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“When and where mom goes, the family follows.” Mary Jo Tarallo on Growing Skiing

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Originally published Aug 2013

This week and next I’m resurfacing five of the best posts to ever grace SlopeFillers’ pages. At the time I wanted perspectives and ideas on growing skiing, so I found an industry data guy, a pro skier, a former resort marketing rockstar, and a former industry association leader to answer 3-4 questions and paint a picture of what it will take to get skiing to grow.

Today is Mary Jo Tarallo. Mary Jo is the Executive Director of Learn to Ski and Snowboard month as well as the Bring a Friend initiative. A late addition to the “grow skiing week” lineup, Mary Jo has some of the best perspectives on what works and what doesn’t in terms of introducing people to skiing and getting them to come back over and over again.

Here’s what she had to say.

Gregg: What do you think is the biggest challenge for the ski industry in the next 10 years?
Mary Jo: The industry faces several challenges. First, it needs to better understand the casual skier or snowboarder which is the bulk of the market place. Only about 3 – 4 percent of the U. S. population participates. That means 96 – 97 percent do not. Second, industry research finds that the majority of newcomers are introduced to skiing and snowboarding by a friend or family member who already participates. The industry could find creative ways to reward current participants for bringing newcomers who want to learn. The important thing is for those newcomers to learn from trained professionals.

The changing demographics meaning a shrinking Caucasian population and an increasing Hispanic and Asian-American population are problematic. The current ski/snowboard population is overwhelmingly Caucasian. Fighting market share battles is counter productive. Creating new skiers and snowboarders IS productive.

Gregg: What do you think is the biggest opportunity for the ski industry in the next 10 years?
Mary Jo: Women make 80% of the buying decisions in a family – regardless of their background. If mom is convinced that skiing and snowboarding are good investments for her family then, chances are, the family will start skiing or snowboarding. The industry could do a better job of catering to this demographic and think through what steps can be taken to capture this lucrative market. When and where mom goes, the family follows.

Gregg: What will need to happen for skiing to gain momentum and start growing significantly?
Mary Jo: Collaboration among industry constituents is key. The industry is simply too small for collaboration NOT to happen. Everyone does not have to agree with everyone else but resorts, retailers, reps and suppliers can easily find ways, if they want to, to help each other. That collective effort will reap benefits. Each component plays an important role influencing newcomers. This may seem a bit naive but it is true. Smaller and local venues are excellent venues for those starting to ski or snowboard. Feeder areas are the entry to those on the path to learning. Most newcomers start out locally and then “graduate” to larger venues with additional amenities.

Gregg: What can marketers do now to start getting that ball rolling?
Mary Jo: The industry started a program called Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month and, more recently, Bring a Friend. These grassroots programs are intended to help marketers attract newcomers by providing a framework and template that can be adapted to any venue’s marketing plans. The goal is to motivate children and adults to learn how to ski or snowboard by taking lessons from professional instructors. This is one option that has been adapted by resorts and retailers in 34 states.

If this approach doesn’t appeal then marketers should define their goals and objectives, develop a strong plan based on budget with an eye toward nurturing their greatest asset – the current customer – to gain newcomers.

  • Jamie Schectman

    Mary Jo is spot on. Woman are normally the decision makers in most house holds but not marketed to. Additionally, I bet there is less than 5% of GM’s that are female.

    • Agreed. Other industries market to women much, much better than skiing does.

      • Madeline Rockwell

        But marketing to women, no matter how successful you are at it, is not enough. The trick is to make a best effort to have them enjoy their first attempt so they will come back. That’s where helpful advance information, good kid programs/child care, reasonable options for food, and learning opportunities that work for her. The biggie that can make or break the marketing effort for the whole family? Correctly fitted, female friendly boots. If Mom is in a large, stiff boot, the whole family is headed for a Carnival cruise next vacation ..

        • This is the first mention I have ever heard of fitted, female friendly boots. The fact that it’s a deal breaker makes me wonder why it hasn’t come up before. I take it Bromley caters to moms in that regard? How many resorts do you think do the same?

          • Madeline Rockwell

            There are women’s boots, and they really fit many women better than unisex (read, “men’s”) boots. What you really need is an area willing to invest in women’s boots, and a rental staff willing to take the time to measure feet and get it right the first time.

            How many rental shops ask for foot size and do not convert down 1.5-2 sizes for women? Beginners don’t know that their boots don’t fit, they just know that they hurt. Compound that if you have a woman with large, low calves. She says that the boots she was given are too tight around the top. So she gets even larger ones. A woman with a size 8 (mondo 24) foot is not going to have any fun in a stiff men’s 8 (mondo 26) boot. Even worse if she gets sized up.

            Fixing this will have costs, but turning a family of four into dedicated skiers should be worth the investment.

  • There are several resorts who focus on women as well as have several women in key positions. I work for one of them, Powdr.

    Also, I founded in 2008 to help address this issue and keep families on the mountain. Since this time, it has become the go-to community to help keep families on the slopes. i think we are doing our work.

    • Krista, any insight into why PC and Powdr seem to be one of the few that have taken that focus?

  • I totally agree Mary Jo! Women are far more active on Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, and almost exclusively on Pinterest). So they are the best “evangelists” for your message to their friends… let’s give her reasons to bring them to the slopes! One concept is to design your promotions with “handles” so they are easier to share, forward, vote, Like, comment, re-Tweet, enter, opt-in, play with, etc…

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