get people hooked on sliding down the snow. Then slowly introduce them to controlled sliding. Or don’t. Let them be happy tubing.

    • Greg, awesome feedback. Thanks a ton for the the comment. Crazy you did all of that at one resort. Seems you hear one or two things tried here and there but not a full on attack. Did any one of those work better than others at enticing non-skiers up the mountain?

      And you mentioned tubing again. I honestly hadn’t thought of it like that until your Facebook post the other day. I don’t know if it was foreshadowing (I didn’t start skiing until I was 12) or just a hyper kid looking for a challenge, but every time I went sledding as a kid, I was guaranteed to try standing up on the sled at least once before we were done.

      I haven’t heard anyone try to progress tubers to ski school, but see no reason why it couldn’t be done.

      • Greg Wright

        The best at enticing non-skiers was the tubing hill. We added a lane, still at capacity. Added another lane, again to capacity. I honestly think you could turn half of all beginner trails on a mountain into tubing lanes and you’d sell out. Otherwise the full day ticket/lesson trade seemed to be the best at “saving the conversion.” Otherwise it’s all about getting groups (church, college, teams) to come up as a group outing and stick them on the tubing hill. And I’m with you – someone needs to come up with a tubing/lesson combo where half way through the day people can choose to try putting on the boots/binders and hopping in a first timer lesson.

  • Harald Harb

    Welch Village is already doing it!!

    • We’ve talked about quite a bit. What specifically is “it” in this case, Harald? Thanks!

      • Peter Zotalis

        We at Welch Village are no longer affiliated in any way with PSIA and the American Teaching System. We are a licensed PMTS Direct Parallel Ski School. Below is an article that SAM Magazine asked me to write this past spring summarizing our first season.,%20Ma,%20No%20Wedge.pdf

        • Very interesting, Peter. Thanks for sharing that. I especially like that Harald has shared many of his lessons on YouTube. That’s really the crux of what I’m getting at: freeing the knowledge we’ve kept locked inside pay-to-play ski schools (PSIA is just one example) for decades could be a catalyst for growth.

          • Peter Zotalis

            PSIA is just one example but it’s the largest catalyst for the lack of growth in my opinion. This is exactly why we no longer use traditional teaching methods (PSIA via ATS) because they are ineffective when compared to PMTS Direct Parallel. PSIA is a national organization that attempts to offer a cookie cutter solution to a widely diverse group of instructors, guests, demographics, and business models etc. etc.. It’s a potluck approach that lacks a logical system for learning. Yes, price, marketing, communication, social media, youtube etc. are all factors. But at the end of the day, the system of teaching guests how to use their “shaped” skis in a clear and guest-centered way is what brings people back. In my opinion, you don’t convert someone for life my teaching them how to wedge down a hill with shaped skis. Shaped skis are designed to not-wedge (tip and carve); not to wedge. A wedge does the opposite of what the side cut of a shaped ski was designed to do. That’s a fundamental flaw of the “national standard” teaching system that may seem small but has long lasting effects.

  • Tom Horrocks

    As long as LTS and LTR are considered “profit centers” by resorts, the sport will never grow. It’s kind of like smoking pot – did you pay for it the first time you got high? Didn’t think so. Not that pot smoking is for everyone, but at least there is no money down to give it a try.
    We need to take this approach in the ski business, let folks get in the door for free. Just imagine the life spend of of a 10-year-old kid vs. a 40-year-old man who can afford a $129 LTS package. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at the data and understand that the life spend of the kid far out weighs the life spend of a 40-year-old. We need to stop tripping over the dollar to grab the quarter folks.

    • Well said, Tom!

    • Paul Markert

      well said

    • FWIW, I skied more in college then I did in the few years after college. Primarily because of cost. In college I could get a season pass for < $300. Once I graduated, got a real job, and began accruing "adult" expenses (rent, etc.) the $$ for skiing washed up until a few years had gone by and I had moved up sufficiently to be able to afford to ski again (without quite literally going into debt to do so).

    • Ski School Director

      Tom NAILED IT !!!!!! The schools are forced by management and the corporate shareholders who are looking for certain returns and annual dividends to work with margins that approach 70% in some cases. Litigation has driven many of the ways we approach teaching and staff training. Go ask a Ski School trainer if it is “ok” to teach someone to fall. I’ll bet you get NOPE! Teach them how to get up? Sure all day but no advice on falling cause we will get sued. When resorts stop looking at the next 3 years of $$$ from the school and look at the long term investment in skiers/riders and allow the schools to focus on education THEN we will see more numbers learning and staying with the sport. I don’t fault the schools but rather the greed of stockholders who don’t care about the sport just the ROI.

  • Rick Putnam

    I see lots of comments about small resorts that offer some type of free lesson package. That’s great, but nothing will really change until the big guys join in. When Vail Resorts and Interwest areas start offering free lessons, then it will have an effect. But it isn’t just lessons… Tickets at big resorts are over $100 a day! Even when they are only 24% open! Equipment isn’t cheap (though deals can be found) either.

