By Louise Hudson
In the world of mountain marketing, there’s been a recent recognition of the lack of Millennials following in the footsteps of the buoyant Baby Boomer ski market. Moreover, it requires two Millennials to fill each Baby Boomer’s boots in terms of spending power. With student loans, marriage, babies, houses, careers, and diverging spending priorities, Millennials are being distracted from downhill delights. A contrast to Boomers who were skiing aggressively during their 20s and 30s, this has led ski resorts to come up with more innovative ways to attract the younger generation.
For the past decade, resorts have been branching out to encompass more diverse experiences including winter fat biking, zip lines, tubing, mountain coasters, skijoring and snow kiting: all part of ‘the experience economy’ where thrills and magical moments are taking over from materialism for Millennials. Snowkiting clinics are available in Canmore, Québec, and Toronto. And resorts are cashing in even on ski touring, which used to be a free way to get a skiing fix. Now, there are courses on safety and guiding to slack and backcountry areas – for example, Fernie’s Backcountry Basics.
Building big is no longer better for Millennials and the ‘tiny home’ trend is influencing ski resorts – in Utah, the young collective that owns Powder Mountain is building 500 square foot modern mountainside chalets rather than investing in McMansions. Mirroring the Millennial move towards smaller, brand-new or refurbished, state-of-the-art and eco-friendly homes, Canadian resorts are thinking smaller, too. Steve Paccagnan, CEO of Panorama Resort, is planning a new boutique hotel to replace the ageing Pine Inn: “We’ve seen the emerging trend of refurbs in hotels and motels. We’ve done a lot of research, talking to companies like Yotel for ideas and looked at the Base Camp idea in Tahoe and Jackson Hole. We’re bearing in mind all these ideas for our boutique hotel and addressing Millennial needs – smaller but really ergonomically-designed rooms, where the lobby becomes the main focus, with a really good bar, social areas, and stage for live music.”
With Millennials wanting more instant fixes – and many not owning their own vehicle – access to ski area needs to be easier and speedier. Telluride has recently sponsored direct flights to its nearest airport, Montrose from hubs all over the States. Winter Park has reinstated its snow train link with Denver. Ski shuttles are getting smarter, often providing internet, and rideshare sites are multiplying. This winter a new company, SnowSearch launched a Kayak-style website aimed at modernizing the way younger generations engage with and consume snow sports travel online. “Our travel content is written by unbiased local experts, from pro athletes to gear shops and foodie bloggers to powder hounds,” says CEO Bryan Dunn. It includes resorts in Alberta, BC, Ontario, Atlantic Canada and Québec.
Other Millennial mountain momentums include co-working space which is redefining the ski bum, who could now be anything from a telemarketing stockbroker to a lifestyle migrant. For example, Telluride is luring young entrepreneurs thereby offering $30,000 funding, office space, mentors, and business training to those with the most innovative ideas. Crowd-funding is targeting Millennials with money to invest in their favourite ski hills – for example, Red Mountain, which launched its Own The Mountain campaign last season to remain independent. Ski gear and clothing have gone high tech with tracking, music and heating. Ski and snowboard-themed dating apps are making it easier to keep winter sports in the family as Millennials seek likeminded life partners. And the Millennial mania for outdoor music events has led many resorts to set up spring festivals, following on the success of The Whistler World Ski and Snowboard Festival. These include Panorama, which launched High Notes last season – ticket sales for this year’s festival are already ahead of 2017, attracting the older end of the Millennial gen. Last April Sun Peaks introduced Canada to Europe’s Snowbombing Festival which returns again this spring.
Allying Millennial-motivated drinks with the ski experience has also become common at resorts across North America. Craft breweries and liquor distilleries are cropping up in every ski area, with a focus on winter sports activities on their labelling. For example, Snow King pale ale from Snake River Brewing Jackson Hole, Uinta Brewing Utah’s Season Pass porter and Ellicottville Brewing’s Ski Bum winter ale. Whitetooth Brewing Company in Golden has labelled one of its core brews Truth, Dare, Consequence, the names of signature ski runs at nearby Kicking Horse.