Ski industry officials: Social media, water access key to the future |

Ski industry officials: Social media, water access key to the future

OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. and#8212; More than 500 snow sports industry leaders from across the country descended on Squaw Valley for the National Ski Areas Associationand#8217;s winter conference and trade show this week.

Doing their best to overlook the dearth of snow in California, everyone seemed more focused on issues they can control, and trends they need to capitalize on to remain competitive.

One session, and#8220;Marketing in the Mobile Age,and#8221; has significant applications for ski and snowboard areas. More than half of all Americans have a mobile phone, and one can safely bet this percentage is much higher among skiers and snowboarders, said Pete Sonntag, vice president and general manager of Heavenly Mountain Resort

and#8220;There is no question technology and social media will play bigger roles in the ski industry as we move forward,and#8221; Sonntag said. and#8220;Our customers are demanding it, and I have to say itand#8217;s pretty cool to see industry veterans here working on smart phones and iPads.and#8221;

Technological trends gave way to demographic trends as the third annual and#8220;Conversion Cup Challengeand#8221; featured a lively discussion about the challenge the industry faces in converting first-year skiers and snowboarders into lifetime participants. Just 16 percent of those who try skiing or snowboarding stay with it for the long term, officials said.

And with 1.2 million new entrants each year, there is certainly opportunity to grow skiing and snowboarding to capture a larger portion of the 84 percent of first-timers who drop out after one season.

Progress has been made with this important entry-level group by investing heavily in grooming and snowmaking, Sonntag said, and by the addition of magic carpets on learner slopes and improving the quality of rental equipment.

and#8220;The beginner experience has to be an enjoyable one,and#8221; he said. and#8220;If we exceed the guestand#8217;s expectations at this level, we help secure our own future.and#8221;

Regardless of the future numbers of skiers and snowboarders, the long-term security of the ski and snowboard industry hinges on access to water. Water is essential to ski area operations and is arguably the scarcest resource in the arid West.

As competition for water resources continues to increase, lack of planning and forward vision can leave a ski area either paying too much for water or not having the water it needs for future operations.

And while itand#8217;s clear that there is no one answer or magic solution to the water issue, itand#8217;s also clear that in many cases ski and snowboard areas must have their own experts to help them stay on top of the complex legal questions that always accompany water rights.

On a lighter note, mountain operations managers from across the country are meeting at Squaw to discuss what the future holds for the next generation of terrain parks. Balancing innovation and safety and#8212; while also appealing to the younger, critical demographic of park users and#8212; was at the forefront of the discussion.

and#8220;Having 500-plus people attending the NSAA Winter Conference makes a huge statement about the optimism that exists in our industry right now,and#8221; added Heavenlyand#8217;s Sonntag. and#8220;There is a buzz here that even a late-starting winter canand#8217;t dampen.and#8221;

and#8212; Arn Menconi, executive director of Avon, Colo.-based youth non-profit SOS Outreach, is on the road attending a series of ski and snowboard industry tradeshows and conferences. The Sierra Sun will be publishing periodic reports from Menconi from the events, telling readers whatand#8217;s new and interesting in the world of snow sports. This dispatch comes from the National Ski Areas Association Winter Conference in Squaw Valley, which took place Jan. 17-19.

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