There was an interesting article in a recent section of the St Paul newspaper that was about the change in the number of kids acquiring drivers licenses. In 1983, 50% of 16 year olds in the country had their drivers license, today it's 28%.
In 1983 there were 500,000 vehicles sold to individuals between the ages of 15 and 18, and in 2012 the number was 300,000. During this same time span the U.S. population in this age group grew by 870,000 kids!
The reasons cited for this change were technology, cost and time.
A survey by ZipCar, the hourly car rental company, found that given a choice, 65% of millennials would go without a car instead of a smartphone or computer. A smartphone and the monthly bill can now be up to $100 per month. Another study suggested that the reason kids were putting off acquiring their license was time, specifically the amount of time necessary to study for and take the driver's test.
Change the references from car industry to snowsports industry and this article could be about what we're all experiencing in the ski and snowboard industry.
While the industry spends its time talking about rocker, side country, flex indexes and the rest of the minutia of our industry, the general consumer is...yawning. We are not attracting new participants like we should, and instead of working harder at what we're currently doing (which isn't working), it's time to get serious about asking what's wrong.
Here are some unscientific, best-guess theories compiled through several years of conversation with customers, instructors, area operators, other retailers and vendors:
It takes too much time to get to a minimum level of competence -- no one likes to feel stupid, and the stupid phase lasts too long in our sports.
For casual participants the sport is too expensive, both equipment and tickets
Compared to other sports and activities, the equipment our industry uses to teach most learning students does not give the new skier the best experience. In order of priority it seems that the gear that new students typically use is designed for low cost, longevity and speed in the rental setting. Rather than "what will get a student to a minimum level of competence in the shortest amount of time."
Skiing for a day or even a half day at day areas doesn't work for today's busy schedules.
For our industry to continue to do what we're currently doing but doing it harder doesn't make sense. There are impediments to entry that need to be addressed before we can successfully expect to attract new participants. There are probably dozens of things that could be done but what follows are some suggestions on how to attack the above problems.
Instead of our industry supporting a growth initiative that emphasizes increasing the number of bodies we put through lessons, maybe the answer, as odd as it sounds, is to teach fewer people. Teach fewer people, but use equipment that is better designed for learning (proper fitting boots, insoles in the boots, properly aligned skis and the right kind of learning ski or board).
Our industry should consider offering a different lesson using different equipment and different teaching progressions that guarantees that the student will reach a higher level of competence ON THE FIRST LESSON. "One and done" for intermediate ability. And, instead of making this the cheapest lesson, position it higher by calling it something different -- Discover Skiing. This would be a perfect place for PSIA or another national organization to step in.
The battle ground for new participants is at the Day Areas throughout the country. Retailers should partner with areas in the lesson business. They should become PSIA Certified Teaching Centers and they should promote learn-to-ski and ride programs in their local communities. Following the lead of other industries, this new teaching program should start with an introductory "dry land" class that starts out in the store. Retailers would outfit students with the kind of equipment mentioned above and send them to the area for the class. Local ski and board shops are located where our potential new students live. We've got a perfect opportunity to bring them into the sport in a local, convenient setting and then introduce them to the local day area to learn and play in the snow.
The greatest impediment to attracting new participants to our sport is not cost, it's time. It's time to let our customers consume our sport on their terms by letting them purchase blocks of time that can be used in increments of their choosing. With hours purchased on a gift card they get to an area and "punch in," and when they leave, they "punch out" and their card is credited for the time used.
Everyone knows that season pass holders are our industry's most frequent skiers. Many, if not most, of their outings are as short as an hour or two. For time-starved consumers this is one of the most attractive features of a season pass. If our newest skiers were able to purchase "lift time" and use it as they want, it would be possible for families at a day area to ski for an hour or so then head home to get the homework done or get on to another activity. They'd also end up with the area's unused gift card in their wallet, flashing them every time they go through their credit cards, reminding them that they have time left on the card and that they have to go back to that area.
There are systemic issues that are creating barriers to entry in our sport. We will not attract new participants until all of us -- areas, retailers and vendors -- are ready to challenge the norms that define our industry. All of us have too much at stake to continue doing things as we always have.
-- Brad Nelson, Hi-Tempo
NSSRA Chairman of the Board
It's Membership Renewal Time
Keep an eye on your mailbox or in basket.
In the next few weeks, you will receive an envelope from NSSRA containing your 2013-14 membership renewal letter. For many of you, this will be your first opportunity to show support for the Association that is your voice in the snowsports industry, a voice that speaks out on issues that affect all specialty snowsports retailers.
NSSRA provides valuable market research, including the NSSRA Cost of Doing Business Survey, a financial benchmarking report that is exclusive to members. As a member of NSSRA, you also receive the Combined Indemnified Bindings List, the Snowsports Participation Report and access to cost-saving services made available to all NSSRA members through the buying power of the National Sporting Goods Association.