Ski Resorts Adopting to Global Climate Change

It’s been a while since I’ve posted! I was looking back through some of my old school files and came across this paper I wrote over two years ago. Check it out!

Since the creation of the ski industry as we know it back in the 1940’s, the three keys to the industry have been snow, snow, and snow. Global climate change has been rapidly changing the ski industry directly and indirectly over the years with the most significant impact being the variable and shorter ski seasons. The ski industry has had to adapt to significant variances in snowfall from season to season and has required the industry to look at how they operate. (EPA, 2013)Extensive snowmaking operations have supplemented natural snow and can make or break a season or an entire resort. Continual warming trends dictate that the industry explores further options to diversify their product in order to reduce the risk of a poor snow season significantly compromising the finances of a ski area.

What is happening?

The winters are getting warmer, and they are getting shorter. Global climate change has altered the winter season as temperatures rise and there is no obvious slowing in this trend. The industry is taking a hard look and has decided that they can no longer operate as a seasonal tourism enterprise, but rather must adopt a year round destination strategy.  The year round strategy with a variety of tourism opportunities can make up for poor snowfall seasons. The graph above clearly shows the warming trend that is occurring. This warming trend starts around the 1900 mark when many of the “developed” countries started to go through industrialization on a large scale and has continued as more countries develop, produce and consume more resources. (EPA, 2013)

 

How is the Ski industry reacting?

Luckily, many ski areas have significant infrastructure already in place to make the transition from a seasonal ski resort to a year-round tourism destination.  Although the resort may be primarily used in the winter, the large investment made in transportation, food services, trails, hospitality, and roads exists already and can be leveraged to experiment with summer and fall activities. The trails are there, the buildings exist, accessibility is easier, and becoming a year round destination retains key employees.  The incremental costs are minimal and income for the summer activities will more than offset these variable costs.  All additional profit after variable costs can be put towards shortfalls in winter revenues and the large fixed infrastructure costs of a ski resort.

Industry wide, there are many different approaches to creating new experiences and opportunities to reduce seasonality issues on the ski areas. I have compiled a list to discuss the most popular and profitable opportunities that can be implemented to a ski area with limited additions to their current infrastructure.

  • Special Events/Festivals
  • Concerts
  • Mountain Biking
  • Challenge Courses
  • Water Parks

Several communities have done an outstanding job of working with their local community to create special events and festivals.  If we focus primarily on the Aspen / Snowmass area as an example, they have worked well with the Aspen community to provide a full host of summer events through the city and the resort.  Several large festivals that are hosted by the city are very well attended.  The Food and Wine Classic in Aspen occurs in late June (Aspen Chamber of Commerce).  They bring in culinary experts to provide food and some of their chefs include Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and Jacques Pepin.  The event also includes 300 Vintners who pour premium wines during the three day event. The mountain and town come together for an annual 4th of July Celebration that includes the traditional parade coupled with live music, a carnival and picnics, and fireworks over Aspen Mountain.  A two day Aspen Arts Festival in late July brings in life-size sculptures along with other art medium for purchase and enjoyment(Aspen Chamber of Commerce).

The JAS June Festival, a ten day event, provides four nights of concerts as well as 10 days of free jazz concerts in the Aspen valley (Stayaspen).  These concerts work well with Snowmass Mountain that provides free outdoor concerts every Thursday night on Snowmass Mountain during the summer.  Aspen Mountain follows that up with Classical Music for free on Saturdays during the summer as well as Bluegrass music on Sunday afternoons.  All of these music events have food and beverage service and the Aspen events require a gondola ride to the top.  The summer is topped off with a Labor Day weekend Jazz AspenSnowmass concert series on Snowmass Mountain.  The line up of bands is strong and meant to bring in people from around the area (jazzaspensnowmass.org).

A fairly new addition to the lineup is the addition of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge at the end of August.  Lance Armstrong joined the community in Aspen a few years ago and started this rigorous event that allows professional and novice alike to participate in a multi city circuit course.  This seven day event begins in Aspen and will continue to Crested Butte and then on to Gunnison – Monarch Mountain before going through Colorado Springs and then onto – Breckenridge with a stop into Vail before ending in Denver.  This is a great example of bringing several ski resorts together to host a popular event that provides food and hotel revenues, but also provides strong PR opportunities that introduce more people to the resorts. (US Pro Cycling).

The mountain provides the traditional summer activities that all resorts offer such as Mountain Biking at Snowmass and Aspen Mountains.  Bike rentals are available as well as private biking adventures and group downhill clinics.  If cycling is too rough, there are extensive hiking trails serviced by the Gondolas (at a fee). Camp Aspen/Snowmass is offered for children to develop outdoor skills and camping.   The other outdoor and indoor opportunities include disc golf, a climbing wall and Eurobungy, a paintball course, outdoor yoga, horseback riding and fishing adventures.

