Mountain News: Why don't more people want to play in the snow? 

click to enlarge SHUTTERSTOCK - Enjoying the ride Writer Allen Best points out that many North American skiers began in the 1970s and 80s.
  • shutterstock
  • Enjoying the ride Writer Allen Best points out that many North American skiers began in the 1970s and 80s.

It's a very different time for the ski industry than when Grand Targhee opened for business in late 1969. Baby boomers were coming of age and America was increasingly prosperous. Innovations had made skiing accessible to the merely athletic and not the truly adventurous. And, not least, wide-bodied jets had made long-distance travel possible.

Skiing was booming then. Grand Targhee, located on the western side of the Teton Range near Driggs, Idaho, was one of 97 ski areas in the United States founded during the 1960s, according to a compilation of founding years conducted by the International Skiing History Association. Others included Breckenridge and Keystone, Park City and Crested Butte, Ski Apache in New Mexico, and Schweitzer in Idaho. Plus Jackson Hole, in Wyoming.

The pace has slowed to 23 new ski areas in the 1980s and just eight in the century's last decade. There were still significant acreage expansions at ski areas. Vail basically doubled in size during the late 1980s and 1990s, for example. But the best mountains had been taken.

Skier days began flattening. In 1978-79, national skier days were at 50.2 million (not counting Pacific coastal states). The highest they've reached since then was 60.5 million. Last year, a drought year in Colorado and other states, they fell back to 53.3 million.

Participation, however, has not kept up with population growth. For more than 15 years, the ski industry has been pondering how to pick up the pace. That dilemma was discussed again recently when Mike Kaplan, chief executive of the Aspen Skiing Co., met with local elected officials.

Kaplan described a "flat skier-visit environment" for the industry. The four ski areas in the Aspen area did about 500,000 skier days in 1967-78, the year that Snowmass opened. By 1993, it was doing 1.4 million skier days. Since then, that number has changed little except for a dip during the recession of a decade ago.

The critical problem he identified at a meeting covered by The Aspen Times' Scott Condon is that ski areas remain heavily dependent upon the same folks who produced the big gains in the 1960s and 1970s, baby boomers who, by the way, are overwhelmingly white guys.

Baby boomers have been aging out. They were responsible for 31.1 per cent of skier visits nationwide in 2005-2006, noted Condon. That had dripped to 14.8 per cent last season, despite the offer of discounted tickets to older skiers.

Older skiers are valuable to the ski industry because they tend to have the time and money to spend more time on the slopes: 9.1 days for those 65 years of age and older. That's the highest of any age cohort other than those 17 and younger.

Too, there's more competition, as was observed by Kaplan and others, including cruises, beach getaways, and trips to Las Vegas.

A youth movement is occurring, Adrienne Saia Isaac, marketing and communications director for the National Ski Areas Association, told the Times. Generation Z, aged 21 and younger, comprised 34 per cent of skier visits last season, the largest age group. Gen Xers (aged 38 to 53) and millennials (ages 22 to 37) have been "holding steady" in skier visits, she said. However, they ski and ride less than prior generations.

For at least 15 years, the ski industry has been confounded by the rapid drop-out rate of beginners. Only 19 per cent continue on to become proficient and long-term customers. "There have been a number of successful innovations that would make a difference if more widely adopted," said Rick Kahl, editor of Ski Area Management, an industry publication. Too often, though, ski schools reject those changes and marketing departments resist spending the necessary money.

Of course, ski towns aren't withering away. There are no boarded-up windows, common in small farming towns. Ski towns, nearly all of them, have the problems of success, such as affordable housing. And, then there's Vail Resorts, whose stock has gained appreciably in the last 22 years, a reflection of the company's profitability. Now, Alterra Mountain Co. wants to get in on the action.

Colorado's first avalanche victim was in avalanche class

OURAY, Colo.—Senator Beck Basin lies above Red Mountain Pass and mostly above treeline in the San Juan Mountains. Study of the dust-on-snow phenomenon began there in about 2005.

Last Saturday, it became the site of Colorado's first avalanche fatality. The Colorado Sun reported that the victim, a 40-year-old skier from the Front Range, had been participating in the Silverton Avalanche School's three-day, Level 2 avalanche class. He was swept down a slope along with five other students and buried under 2.5 metres of snow.

Most rental cars at airport not well-equipped for snow

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo.—The Summit Daily News recently set out to find out what visitors, setting out from Denver International Airport, would find in rental vehicles for a trip to Colorado mountain resorts.

The results? Something less than comforting. Of the six car-rental firms, only one said it could guarantee a four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicle. True, the vast majority of their SUVs and pickup trucks come equipped with all-wheel or four-wheel-drive capability. But no guarantees. And snow tires? Forget about it.

In other words, many of the vehicles driven by out-of-state visitors to Colorado mountain resorts do not meet the state's requirements for driving in inclement weather.

It used to be called the chain-law. But most rental-car companies prohibit use of chains, too. One company represented told the Summit Daily that this rule stems from fear that chains could damage the vehicles or because many people don't know how to properly install chains.

Of course, how many ski towns residents know how to use chains anymore? In the good old days—say the 1970s and 1980s—they used to be part of the essential tool kit.

Alcohol threshold dropped for driving

PARK CITY, Colo.—To be on the safe side when visiting Park City, one drink of alcohol should do it with dinner for a 68-kilogram (150-pound) man. Under Utah's new blood-alcohol threshold of 0.05 for drivers, two drinks in an hour will push him over the limit.

For a 54-kilogram (120-pound) woman, even one drink in an hour might be too much, according to figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The new limit is the lowest in the state. Utah was among the first states to adopt the now standard 0.08. Prior to that, it was mostly at .10.

BuzzFeed News pointed out that the federal agency has long advocated for a 0.05 per cent limit for all states. Each day, an average of about 29 people die in the United States in alcohol-related deaths.

The Park Record reported that DUI arrests have dropped more than 50 per cent over the past seven years, despite a booming population.

What will be the effect on tourism in Park City? The Park Record talked with David Corsun, who directs a hospitality management school at the Daniels College of Business. "If you really want to ski Utah, you're going to ski Utah," he said. "You're just going to figure it out."

Utah has long had among the most restrictive laws governing alcohol in the United States, owing to its domination by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Mormons, as members are commonly known, do not believe in alcohol consumption. Until 2017, state law required bartenders mixing drinks to do so behind partitions, commonly called Zion curtains.

Holy Cross takes a very big step

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo.—Just like that, Holy Cross Energy has taken a giant step toward its pledge to achieve 70-per-cent carbon-free electricity to members in the Vail and Aspen areas.

The Glenwood Springs-based cooperative announced a two-way power purchase agreement that will enable development of a new 100-megawatt wind farm.

This new wind power will allow Holy Cross to hit its goal of 70-per-cent renewable energy by 2021. That is nine years earlier than was promised in the pledge announced in September.

Holy Cross' new partner is Denver-based Guzman Energy, a wholesale power provider. Guzman, two years ago, partnered with Kit Carson Electric with the goal of developing solar resources to push that cooperative based in Taos, N.M., toward 100-per-cent renewables.

However, the new agreement also sees coal playing a role in the power mix for the foreseeable future. Holy Cross has a partial ownership of a coal-fired power plant at Pueblo, Colo., and Guzman will use output from that power to supply both its New Mexico and Colorado customers.

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