Ski resorts taking a turn toward affordability | SierraSun.com

Ski resorts taking a turn toward affordability

Sun News Service file photoSki resorts are making things cheaper for skiers and snowboarders these days.
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Skiing has often been thought of as a sport geared toward an upper-income, middle-aged clientele. The price and exclusivity of the sport has made it nearly impossible for some families to get involved.

Until now.

According to Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, who spoke in Tahoe City last week, the industry is moving toward a new image, one of accessibility and affordability.

“Skiing’s never been more affordable than today, thanks to reduced season passes and discounted tickets,” Berry said. “The changes basically stem from an attitude change ” from one of resistance to one of acceptance.”

Nationwide, the average number of visitors to ski areas have increased over the last two decades.

In the 1980s, the average number of visitors per year was 48 million, in the 1990s, 52 million and since 2000, 56.6 million. In the mountain West ” California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Arizona ” 11.9 million people visited ski areas last season, up from 10.9 million the year before.

Berry credits the rise of participants on several factors, including older generations staying in the sport, more affordable lift tickets and the rising popularity of snowboarding and freestyle skiing for young people.

And he expects the sport to continue to grow.

“From a demographic perspective, North America is where snowsports are going to grow and be even bigger in 10 or 15 years than they are today ” and that’s a positive message,” he said.

In an attempt to combat such problems as limited numbers of beginner skiers to a heavy reliance on aging, wealthy skiers, ski areas around the country, including Tahoe, have taken new approaches to appeal to a younger and wider variety of customers.

All North Shore resorts participated in the learn-to-ski weekend two weeks ago, making it more inviting and inexpensive for beginners to test out the sport.

At Squaw Valley, they are trying to promote the resort’s beginner appeal.

“Squaw’s one of the places where our reputation is wrapped up in advanced terrain,” Katja Dahl, Squaw Valley spokeswoman, said. “What we struggle with is awareness that Squaw is also a great place to learn to ski.”

With a new beginner chairlift in the Papoose area and the return of their $79 first-time adventure package, which includes a lift ticket, ski rental and beginner lesson, Dahl said that prices may not be cheaper, but that beginner skiers and riders can get more value for their money.

In terms of attracting younger skiers, Dahl said that’s nothing new for Squaw.

“Squaw’s always been a very young place, so it doesn’t necessarily fit with the average ski area,” she said.

At Alpine Meadows, a similar transition is taking place. Thanks to their young adult pass and $39 ticket, the numbers of skiers and snowboarders, especially young ones, have increased almost exponentially in recent years.

“It’s not only the young pass and cheap day tickets, but a better park and pipe “-which a lot of youths who enter the sport are interested in ” that have brought more people to the area,” said Rachael Woods, public relations coordinator for Alpine, Soda Springs and Boreal.

Soda Springs, the small, family-oriented resort on Donner Summit, is also joining the ranks of mountains that offer alternative, affordable recreation to attract a broader customer base. This year, the mountain is offering Planet Kids, a snow play area with tubing, a snowtube carousel and miniature snowmobiles for young children ” all for less than $10.

“I really think Soda Springs is on to something,” Woods said. “It’s offering people a very user-friendly way to tap into snowsports.”

And at Boreal, the college pass and night riding make the resort’s terrain park particularly popular and convenient for local students.

Woods says all the Tahoe-area ski resorts are catching on to the national trend of reaching out to those who may not have had a chance to participate in the sport before.

“As an industry, we were so involved with competing with each other that we forgot to look outward to our customers and our potential customers and figure out how to entice them to try our sport,” Woods said. “But now, we have gotten much better. We’re more sensitive.”