Model for Growth - Detailed

The NSAA Model for Growth grew out of NSAA's and RRC Associates' efforts to develop a method for critically analyzing the future of the ski/snowboard industry. A significant part of the analysis was to identify the obstacles that need to be overcome in order to grow the sports over the next 15 years. The Model quantifies the impact on skier visits of factors such as unfavorable demographic trends, increasing "time poverty" among a major portion of our population, and ongoing climate change. Also documented is the explosion of alternative leisure-time activities that range from golf, cruise ships and gaming to various types of international and domestic travel, amusement parks, sporting events, movies, and school-related activities that hinder the ability of families to travel during the winter. The initial value of the Model was its ability to both identify and quantify the impacts of these factors with respect to the ski industry, and to project what would happen over time were the industry to continue to operate as it has over the past 30 years.

At the risk of oversimplification, if individual resorts can focus attention on providing the best overall experience for guests new to the sport or, for that matter, those new to the resort, over time skier/snowboarder visits will grow substantially. As an industry, we convert only about 15 percent of first-timers into long-term participants. Individual areas should continue to improve the quality of their ski area operations, product improvements and marketing incentives. If they can add to these efforts, a renewed focused commitment to growing their first-time skiers and snowboarders by 6 percent annually and gradually improving the conversion rate from 15 percent to 25 percent, the industry can accomplish the overall turnaround that is badly needed.

Resorts have responded by developing a variety of "hardware" methods to combat these issues: state-of-the-art learning centers, ticket, lesson and equipment deals, increased attention to beginner equipment and employee incentives. In return, more first timers are trying snowsports. In fact, trial has actually maxed at a number of resorts near urban centers, especially during peak times. While these tangible efforts are encouraging, conversion ("software issues") has emerged as the predominant roadblock in the industry's ultimate goal of growing the sport by 10 percent. The intangible "psychology of conversion" and the "golden hour" between trial and conversion must be more effectively addressed.

Recognizing this, the next stage of the growth model study was developed. The program is designed to sustain the momentum created by the Model and to build upon its points to maximize resorts' ability to attract and, more importantly, convert new participants.

This stage will provide blueprints for resorts to dramatically improve their learn-to-ski/ride program quality and penetration by tapping into the industry's best ideas. These insights will be integrated with those of a consumer panel to test the effectiveness of both best practices and ideas. A monitoring process measuring the successes of these ideas will be developed and instituted in a manner by which all resorts may benefit.

A panel of key ski school managers and directors who have focused their efforts on creating innovative beginner programs, both alpine and snowboard, was created. Approximately 15 such individuals representing all regions were included. This panel met in July 2002 to probe learning programs and experiences to understand specifically what techniques and procedures worked best from a teaching and a conversion standpoint. Each major component of the lesson process and structure of the learning process was evaluated.

Additionally, a panel of recent consumers was separately convened. These consumer panels from various regions of the country were comprised of individuals that have recently completed a beginner lesson or package of lessons. This group had definite ideas of what worked for them and what did not, from a consumer point of view. Also, this group offered different perspectives on the new ideas and concepts developed by the first panel of professionals. The objective of this second panel was to systematically diagnose their recent learning experiences and test specific recommendations for improvement (generated by the professional panel).

The ideas and recommendations generated by the professionals and consumer groups were synthesized into a detailed conversion "cookbook" that was distributed to a limited number of test sites. Each of these test sites also received a procedural manual containing specific methods for evaluation of success via a combination of qualitative and quantitative research techniques. As the program is administered throughout the season, feedback will be obtained from the test site ski/boarding school managers, related personnel, and consumers to determine how well these programs perform.

A summary report at the conclusion of the season will evaluate the performance of these programs and offer suggestions for additional refinements. Relative successes among programs will continue to be monitored and resorts will be encouraged to customize and integrate new ideas into existing programs.

This will be an ongoing process. As more areas adopt the recommendations of the new learn-to-ski/ride programs, the monitoring and refinement process will be expanded accordingly. Ski school managers and instructors will again be brought into the evaluation process to provide organized feedback into how particular innovations have worked for students and what suggestions they might make to improve conversion. Similarly, program participants (new skiers/riders) will be contacted through surveys to provide specific feedback about best practices and their commitment to continue participating in snowsports.

The research will continue to focus on development of tracking methodology in order to measure success and clarify where the industry is in meeting its goals. If we can work cooperatively to communicate with one another our best learning practices and successes, and collectively strive to achieve the best initial experiences for new customers, we will succeed in our effort to dramatically improve on the number of people who will develop a love of snowsports.