Hey guys, I was given the task to the potential change in the BC ski industry over the next ten years. Heres what I came up with, feel free to post your opinions or criticism in the comments.
“The general skier is no longer fearing change, they’re expecting it, and they’re actually demanding change. They want to see improvements and that’s pretty cool!”
– Eric Hjorleifson
The ski industry is an industry that is constantly evolving. One factor that makes the ski industry so interesting is the fact that it is a seasonal form of work for most staff members. Due to this, the ski industry as a whole must be able to capitalize to its full extent during winter operations. There are many opportunities for the ski industry to grow in different ways down the line. With the Canadian population changing, there is an entire new face of Canada to promote one of the most fun family sports out there to. Smaller ski hills like Whitewater and Shames Mountain have had an increase in skier visits, showing that destination resorts aren’t the only way to succeed in British Columbia. Backcountry skiing equipment sales are growing at a rapid rate allowing for more people to experience the beautiful mountains British Columbia has to offer, without ski lifts. The times are certainly changing in British Columbia, but the new potential jobs that can be created, as well as the desire for more powder has things looking bright for the more dedicated skier.
To put it simply, skiing is an awesome sport, and a form of employment for many people in Canada. In the past ten years, skiing has changed in such a rapid way ranging from the development of destination resorts, to the increase in terrain park usage and freestyle skiing. The growth of freestyle skiing has been expanding at an exponential rate since the creation of the twin tip ski. With added corporate sponsorship such as Red Bull, Mountain Dew and Gatorade, freestyle skiing has been opened to the general public. Without these sponsors, such events like the Dew Tour would not be possible. Skiing in the Kootenays’ is also changing. Ten years ago resorts like Revelstoke Mountain Resort were not around, while Kicking Horse Mountain Resort was still very new, and Red Mountain as well as Whitewater was under different ownership. Resorts are being developed with the hopes of becoming the next Whistler, and being the greatest destination resort to optimize profits. Other hills in BC have taken a different route. Hills like Mt. Cain on Vancouver Island, and Shames in Northern BC have taken a different approach to skiing. Instead of focusing on large developments, they remain smaller and more intent on the skier experience. They offer shorter lift lines, more powder and a unique experience. With such radical change occurring in the last ten years, it is hard to see what will happen within the next ten years. It is critical to see how the industry has changed in the past to see its potential future. It’s a fact that things will change, but how? There are major factors that will soon be affecting the ski industry, as well as careers in the industry. Factor that can be considered are the changing demographics of Canada, the decline of the destination resort, and the rise of backcountry skiing in regards to equipment and avalanche safety.
Discussion of Findings
Changing Demographics of Canada
One thing that makes skiing an extremely popular sport is the fact that the entire family can participate in it, making it one of the few true family sports. Over the past ten years the Canada population has grown over 3%. The main driver of this growth has been immigration from many different countries[i]. Many of the new families moving to Canada, come from areas in which skiing is not a dominant sport. From 2003 to 2007, the three main countries with immigration to Canada have been China, India and the Philippines, as well as over one fifth of the population being born outside of Canada. These three countries come from an area with virtually no ski industry whatsoever. With the declining age of the baby boomers, the ski industry will need to rely on promoting itself to the new wave of Canadian immigrants. Due to this, marketing will become an even more important aspect in the promotion of skiing. With skier visits on the decline, more attention to specific markets and their psychographics[ii] is needed. More detailed marketing can allow for newer immigrant families expanding into the ski industry, and help to create a genuine Canadian experience for the new families. Not only is immigration a huge factor on this new change of Canadian demographics, but also the changing age in Canada’s population. Within the next ten years, the average age of baby boomers will be in the early 60s. At this point in time, many people begin to take it easier on their bodies, so an outdoor activity that is hard on your lower body may not be on the list of things to do. Skilled marketers would be able to see the change in Canadian population and would be able to market it to the new age Canadian. Having bilingual staff that would be able to speak different languages like from countries with high immigration rates to Canada would also be an important asset to have.
