Skiing is marketing to the Cleavers in a Modern Family America. Unless serious changes are made in how the sport sells itself (and to whom), it’ll die.
Written By Kyle Magin
Ski industry marketing materials look like winter at the Eagle’s Nest.
I recently perused the websites of every major ski resort in the U.S. and Canada west of the Mississippi. They read like a modern Kennedy family photo album or the glossy pages of Caucasian Life Magazine.
Happy white faces wearing the latest in wool sweaters abound. At this high-end slopeside resort in California two fair blonde girls in dresses and bows reminiscent of The Shining munch on cookies off a tray so ornate you’d never let a child near it. At that Colorado downhill mecca a circa 2015 John Boy and the rest of the Waltons roast marshmallows over a perfectly-stoked gas fire-pit next to the resort’s rink.
I didn’t find one single recognizably brown person—goggles and distance obscure maybe a quarter of the people on any given resort’s front page—until I opened up the website for Big Sky, where a guy of indeterminate non-Anglo ethnicity is enjoying a glass of champagne with two lovely (white) ladies in bikinis.
Listen, I hear the argument as you’re making it. Skiing is a ‘white’ sport insomuch as a majority of its participants are white. But every year for the past four years I’ve attended ski shows in the Bay Area. I’m always amazed at how different the attendees there are from literally almost every ski resort’s marketing materials. Sure, the crowd is maybe half or a little more white, but I also see people of east and south Asian ancestry, Latinos and all manner of mixed race folks. Basically the leading edge of the predicted demographic changes in this country for the next 60 years. These are the same people I see a ton of at my local resorts here in Northern Nevada and California—spending serious money on rentals, lift tickets, vacation homes and most expensive of all, resort food. Why the ski industry is making big investments to put itself in front of these people at ski shows—resorts come from all over the West and Canada to vie for the California ski-tourist market—and don’t in turn demand that at least some of their marketing materials reflect the crowds they’re seeing in person is bewildering.
It’s also no way to grow a sport. Skiing has been mired at about 55 million annual visitors domestically for 15 years now—a figure that industry insiders concede has been artificially goosed in the last few years as cheaper season passes have flooded the market. Industry officials openly worry that Baby Boomers—who turned the industry into the multi-billion dollar business it is today—are aging out of the sport “at an alarming rate” without a suitable crop of replacements.
Right now, the resorts don’t exactly look welcoming to the up-and-coming generations with disposable wealth. A lot of Brookes and Bridgets are being used to entice Soraya, Hung and Carlos to spend their money. These are problems that can be traced straight back to boardrooms and C-suites in the ski industry, places where diversity meant bringing a few dames to the table instead of keeping them all in PR. Unless dictates for inclusive marketing schemes are demanded at the top, the multi-colored millennials and future generations will look to sports who actually include them in the fun.