The Snowbird tram ascends through a snowy winter scene. The Rocky Mountains region posted its second-best visitation total ever.
Photo: Becks Falk, @falkphoto


NSAA Convention held online

The US National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) held its National Convention & Trade Show online from June 7-11, 2021. The event had a focus on the subject of Diversity. As every year, the most important results of the Kottke Report were announced and the NSAA Awards presented.

Created by DK

In her opening remarks, NSAA President Kelly Pawlak spoke of the “crazy year” that US ski resorts had been through. The fact that things ultimately turned out well for the industry reflected in the fact that the United States posted its fifth-best ski season for winter 2020/21.  

Five hundred virtual attendees

The online event attracted some 50 exhibitors and more than 500 attendees. ISR was one of them. A central platform for the virtual event was provided in the form of the Whova app, which also facilitated networking among attendees. In addition to the main topic of Diversity and a review of the past winter season, the NSAA National Convention& Trade Showalso took a look at New Technologies and Sustainability/Climate Change.

Diversity and buying power

Keynote speeches were held by the diversity expert and business consultant Risha Grant and by Jerry Taylor, founder of the moderate Washington think tank Niskanen Center. At the beginning of her presentation, Risha Grant discussed values, prejudices and respect in the treatment of other people in general. She then moved on to the argument that the inclusionof certain groups is much better for business than exclusion. According to Risha Grant, 88.2% of guests at US ski resorts are currently whites and only 1.8% are African Americans, although the latter have a buying power of $1.2 trillion. Similarly, the Hispanic population in the United States has $1.5 trillion in buying power, and the Asian-American population over $1 trillion. US women have more than $5 trillion in total buying power, while the LGBTQ community has about $1 trillion. (LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer. It is a collective term for all people whose gender identity or sexual orientation deviates from “conventional” social norms).

Reaching communities

This led Risha Grant to the question of how to effectively engage “diverse groups” – and not just because of the buying power of the relevant communities, but also in order to be more innovative, agile and successful as a company overall. According to Risha Grant, businesses with an inclusive culture are twice as likely as other businesses to meet or exceed their financial targets. The first step on the road to an inclusive corporate culture is to examine one’s own attitudes and prejudices. A subsequent key step is to build honest and authentic relationships with members of diverse groups and communities. Another crucial factor for an inclusive corporate culture is to practice diversity with regard to one’s employees and the composition of the workforce. For the actual marketing, Risha Grant stressed the importance of a dedicated communication and action plan in order to target people from specific communities.

Coalitions for climate

The importance of climate protection for the winter sports industry in the United States was underscored in the second keynote speech at the NSAA Convention & Trade Show, which was given by Jerry Taylor, an expert on environmental and energy policy and president of the moderate Washington think tank Niskanen Center. Taylor is a representative of a growing movement of conservatives in the United States that advocates market environmentalismsolving environmental problems through market mechanisms – and the adoption of a revenue-neutral carbon tax system to combat climate change. In his talk on “Finding Common Ground on Climate Change: Engaging Conservatives and Moderates on Climate Change”, Jerry Taylor addressed the need to find common ground with conservatives and moderates with regard to US policy on climate change. He said effective climate-friendly policies and legislation would require a coalition of Republicans, the business community and the center-right. In his presentation, he also outlined ways to develop common positions on climate change in Republican-leaning districts and states.

Kottke: Fifth-best ever ski season in the US

Perhaps the most gratifying presentation for most attendees at the NSAA Convention& Trade Show was given by Dave Belin of RCR Associates, the consulting firm that plays a leading role in producing the Kottke End of Season and Demographic Report. According to the report, US ski areas had 59 million skier visits in the 2020/21 winter season, the fifth-best total since records began in 1978/79. For the Kottke Report a skier visit is counted every time a skiing or snowboarding guest visits a ski area or resort. Skier visits were well up in the 2020/21 season in the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountains regions, with a record season in the Pacific Northwest region and second best in the Rocky Mountains. Small and medium-sized ski areas also performed well, with more American skiers choosing to stay close to home for ski trips. According to the NSAA, that is in line with a general increase in local demand for outdoor recreation.

Ski area closures avoided

According to the data, the average US ski area was open for 112 days this past season, up from 99 days in the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season. According to the Kottke Report, almost all ski areas remained open for the planned duration. No fewer than 78% of ski area operators said the 2020/21 season exceeded their expectations. That was in spite of the need for coronavirus protection measures: “We are proud of the collaborative adoption of Covid-19 best practices that all ski areas implemented and diligently followed from opening to closing day,” said NSAA President Kelly Pawlak and she added: “People had to change their habits during the pandemic, and ski areas were no different.”

Personal recruitment problems

Sixty percent of the ski areas covered by the Kottke Report stated that they were not fully staffed in the 2020/21 season. One reason was the fact that the travel restrictions imposed prevented foreign ski instructors and other employees from entering the country from abroad. The average ski area was 55 employees short, half of whom would have come on an international work visa in a normal year.

Big increase in digital solutions

The effects of the pandemic also brought a boost in the use of digital solutions at American ski resorts: “We tried new things and quickly learned that not only did they function as planned but many of these ‘work arounds’ improved the experience for our guests and staff members. Ski area operators will use this experience to continue trying new techniques and technology,” Kelly Pawlak explains. This resulted in a decline of window ticket sales from 46% in 2019-20 to 17% in 2020-21, while the percentage of visits from season pass holders rose to 51% from 45% in the previous season.

Weekday skiing

There was also a sharp rise in skier visits on weekdays, which accounted for almost half of total skier visits in 2020/21, a 27% increase from the previous season. According to the Kottke Report, this was a result of the capacity restrictions in place in many ski areas, as well as remote working and home schooling.

2021 NSAA Awards

The highlight and closing event of the virtual NSAA Convention & Trade Show2021 was the presentation ceremony for the NSAA Awards. This year awards were again made to the best US ski areas in the categories Sustainability, Safety, Growth and Marketing. In selecting the winners, NSAA placed particular emphasis on effectiveness, creativity and innovation. Submissions for the awards were received from every US ski region and from resorts of all sizes. “This is a special award year,” said NSAA President Kelly Pawlak. “Not only did ski areas need to adapt to a Covid environment, but they continued to focus on some of the most important issues in our industry, like safety, sustainability and growth.” The NSAA Lifetime Achievement Awards went to Bill Jensen and Tim Silva. And like every other year, the awards in the various categories and subcategories were sponsored by different companies: the Golden Eagle Awards (Sustainability) byTechnoAlpin, the Marketing Awards by the Doppelmayr/Garaventa Group and the Conversion Cup (Growth) by Head. The Safety Awards were sponsored by the Safehold Special Risk insurance company.

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