I’ll get right to the point. Two points, actually.
First, small skiing is in trouble. If we lose it, according to Bill Jensen, we’ll lose those small ski areas and their skier visits forever.
— Dave Amirault (@ozskier) January 28, 2015
Second, we all need skiing to grow (or at least stay flat). And while gear brands really do some great things to help, a good chunk of the burden (both figuratively and financially) falls to resorts to turn some of their terrain into learning areas, staff a ski school, use marketing budget to promote, and try to both make a profit and teach people to ski at the same time.
In other words, all resorts shift at least some focus away from a likely more profitable product to help grow skiing.
So my question is, what if gear brands had a clear outlet to do the same?
The News, the Pattern
A couple weeks ago some very interesting news broke.
— Shane Benjamin (@Shane_Benjamin) September 22, 2016
The owner of Purgatory, James Coleman, had purchased a tiny ski area near Durango that is HEAVILY dependent on weather and has struggled for years.
Tough weather, struggling, tiny?
Not exactly a prime investment, which is exactly my point. This is NOT an investment in the typical sense. This is about keeping a small ski area afloat to preserve the local feeder system. This is more about the health of skiing as an industry than the health of their short-term bottom line.
“But wait,” you say, “I thought ski resorts were a really, really tough business to run in the first place? How do they have room to bear the risk and losses of small ski areas with their huge weather dependcy, overhead costs, and fixed inventory?”
To which I say, again, exactly.
What if it wasn’t just ski resorts that were turning small ski areas into “for the good of the industry” marketing expenses? What if it was also gear brands who, despite being tough businesses as well, are also a bit more insulated from the volatility of ski seasons?
I don’t know if any retail brand is willing to go this big, but even if they got a seat at the table by becoming stakeholders in a small ski area I think three really intriguing things would happen.
#1) A New Era of Ski Brand Retail
First, I think gear brands would go to what they know best – selling products to people with few geographic restrictions – in order to minimize any losses. Meaning we’d see perhaps the first major, national, retail push by a ski brand which is something I’ve always hoped a resort would try.
#2) Radical Ideas in Ski Area Management
With less concern about trying to “turn an ROI” and lacking the traditional management structure of other areas, I think we’d see some really cool things happen that, again, plays to the strengths of retail brands. This outside-the-box thinking could teach traditional areas some innovative ways to operate and turn a profit.
#3) More Brands Following Suit
I really believe that if a Salomon or Burton stepped up to the plate and put money and time and people into the health of the small skiing feeder ecosystem, you’d start to see other brands do the same. It may be nothing more than hefty sponsorship packages, but a hefty sponsorship package could be the difference between life and death for some small areas.
It’s a crazy idea, I know. But here it is, for the world to see.
Outdoor gear isn’t a healthcare or banking or tech cash cow by any stretch, but I’d love to see more of them take a few of those dollars that exist because of industry growth and put them back into the system for the good of everyone.
A marketer can dream, can’t he?
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