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How 52 marketers predicted the 5-year result of ski resort consolidation.

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Yesterday I covered the bulk of the responses from the consolidation survey.

Today, I want to wrap things up with your predictions. I was a bit surprised by the collective outlook of the group, but I’ll follow up with more thoughts at the bottom.

The Predictions
As a reminder, the question was, “It’s the summer of 2023 (five years from now), describe what you think the ski industry will look like. What will be the same? What will be different?” Here’s what you said.

A few more areas will be owned by Vail and Alterra. Boyne and Powdr might be a bit bigger. There will still be plenty of independents.

More non-ski activities and a broader resort experience where skiing is one of many things that visitors do on vacation.
healthy balance between ski corporations and independents

I think climate change will continue to destroy winter seasons for certain markets, usage will go down, skiing will continue to remove itself from the mainstream as boomer generation fades.

Biggering will continue. Business is business and business must grow. Pass rates will increase as competition is either bought or closes shop. Those not part of Vail/Alterra will have to be scrappy to get visitation as it will inevitably consolidate around the idea of more is better season passes.

I think another dozen or so (maybe more) small ski areas won’t survive. Between rising temps, massive fluctuations in snow seasons and monsters like Vail and the Epic Pass will cause this.

Consolidation poses the threat of comoditizing the mountain experience. When experience is no longer unique, resorts will only be able to compete on price

Most likely we will have Epic Pass and the Ikon Pass- and their portfolios of resorts will have expanded even further, to include the majority of ski resorts in North America.

Similar, stronger (rising at usual pace of growth), hopefully smaller resorts and day-use areas will still be strong and thriving.

Vail will continue adding resorts to their portfolio while other holdouts continue to team up to stay competitive. Smaller resorts fall by the wayside, while quirky independent businesses are replaced by more lucrative chains. Consumer decision making is reduced to buying the most appropriate bulk product, rather than buying the best experience. Customer loyalty programs take the place of actual product research and taking a chance on a new experience becomes risky and financially unviable. Monotony and holiday crowds drive interest in the sport down. I may be pessimistic but I’ve seen the Vail effect first hand, and I don’t like the end result.

Today, we’re in the in-between time. 20 years ago, we had an independently-owned drive-in or hamburger joint in every town. In five years, ski will look like burgers did a few years ago: 95% McDonald’s and Burger King. But notice that what once looked like the inevitable dominance and homogenization of the McDonald’s idea of a burger has given way to a new evolution characterized by Five Guys, In and Out, SmashBurgher, and a resurgence of independent places. I predict the same in ski. First Vail and Alterra take over the industry, then the homogeneity of the experience leads to a few resorts capitalizing on a portion of the audience’s desire for a unique/quirky/authentic experience, and that ushers in a new era of change. The only question is what kind of timescale is needed for an industry like ski.

I think it will be roughly the same. There will be one to three large multi mountain national pass product. There will be fewer smaller areas, but there will still be many thriving on different models targeting families, affordability, and a unique mountain character.

Some think that a repeat of the VRI, Intrawest, ASC, Booth Creek break-ups may happen. Hopefully, not and the operators look to the past to retweak their plans for the future. Maybe some of the smaller resort holders/owners combine forces and become bigger players but with the smaller properties…like MCP…

We will be spending $2k for two passes that get us EVERYWHERE

3 large players owning 95% of all skiable acres in the US.

[VR/ALT] The two major players are even bigger.

Small places will go out of business or hurt a lot as the weather demands more investment in conditions quality. Big multi-resort companies will be able to ride out bad weather more easily with multiple locations and regions of ski areas.

Park City, TX

Boyne or Powdr stepping up to purchase more resorts for their portfolios. Vail and Alterra purchasing continues as well. Pass perks such as Powder Alliance and Mountain Collective die out as consolidation continues. Independent resorts will need great marketing plans to express their uniqueness and make a statement through the noise of Vail and Alterra. (Monarch did a great job of this last winter.) Hopefully a new focus on sustainability for winter. Summer operations become even more key for resorts to offer.

More resorts will be consolidated, More small local resorts will be struggling and on the bring of closing for good.

Indoor ski resorts. And I just left VR – no option for that in question below.

Skiing passes will be more affordable mountains will have seen lots of upgrades across the board. I also believe the little guys or counter Vail/Alterra style resorts will see an uptick as people that don’t prefer the big brands will ski there. I also think some ski areas will go out of business

Less mom and pop ski areas

Fewer independent ski areas. Driving down skier participant numbers.

Similar trends to what is being seen now. Extreme weather will continue to create headlines and worry, but skiing will go on.

I’m an uninformed outsider. But I’m enjoying your surveys. Looking at an industry I do know, media and telecommunications, consolidation is inevitable. It allows you to reduce overall operational costs and gain leverage in capital assert acquisitions. But the dark side will show once smaller non-affiliated resorts lose business and fail. I think we’ll see higher prices and slowed investment. Then likely conglomerates shedding off less profitable hills. And the cycle starts again.

