Ski industry veteran Bob Ackland, one of four partners in Elevation Resources, a new ski resort consultancy consortium, calls what is happening in the Northeast ski industry “a seismic shift.” And he warns that some of the changes he and his company are looking at will have long term implications that resorts need to address.
Ackland has partnered with fellow ski industry veteran Dave Dillion, businessman Dave Esty and researcher James Chung. He recently made a presentation at the Winter Sports Summit at Sunday River, ME, entitled “The Changing Landscape of the Northeast Ski Area Marketplace.” It highlighted the changes - some dramatic - in demographics, income configurations, outdoor recreation trends and real estate values in the Northeast ski area communities.
Much of the changing landscape is familiar territory to those in the business. Skiers/riders are getting older, skiing’s retention rate is miserable, much of the population growth in the coming years will be among minorities, the real estate boom has gone bust.
“Real estate isn’t dead, but it’s different,” Ackland said. Resorts are no longer selling an investment, but rather an experience and lifestyle. And younger groups – Gen X and Y - don’t connect with real estate development.
While a lot of lip service has been given to growing the sport, the name of the game for many has been stealing market share from other resorts. It’s important for people in the industry to work collaboratively to bring more people into the ranks, Ackland told TSIL. The question shouldn’t be how do I get more people at my resort, it should be how do I get them – the non-skiers – off the couch.
Ackland said that when resorts create value and reduce cost, they create “value innovation.” He cited Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass as an example of opening “new and uncontested market space.” There is a need to look not only at who your customer is, but who your non-customer is, Ackland said.
Ackland said that Pat’s Peak, NH is a good example of a resort that has capitalized on the changing forces facing the ski industry and specifically mentioned its POP – Pay One Price – program that offers skier and riders Saturday night tickets, rentals and on-hill tips. But he noted that while the program has brought lots of diversity to the slopes at Pat’s Peak, no one has reached out to bridge that program to larger areas.
Collaboration is key. “We’ve all gotta jump in this together,” Ackland said.