The Decline of the Destination Resort
The tourism industry in British Columbia is an important form of revenue. Many visits to British Columbia are done to explore the great wilderness and mountains that this wonderful province has to offer. A lot of this exploration occurs in the many ski resorts that British Columbia has. The most popular destination resort out there is Whistler-Blackcomb[iii]. Whistler without a doubt is the biggest hill in British Columbia, and is viewed by many to be the ultimate ski hill in the world. It has thousands of acres of skiable terrain, 3 different gondolas, multiple detachable lifts, three different villages to explore and thousands of ski-in/ski-out accommodations[iv]. Whistler also offers four-season use of the resort, with mountain biking in the summer as well as glacier skiing. With the success of Whistler, many ski resorts have been designed or created for the soul purpose of becoming a destination resort with on hill attractions and accommodation.
Some hills have been very successful in regards to becoming a four-season resort or large destination resort, such as Silver Star and Big White. Although the Okanagan resorts have been successful, Silver Stars overall skier visits have been on the decline since 2005, with a drop from 400 000 skier visits to 330 000 visits in the 2011/2012 season[v], and have had to shift their marketing differently focusing on the Australian market opposed to the declining US visits of Canadian hills[vi].
Since the success of Whistler, other resort have been created in the hope of being the next great destination resort or are in the plans of hoping to be the next Whistler and many have failed[vii]. Resorts like Kicking Horse Mountain Resort and Revelstoke Mountain Resort were developed in the hopes of becoming large resorts with a draw like Whistler. Both have taken a slower development do to a lack of skier visits and lack of real estate development. Another example would be Red Mountain, after new ownership, a plan to develop real estate was set in place, as well an expansion of the mountain terain[viii]. Just a few years prices dropped significantly from almost $300 000 for a plot of land on the hill, to $79,900 for roughly the same amount of land. With the development of Red, it has also led to cold beds in summer, which greatly affects the well being of Rossland. Rossland as a whole struggles to maintain its well being in the summer, due to a significant drop off in sales after the ski season ends. However, smaller resorts like Whitewater and Shames Mountain are growing at a steady pace. Since Whitewater went under new ownership by Knee Deep Development, development was established to be creating at a slower pace than to that of Revelstoke Mountain Resort or the potential Jumbo Mountain. With the slow development, Whitewaters’ skier visits increased from roughly 90 000 skier visits to 116 000 visits after the installation of the new Glory Ridge chair. Shames has also developed at a slower rate, with it becoming a mountain co-op in which memberships can bought for $299, which allows for you to become a voting member, becoming a voting member allows for you to have a say in the development of Shames Mountain. With these results, the development of larger resorts seems to be a thing of the past, with a larger focus on smaller ski hills, in which managerial and front line staff are more centered on the guest experience.
Another factor that is leading in the decline of the destination resort is the rise of the Cat-Skiing and Heli-skiing operation. One of the main factors of people paying thousands of dollars to go to a mountain like Whistler or Big White is the appeal of skiing deep powder with great terrain to choose from. When planning a ski trip, resorts cannot guarantee powder days, nor can they not guarantee a small crowd of skiers. Cat-Skiing and Heli-skiing operations can guarantee both of these events. With exclusivity of these operations and the guaranteed snow, it can lead many skiers away from the typical destination resort. With more of these operations being established throughout British Columbia and Alberta, more guides will be needed to support the growing demand.
The Rise of the Backcountry
One of the largest growing sectors in ski sales over the past few years was backcountry skiing and snowboarding equipment. While many parts of the ski industry such as skier visits and the sales of ski equipment are influenced greatly by the amount of snowfall in the region, backcountry equipment and trips have changed the trends and have actually increased last year Backcountry specific brands like Dynafit, Backcountry Access, and Voile had increased sales over 10% in the 2011/2012 season while traditional sales of ski equipment were down 12%[ix]. To put in simple terms, the backcountry ski industry is now worth over 33 million dollars, but is still only 1% of the snow-sports industry. With more mainstream brands reaching into the backcountry industry such as K2, Lange and Burton it is evident that industry is now becoming a mainstream part of the ski industry.