Do the special events bring in new revenue?  Certainly these events bring in new tourists and money is brought into the market. Having spoken with management from The Hilton on Prospect in Professor Kang’s class, special events are always worth the investment for them. The increased revenue from additional guest stays and from the restaurant far out weight the cost of booking these groups. In many resort ski areas, there are significantly more accommodations than at The Hilton Fort Collins and these accommodations are primarily used in the winter season. The infrastructure exists so the resorts should capitalize on what they have.

Who should be reached?

What is the point of diversifying and creating these new opportunities if no one will participate? Creating an experience that consumers do not want is financially irresponsible and negatively impacts the environment. Let’s look at groups who can be targeted to participate in these opportunities.

The first are special events and conference groups. These groups are large meaning that they will have more impact than going after families and couples. Working with these groups have big returns and positively impacts the resorts in terms of accommodations, food and beverage, mountain owned stores, and summer activities. These groups are also beneficially for the local community adding direct and indirect benefits of the increased spending.

Families, while smaller in size, should not be disregarded. Building relationships with families in the offseason is a great way to stay current in their lives which hopefully impacts their decision to return to the ski area in the winter season. Aspen has done a great job with my family. The company has built brand loyalty with my family, and we go to Aspen twice a year. Through this connection, and the upgrades that we receive, we reward them by bringing friends and family to the resort and town that otherwise would not have come.

Outdoor enthusiasts are a group that I believe should be targeted as well. Ski areas exist in mountainous regions. The industry should use this to their advantage. The mountains provide a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities such as hiking, fishing, paragliding, trail running, mountain biking, and challenge courses. With visitation in Colorado highest during the summer, it makes sense to use what you have as a ski area.

Why should the ski industry attract these demographics?

As Mike Barry discussed in class, introduction and conversion to the sport of skiing has remained stagnant. Without growth in introduction and conversion rates, the ski industry will start to shrink as people start to leave the sport of physical reasons. As part of this, fewer people are participating in snowboard, and rather than seeing an increase in skiing, there has been little impact.

Reaching out to these groups in the offseason and providing them with incentives to return during the winter, would assist with improving introduction and conversion. Getting people on the mountain will be essential to bringing in new people. Training employees to cross promote opposite seasons from the current one would be a great way to reach people who are already on the property fairly cheaply.

Conclusion

            The climate is changing, and in most mountainous regions, the winters are getting warmer and shorter. For ski areas, this spells disaster if they continue as a seasonal destination. Becoming a year round destination with activities and experiences throughout the year would alleviate the pressures of being a seasonal destination centered on snow. Diversifying the product offering to include expanded event and conference availability, as well as positioning the ski area around attracting families and outdoor enthusiasts are obvious target markets.

Surveying in just like dating

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I have to say, it’s a good thing I’m a guy and I’ve gotten used to rejection.

I’ve been a market research surveyor for several months now at Aspen Skiing Company and I keep coming back to the same thought, that being a surveyor is just like dating.

Hear me out. I walk up to countless people on a given day to fill my quota. I have 5 different surveys I administer and I go to various parts of the mountain to find participants. Let me set the scene for you. I’m out walking around, looking for my next victim, I mean participant, and try to find people who look like they would be interested in taking the survey. I walk around for a few minutes trying to find one or two people, because let’s be realistic, group mentality is bad for surveying and dating. That’s why middle school and high school dating was so hard.

Aspen/Snowmass Base Village

Snowmass Base Village

I finally find someone who is just hanging out at the base of the lift. I walk up, smile, try to stay cool, and causally start up a conversation with a total stranger. We talk for a few moments about the skiing, or the weather (typically a bad sign for a date), and then I pop the question. “Hey, I am conducting surveys today, would you be interested in telling me about your experiences today and get some free hot drinks?” This usually goes one of two ways. The guest is either thrilled about it, sometimes joking about getting anything for free in Aspen, or I am flat out rejected.

If I’m rejected on foot, totally cool. I can walk away and it reminds me of vacation flings. If I’m rejected on the lift, it’s a totally different story, especially if they end up talking to me the entire way up anyway. Why turn down the free drinks if you’re going to talk to me? It’s like saying you like me well enough to spend time with me, but not enough to “date me” and get free stuff. It’s like falling for that person who rejects you, and then doesn’t leave your life for one reason or another. Luckily for me, the longest I’m ever on a lift with someone is 15 minutes!

Those who take the surveys enthusiastically are the best. Not only do I get great information about them so I can improve future experiences with Aspen Skiing Company, but it also creates a relationship showing the guests that we actually care about what they think. In many cases, I see these same guests from day to day and I put a name and a face to the company that they now feel part of creating.

So what have I found? I get to meet some really interesting people, and they love free stuff.

Aspen Snowmass Flight Map Information

Aspen Snowmass Flight Map Information

Free stuff in Aspen? Trust me, I know, all too rare.

