Vail taps young Midwest market to fill its bigger resorts


By Andrea Petersen, Wall Street Journal

Vail Resorts has come up with a novel way to combat the leveling off of skiing’s popularity: buying up little Midwestern hills.

The goal is to hook families on the sport at spots close to home and groom them for vacations at the company’s pricier Western mountains like Canyons Resort in Utah and Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado. Vail Resorts has already bought resorts in Minnesota and Michigan and spent $20 million to renovate and upgrade them.

It is a long-term strategy, says Rob Katz, Vail Resorts Inc.’s chief executive. “There are kids in those [Midwestern] markets whose parents may not ski — maybe they are 12. If we can make a connection with that kid, we have a great opportunity to keep him in our family as he gets older and begins making his own decisions about where he is going to travel,” he says.

Skiing and snowboarding are looking to attract younger participants to replace aging baby boomers. The percentage of skiers and snowboarders ages 24 and younger fell to 22.8 percent in the 2012-13 ski season, down from 30.6 percent in 1997-98, according to a survey of visitors to 88 U.S. resorts by the National Ski Areas Association, a trade group. During the same stretch, the percentage of people ages 45 to 54 increased to 19.8 percent, up from 14 percent.

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Comments (3)
  1. observer says - Posted: January 26, 2014

    Vail obviously believes in a soon to be seen recovering economy.

    I hope they are right, but I am not optimistic.

    I admire their plan and forethought in market building, but I am concerned there may be those believing their own malarkey and optimistically loaded spreadsheets to justify continuing to spend money in acquisitions, especially of ski hills in the mid-west.

    Job justification?

    Baby boomers have a considerable amount of money, as many are retired/retiring under plans that were funded from industry, or were government workers before all the current underfunded issues came to light. But it is no surprise that Boomer ski participation is going to drop drastically. For instance, I know a state CA employee recently retired who is making about $6500.month in her total retirement package. But she is also 69 years old, frail and is not going to be skiing. She doesn’t even own a home, having downsized to control costs.

    As the Boomers die, and we are doing so at an increasing frequency (from too much high living?) that money and skiing participation in skiing will diminish significantly.

    A good analog for the situation might be to Look at the number of RVs ( e.g. motor homes, travel trailers, boats) that are not selling these days. Boomers are becoming too old or cannot afford the expense on fixed incomes, and younger generations cannot afford the cost due to high unemployment rates and low wages.

    Recent statistics from many sources clearly show that the younger generations do not have discretionary incomes that easily support the costs of high end sports. Skiing has been for several years bordering on an elitest, rich persons activity.

    These young people are showing economic stress in many well documented ways, including falling numbers of them getting drivers licenses,getting married, buying cars and houses etc.

    There is hope but no real evidence that the incomes of the 25 to 35 year old people are going to suddenly or even gradually increase.

    The midwest has not really been a high income area (with some new anomalies like the North Dakota oil boom) and it may be difficult to get economically stressed parents to haul their 11 and 12 year olds to ski areas often enough create many enthusiasts.

    My kids were in Buddy Werner and similar learn to ski programs and did become enthusiastic frequent skiers. But when Mom and Dad quit paying the bills, guess what? Ski days fell to a fraction of previous times and remain so because student loans, housing, transportation all exact their toll. The 100 buck a day costs have a very negative incentive.

    At any rate…

    Good Luck Vail!

    Hope your crystal ball is different than mine.

  2. BlowoutBob says - Posted: January 26, 2014

    “The family did, however, spend plenty of cash at the resorts: Mr. Markert recalls a $50 snack bill for “a few things of french fries and Cokes” and a $200 lunch bill”

    “Vail renovated Mt. Brighton’s bars and restaurants with sleek décor and more upscale dining (a pizza oven, for example). “It was really a brown-bag operation” before, says John Garnsey, president, global mountain development at Vail Resorts. “People brought their own food.””

    Good to see Vail doing their part to price more and more people out of skiing every year!
    A brown bag place? Heavens no!!

  3. Perry R. Obray says - Posted: January 28, 2014

    Apparently Vail is going after resorts near big populations. They upgrade these bunny slopes for a better experience for a small percentage of that areas population. Then that small percentage goes onto the big mountain in the west with no lift ticket fees as the pass is already paid for. Somebody might have done some great homework on demographics.