With backcountry skiing equipment increasing, backcountry skiing is also on the rise. Due to this proper avalanche education is needed for the safety of new skiers exploring the new terrain through Cat-Skiing and Backcountry Tours. With more people buying the equipment needed for backcountry use, it is essential for the people to have the proper training for other users in the backcountry. Due to this, the potential in research and development of backcountry equipment is a growing sector of mainstream brands, such as the new Salomon/Atomic touring binding as well K2 creating a line of Alpine Touring ski boots with touring walk mode on them. With the rise in backcountry skiing, proper backcountry safety is needed for people who purchase the equipment. This means that more people will require guides to take them into the backcountry safely, and to give out training seminars such as the AST-1 or AST-2 (avalanche skills training)
One of the true great things about the snow-sports industry is that it is constantly changing. “While the ski industry might be small, it is interesting, and that can cause change.”[x] Due to this uniqueness many different factors can be changing and influencing the ski industry. Factors from ten years ago can directly affect how skiing might be ten years down the road. Large issues like the demographic change of the Canadian population will have huge changes in the overall potential in the ski industry, but smaller markets like the rising backcountry industry should not be ignored. With more and more immigrants coming to Canada from non-traditional skiing areas, marketing to these new groups of people is of extreme importance. The traditional family ski resort is making a comeback in British Columbia. With many ski hills taking a slower approach to development and more focus on family orientated activities skiing has come back to the basics. The destination resort is on the decline as skier visits decline, especially with the decline of overnight US visits. With the decline of the destination resort a more genuine skier experience is created and a higher retention of intermediate skier visits can be established.
The rise in Cat-skiing operations is also a sign pointing towards the demise of the destination resort. While some ski hills like Whistler, Revelstoke and Panorama offer Heli-skiing options from their resort there are many over night operations that seem to be rising at a large rate. With guaranteed powder and private lodges Heli-skiing may seem to be the obvious choice for many powder hounds. For the true powder hounds out there, heli-skiing might be out of reach. With the desire of powder growing, so have the sales and demands of backcountry skiing equipment. Last year alone backcountry skiing equipment sales were up over 10%. With the desire to reach more snow and explore the potential of where your skis and skills can push this projects to be a trend on the rise over the next ten years. The ski industry is a constantly changing and evolving. Hopefully with the new trends in immigration, skiing can be opened up to a new generation of skiers who learn how to ski at a family hill. From this they will grow a new passion and appreciation for the mountains. This passion may lead them out to the backcountry, in which more marketing is included, more helpful frontline staff and greater knowledge of backcountry safety helps them explore the beautiful British Columbia mountains.
[i] Statistics Canada, Canadian Demographics at a Glance, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/91-003-x/91-003-x2007001-eng.pdf, pg.20 (accessed November 27th 2012)
[ii] Jamie Beckland, The End of Demographics how Marketers are Going Deeper with Personal Data
[iii] Amy Judd, Whistler named #1 resort by Ski Magazine, http://www.globaltvbc.com/whistler+blackcomb+named+1+resort+by+ski+magazine/6442735622/story.html, October 17th 2012
[v] Michael Sherwood (General Manager, Silver Star), class interview, November 8th 2012
[vi] Chad Stroomer, “Visitor entries in 2011: A Year in Review” pg. 1
[vii] Derek Thompson, No Business like Snow Business: The Economics of Big Ski Resorts, http://m.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/02/no-business-like-snow-business-the-economics-of-big-ski-resorts/252180/, February 7th 2012
[ix] Colin Wiseman, The business of the Backcountry, http://espn.go.com/action/snowboarding/story/_/id/8684198/backcountry-gear-sales-continue-rise, Novemeber 28th, 2012
[x] Auden Schendler, All.I.Can, Sherpas Cinema, October 2011