Fewer resorts

There will continue to be major players and small resorts. Some smaller resorts may have suffered, others will grow as some people are priced out of the ski market. Resorts will continue to focus on summer development as winters continue to be a challenge.

Slightly more consolidated but hopefully not too much so. Maybe a few more ski hills close their doors if there are a couple tough winters.
Vail and Alterra will pick up a couple more resorts each year and will start to redevelop the base areas with more hotel rooms they own and resort-owned restaurants and shops. Passes will be a few hundred bucks a year more because they are only competing against each other and we will continue to pay for them.

Same signage and branding within all resorts that are part of the big 2. All resorts either merged or part of an alliance.
Telluride still independent! Woop woop.

We’ll have another five to eight percent in reduction of overall skier visits as season pass products continue to isolate newcomers.

There will be less diversity and, I suspect, fewer jobs in areas like marketing. It makes sense financially to have one centralised team for those kinds of positions but I think there’s something that will be lost about having a team on the ground. It seems we’re heading for a more homogeneous industry for sure, which is sad even if it’s necessary.

[VR/ALT] 3 major players and a few indys just holding on.

[VR/ALT] Bike Parks will come second to ziplines, adventure centers, mountain coasters and etc.

Small ski areas will be forced to close.

Someone has introduced a virtual pass that allows you to experience skiing and practice trails before / instead of visiting. Live snow webcams on mtn will be replaced by virtual cams for better perspective. There will be very few (if any) smaller or family owned resorts left in N America. Resorts will continue to diversify and expand into four season activity centers.

Both major conglomerates will go through a downturn, but will still exist in similar size/scope as they do now. A third player will emerge to water things down a bit, some smaller destinations will really be struggling to exist (if at all), and lots of other folks will have been bought/sold in various ways. Ticket sales at the window will be a fraction of overall lift revenue for a majority of companies.

Middle size resorts especially those in more central and southern will continue to struggle with some closing
We will have had 3 bad years in the past 5. Some California mom n pop resorts finally close due to too many bad snow years.

Same: the thrill and chill of the hill, Different: More money required to expand snowmaking capacity

I am worried to say that there will be less ski areas and possibly less annual skier visits

Pricing models will have shifted, potentially more layers to the pass product so that it can be more accessible to certain groups? Not much will change, except probably more consolidation – and not out of a desire to consolidate, but as defeat when any resort not included in the pass wars can no longer compete.

[VR/ALT] Rob Katz owns everything. One thing I am looking forward to is the push to become more environmental friendly. Technology will need to improve in lifts, transportation and deff snowmaking

I think that the resorts that are independent and have the resources to invest and present a similar experience as Vail / Alterra from an infrastructure standpoint, will be fine. The ones that don’t and have old or deferred maintenance will suffer.

Some of B. Jensen’s prediction will come true.. down to 375 resorts.

Not much will be the same. Ten % reduction in number of resorts in North America. Cost of skiing will be much higher. Independent resorts with a strong brand will thrive if they can fend off takeover bids. Season passholders who are part of a “consolidated” family of resorts will wait longer to book waiting for strong indications of where the snow will be. Resorts with snow will be more (over) crowded and with dynamic ticket pricing the price at the window for a day ticket will skyrocket even though the on hill experience may not justify it. All this will continue the trend of fewer skiers skiing more.

What am I, Donald Trump? Your guess is as good as mine.

Higher pricing due to consolidation and more efficient operational processes

Different: the HHI of participants will be even higher than it is today. Same: we’ll be struggling with weather

Here is the biggest prediction by far:

  • A handful of ski resorts will end up closing as a result

One of my concerns over all this was Vail’s lack of focus on growing skiing. In other words, they are letting feeder resorts, in large part, do what they do best. But if feeder resorts start dying – and the possibility for affordable tickets/lessons with them – that’s a one-two punch that will only exacerbate that problem.

Now What
It’s been said that you should never complain about a problem (to your boss, etc.) unless you have a solution. Here’s where my brain is at with a solution.

Consolidation will happen. It will continue to happen. It likely won’t slow down for a while. Our biggest threat may be the chance of smaller resorts closing and losing the new skiers and lower-income demographics along with them. So, maybe while your resort is still independent you should do something about that with the hills near you that may be in danger:

  • A partnership that gives them much-needed marketing reach
  • A hand-me-down piece of equipment
  • Volunteer time during the off-season
  • A joint marketing campaign
  • Selling co-branded gear in your store (with proceeds going to them)

I dunno what the exact right thing is, but if we can’t slow down this wave, maybe we should do something about the debris we all seem to think it’s gonna leave in its wake.

About Gregg & SlopeFillers
I've had more first-time visitors lately, so adding a quick "about" section. I started SlopeFillers in 2010 with the simple goal of sharing great resort marketing strategies. Today I run marketing for resort ecommerce and CRM provider Inntopia, my home mountain is the lovely Nordic Valley, and my favorite marketing campaign remains the Ski Utah TV show that sold me on skiing as a kid in the 90s.

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