Ski Industry Chases Greater Profits

Vacation homes near Vail, Colo

hide captionVacation homes near Vail, Colo., sit within a shuttle ride to a chairlift and typically sell for $4 million or more. The upscale nature of the ski industry is off-putting to young people who can’t afford the lifestyle but still like to snowboard.

Jeff Brady, NPR

It's been a good year for the ski industry. Early snows mean bigger profits. But the big ski operations can't relax. Ever alert to new trends, some are setting up extra non-demanding slopes for aging baby boomers.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

It has been a mixed season so far for ski resorts. On the West Coast, warm weather delayed the opening of ski areas. Snowfall in the eastern US has been good and in the Rocky Mountains there's been record snow. Vail Resorts in Colorado is predicting the best year in its four-decade history. But even in Colorado there is some concern about the future of the ski industry. From Denver, NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY reporting:

The parking lots in Vail are packed with crunchy snow and SUVs.

(Soundbite of horn honking)

BRADY: Skiers coming down off the mountain stop at local stores and restaurants. This is good news for bottom lines. Local real estate business is booming, too. One appraiser says prices are up more than 30 percent. Vail Resorts' CEO Adam Aron says people are buying expensive vacation homes faster than his company can build them. A year ago Vail put 67 condominiums up for sale at an average price of $3 million each.

Mr. ADAM ARON (CEO, Vail Resorts): On the first day we took contracts, we had 573 deposit checks in hand for 67 condominiums. On the first day we could have sold $1.3 billion of condominiums in Vail, Colorado.

BRADY: For those who can afford it, Vail is a great place to be.

(Soundbite of cash register)

BRADY: At a grocery store, Daniel Johnson and Elizabeth Gottlieb, both in their mid-20s, are taking a break from snowboarding. They've come up from Denver and say they like boarding here but they don't always feel ski resorts like Vail are intended for them. They say much of the ski industry is upscale and unaffordable.

Mr. DANIEL JOHNSON (Snowboarder): They're definitely aimed more towards the hobnobbing and--you know, getting out on the slopes and looking good, where...

Ms. ELIZABETH GOTTLIEB (Snowboarder): And it's not even just on the slopes. It's also like marketed all through the Vail Valley it's like the shops and the hoity-toity restaurants and, you know--so--which are too expensive to go out on a regular basis anyway, you know.

BRADY: This is a problem for the future of the ski industry, according to Jim Spring of Leisure Trends Group. His company conducts consumer research for ski resorts and equipment manufacturers.

Mr. JIM SPRING (Leisure Trends Group): The primary thing I'd be worried about is demographics.

BRADY: These days when skiers take off their caps, you're likely to see a lot more gray hair than a few decades back. That's because the average age of those who ski is rising. Baby boomers took to skiing in a big way, but the first of that generation is turning 60 now and they won't be able to ski forever. Jim Spring says the industry needs to cultivate a new generation of skiers. The obvious choice is the children of boomers. They've been going skiing with their parents for years. The question, Spring says, is how do you keep this younger generation skiing once their parents stop picking up the tab? You can tailor evening entertainment for younger skiers, but Spring says that could alienate boomers.

Mr. SPRING: It's a dilemma. The money is still with the parents, all right, and so you're not going to--you don't take the big spenders and say adios.

BRADY: Still, the industry is trying to appeal to both generations. They're investing in special parks for snowboarders with jumps and rails to attract a younger crowd. And for baby boomers, some resorts are smoothing out their slopes, making the downhill ride easier on aging joints and knees. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Denver.

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