Kindling a passion for the mountains 

The North American ski industry is launching a new initiative to "share the passion of the mountains" with children, prompted by some cold, hard numbers.

A recent study commissioned by the Snowsports Industries of America, an association of equipment manufacturers and apparel makers, found that the lifetime "value" of a skier who begins skiing at the age of 25 is $14,466, whereas the value of a skier who begins at age 10 is $52,024. Presented with the possibility of nearly quadrupling their return by getting more children into skiing and snowboarding, the industry is taking note.

"We know our organization has not prospered in the last few years, it’s kind of stagnated. And it’s probably our own fault," Craig Cook, president of Travel Organizers, a Colorado tour company, said while in Whistler two weeks ago for the Ski Tour Operators Association meeting.

Skitops, a non-profit trade group of travel companies specializing in ski tours, is just one of the players in the new campaign to turn children on to skiing and boarding. Ski resorts, equipment manufacturers, instructors, skiing and snowboarding publications, video producers and ski show promoters are all represented in the effort.

"It’s so critical it’s not just us as tour operators doing it, it’s the tour operators together with the suppliers, the property management companies, transportation companies, the airlines, it’s Colorado Ski Country USA, it’s the Utah association, it’s the handicap ski association – it’s everybody working together towards a common goal instead of each trying to do our little individual thing," Cook said.

In recent years the ski industry has launched several attempts to boost the number of people coming into the sport, but most efforts have been piecemeal and not well co-ordinated throughout the industry. Snowboarding provided a shot in the arm in the last decade, despite early attempts by some resorts to ban the sport. But the growth of snowboarding hasn’t made up for the ageing baby boomer population that is getting out of skiing. Several studies have shown that the absolute number of North Americans participating in alpine skiing and/or snowboarding has remained stagnant for nearly 20 years. The pie hasn’t gotten any bigger.

Five years ago the member resorts of Colorado Ski Country USA launched the Grade 5 ski program, based on studies which found that people who learn to ski or ride at 10 years of age are most likely to make the sport a lifetime activity. Under the program, each participating ski area makes available three free day passes to each Grade 5 student. Twelve states in the U.S. now have Grade 5 ski pass programs. Canadian ski areas have had a similar program for the past four years.

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