Experts warn of changes in the resort, ski industry |

Experts warn of changes in the resort, ski industry

Photo by Ryan Salm/Sierra SunDr. Robert Kriegel speaks to a full house at the Mountain Travel Symposium at the Resort at Squaw Creek on Wednesday.

Innovate or die was the message that Robert Kriegel brought to hundreds of mountain resort executives Wednesday at the largest annual ski industry conference, held this year in Tahoe.

“Giants have become dinosaurs because their thinking hasn’t changed,” cautioned Kriegel, the best-selling author of books such as “Inner Skiing” and “Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers.”

In the intensely competitive recreation industry, mountain resorts have to be constantly changing to keep from falling behind, Kriegel said. He was the keynote speaker at the Mountain Travel Symposium at the Resort at Squaw Creek that focused on the evolution of mountain recreation.

“Competition is fierce for the recreation dollar,” Kriegel said.

Giving examples of companies like Pan American Airlines, Plymouth Automotive and Western Union, Kriegel noted that being at the top of the industry one day does not guarantee success in the future.

“Everybody knew their name,” said Kriegel. “Everybody knew their product, and what happened?”

It wasn’t all gloom and doom at the Mountain Travel Symposium, which brings together ski, lodging and recreation employees from across the country to hear from some of the leading minds in business innovation. But there was a definite sense that the ski industry is at a pivotal time in its history.

Skier visits have been stagnant over the last year, and many resorts are branching into real estate development and four-season recreation to bolster profits.

During this diversification it is important not to lose sight of the ski industry’s core customer, said David Perry, a senior vice president for marketing for Aspen Skiing Company.

Resorts must combat “resort Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.

“That’s when you slowly forget what made you great in the first place,” Perry said.

Perry is one of the architects who helped guide an image transformation for Aspen, Colo.

Already a town known for its high-priced shopping, allure to celebrities and upscale amenities, Aspen has worked to add a youthful edge ” bringing the Winter X-games and various music and jibbing events to the mountains around town.

“When I got to Aspen we realized that Aspen needed an extreme makeover, because it was really one dimensional,” Perry said.

Perkins Miller, a senior vice president for Intrawest, said the ski industry can learn a lot from surfing culture, which dominated outdoor recreation in the 1960s and ’70s, but then crashed in the 1980s.

“We’re at a bit of a crossroads with all the mountain improvements and real estate,” said Miller. “Do we really know who we are?”

Miller noted that the surf industry, which had cultivated a lifestyle of independence, became a caricature of itself by the 1980s. The same thing is beginning to happen to the ski and snowboard industry, said Miller, as he showed a clip of the recent movie “Out Cold” that featured a jacked-up H1 Hummer rolling down a mountain street with license plates that read “SnowBizz.”

“We have this collection of farse and stereotype around the business,” Miller said.

The ski industry needs to embrace a sense of mystery and adventure that attracts people to the mountains, he said.

The Mountain Travel Symposium also held workshops on how to refine the speakers’ ideas and put them into practice at mountain resorts around the nation. The symposium ends on Friday.

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