    The simple fact is that “the industry” as a whole still wants to keep skiing and snowboarding rich and white.

    I am a certified instructor who also gives it away from free (over 5 million lessons given so far).

    • That’s what I’m talking about…freeing the knowledge. Nice work!

  • It appears that I’m extremely late to the conversation, with many good comments / posts being made already below. But what they heck, I’ll throw in my 2 cents.

    As someone who grew up learning in lessons and eventually
    made the transition into being a ski / snowboard instructor and now evaluator I agree that our industry / approach needs a good hard look & likely re-boot to help bring “back” the popularity (and profitability) of the sport(s).

    A couple things that I’ve seen work extremely well are:

    Floating instructors – someone pointed out that their resort
    has someone on the beginner hill and that’s an awesome thing to have. At one resort they took it to the eventual next level and had their instructors (whom they were paying but not teaching a lesson) all over the hill helping out. This allowed for more advanced lessons & tips and I saw a few “blue boomers” and “park rats” choose to take a full lesson following the free tips.

    Focused based lessons – Maybe this is a snowboard thing
    (which is my preferred method of going down the hill) but few people actually want to learn how to “carve a pencil line down the hill” what they want to know is how to do 360 or ride a rail. At Mt. Washington we ran ½ & day camps that focused 100% on riding that type of terrain. It wasn’t just a “or you could take a park lesson” but a “Hey, check out this really really cool camp with XYZ coach that will teach you ABC”

    Finally, I think our largest area of improvement is…SCHOOL
    TEACHING. Every day throughout the winter the biggest client base that comes to the hill Mon – Fri are school kids. We have hundreds if not thousands of potential lifers, but we give them the worst equipment / lessons, trying to rush them out the door & out of the lesson as quickly as possible. If we want to see growth in our industry, we need to improve this massive profit center –refocusing it on creating lifetime skiers and snowboarders.

    • Love the floating instructors idea. And great point on the school teaching element. I think with crowds and kids the instrinct is just what you said, get em in and out so we don’t waste time because time is money.

      When, the correct perspective may be to see these kids as they are: potential season passholders with their families in 25 years.

  • Skieo

    I’m seeing, over a 2 week ski break, 1000 kids enrolled on this ‘rolling carpet’ so the kids, and parents, don’t ‘waste money’ on that boring first ski lesson on snow. (Perhaps some ‘destination resorts’ should ditch the 3D cinema and a fake “Fijian Lagoon” for something like this.

    • Crazy stuff. That looks as enjoyable to me as training for a marathon on a treadmill, but people do it so why not learn to ski on a carpet :)

  • Harald Harb

    It’s not the price or availability of the first time experience that’s the deterrent. There are plenty of first timers coming out for lessons, it’s “retention” of those first time participants that’s the issue. Even the ski industry’s own reports show, it’s about the effective lesson not happening. If 1.5 first timers out of 10, ever return to the sport, it has to do with what is being taught and whether or not it was fun enough to pay the big next step price, which is: skis, boots, travel, ski clothes, seasons passes, or lift tickets, a minimum $2000 entry level package. Skiing is a commitment and you have to sacrifice and dedicate yourself before it becomes fun. This means by normal standards, it requires at least three or four lessons to become reasonably proficient. Most first timers experience results only in a one time lesson that didn’t work. The ski instruction industry has to look internally, for solutions, resort marketing departments can’t keep producing the way they have, while the results aren’t forth coming from the lessons.

    • Peter Zotalis

      This is exactly why we no longer use traditional teaching methods (PSIA via ATS) because they are ineffective when compared to PMTS Direct Parallel. PSIA is a national organization that attempts to offer a cookie cutter solution to a widely diverse group of instructors, guests, demographics, and business models. It’s a potluck approach that lacks a logical system for learning. Yes, price, marketing, communication, social media are all factors. But at the end of the day, the system of teaching guests how to use their “shaped” skis in a clear and guest-centered way is what brings people back. In my opinion, you don’t convert someone for life my teaching them how to wedge down a hill with shaped skis.

  • pelecypod

    Here’s a program I would like to see.

    I live in the flatland and participate in my local ski club. Through our club, I would like to offer a one-week ski trip for novice adults. This is a way to get more, younger, adults to join our club and get them into snowsports. I want to begin a couple of months before the trip by sending weekly e-mail tips to prepare the group and to build excitement. I’d like to have a social event or two so the group can build some camaraderie before we leave. A week or so before we depart, I’d like to teach them about gear and equipment. I’d like to get through as many basics as possible before we even arrive at the resorts. Once there, I’d like to give the group a full one-day lesson, then set them free. They could then take more lessons from the resort, or just go out on their own.
    What I’d like to see is resorts offering an ambassador program to people like me (in the flatland cities). Teach me how to teach a one-day introductory class, and give me the materials and advice I need to really build our club and introduce people in our community to snowsports.

Get the weekly digest.

New stories, ideas, and jobs delivered to your inbox every Friday morning.

Take the 2018 ski resort social media marketing survey→