The people are very cool. I meet great locals who own I network with promoting my business, as well as meeting great people from all over the world. The Aussies are my favorite though. Everything is “brilliant” and they say cheers to everything!

Rejection is a part of life, dating, and surveying. I get rejected every day. Despite this rejection I have learned a lot about people, what influences their decisions, how to entice them, and more importantly, how to talk about anything to anyone.

Aspen Skiing Company

Well it’s happened, whether I wanted it to or not, I have my first real job.

I I have to be honest, it’s nothing like I expected. I really enjoy what I do! I stayed in school as long as possible as the lost boy man child that I am to put off the inevitable of becoming an adult.

I write this today in the middle of a split shift after having taken 6 runs this morning waiting for my next shift. Mountain life is tough, but I have to say, it looks good on me 🙂

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So what do I do and how to I get ski breaks? Serious questions with unbelievable answers honestly. I was hired as a survey administrator and a guest services representative. Sounds fancy, but basically I ski around all day, ask people questions, talk about how amazing Aspen/Snowmass is, and do whatever I can to say “yes” and to create the “Aspen” experience for anyone I come in contact with. The fact that I get paid and a free ski pass for this is beyond me! I am still in awe of this opportunity.

I’m excited to see where this opportunity will take me as I continue working my way up the company ladder.

While my time has come, I still refuse to grow up. However, I will stay long at heart for as long as possible!

Solar Freakin Roadways!

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I have to say, I love this idea!

This is not a new idea, but thinking in a big way. To me, this is a no brainer. We have millions of miles of roadways in this country, and possibly billions of miles in the world. Replacing a faction of our roadways could completely take us off of fossil fuel and other polluting energy sources.

map of US roads

Let’s run down a quick list of pros and cons of something like this.

Pros

-Clean, Reliable, Consistent energy

Call me crazy, but the sun isn’t going anywhere. Short of a black hole initiating in the sun, the sun will continue to rise and set, and burn brightly on some part of the earth constantly. Let’s face it, almost everything we have have comes from processed sunlight. All of our food in one way or another is processed sunlight that we consume. Since we are already receive our nutrition from the sun, why not our energy to power and propel our lives?

-Increase in technical education for the additional workforce that would be needed to undertake such a project

A project of this undertaking would surely need a significant increase in the overall education of our global workforce, but an increase of the workforce in general. Education has unfortunately has taken a back seat to other issues over the years, and as a result, The United States in particular, is falling behind other developed countries. A project on a global scale would require significant investment in people. This will have several outcomes. First, people will be more educated in life, and have the ability to think larger, positively impact society in greater ways, provide greater professional accomplishment, and drive the economy as a whole. The more you invest in people, the more valuable they become in an economic sense.

-Research and development of solar and battery technology

What makes us as people great, is that we can think and solve problems to make life easier. Research and development is the cornerstone of resolving issues. As this technology becomes more wildly available, competition increases, thus improving the performance and efficiency of solar technology and batteries. This ultimately drives down costs as new competitors enter the market creating a generation of entrepreneurs from the newly educated population.

-Increase in health for the global community

It’s no secret that current methods of energy production is dirty and harmful to us. One example of this is the rise in asthma and other related breathing issues associated with dirty air. We all breath air, so why are we all intentionally poising ourselves?

-Reduction in noise pollution

Have you ever heard an electric vehicle? Nope, I didn’t think so. They are almost completely silent. The great thing about electric vehicles is that there is not combustion process like on current vehicles. The vehicles are powered quietly, thus reducing road noise. Hello increased property values for those living near busy streets!

Check out Drive Electric Northern Colorado for more information and videos about Electric Vehicles.

Additionally, without combustion engines, pollution is again reduced, creating a much more healthy breathing environment and society will no longer have to hear about people tragically falling asleep in running cars while in confined spaces.

If you think that Elective Vehicles are ugly, check out the Model S by Tesla

Tesla Model S

This all sounds well and good, but what are the downsides?

Cons

-Wont be cheap

No way around it, monetarily, a project of this undertaking will not be cheap. As we have seen in past large scale projects, no single entity can take on such engineering feats except for the government. They are the only one who can facilitate and manage projects of this scale. But then again, that’s the point of governments, to bring people together to work towards something that we couldn’t do on an individual scale. There would have to be some sort of working relationship between public and private entities to make this work. The global population would have to decide to invest in education of the work force and educate its citizens.

-Constant construction upgrading road systems

The first few years would be pretty rough with construction. There would be noise, congestion, and a surplus of road material. The upside is that if tiles break in the future, they can easily be popped out, so eventually road construction would become an unhappy memory.

There are surely challenges to overcome including societal shift in making education a a priority, people acknowledging that fossil fuels not only kill the earth, but people as well, and overcoming the energy and auto industries to move towards a more healthy and sustainable future.

Let me know what you think in the comments section!