The future's a slippery slope for ski resorts when Millennials are more likely to be zip-lining in Costa Rica than snowboarding in Chamonix
What happens when the prolifically active Baby Boomers can no longer ski or snowboard (even with their new artificial knees)? Will the ski slopes be empty as the next generations, led by the Millennials migrate to warmer - and cheaper - holiday destinations with Insta-gain experiences? Who better to ask than a Millennial who's snowboarded for 15 years, but now struggles to afford a week in the winter? Angus Rosier, 28, scrolls through the reasons it's all going downhill for Millennials in ski resorts and why no one's clicking on 'like'...
Millennials get a pretty bad press. We’re accused of being lazy, entitled and selfish, while our equality campaigning and vegan menus are threatening everything that older generations hold dear. Now Millennials (18-34 year olds) are ruining snowsports, apparently. No, not in the traditional, being drunk, obnoxious and dangerous on the slopes kinda way; we’re ruining skiing and snowboarding on a whole new level, by not going.
MILLENNIAL MONEY MELTDOWN
As the Baby Boomer generation gets older, their days on the slopes are numbered, and although Generation Xers (post Baby Boomers pre Millennials) are still hitting the mountains in reasonable numbers it appears that there is a growing void left after them. The issue here reaches beyond just declining rates of new participants; as we existing skiers and snowboarders in our 20s and early 30s are not getting on the slopes anywhere near as frequently as those from older generations.
In the UK more than two-thirds of those who ski or snowboard these days are aged between 43 to 65, according to research by Ski Weekends. It’s a similar story elsewhere; in the USA a study by the National Ski Area Association found that on average, older skiers spend twice as many days skiing or boarding than Millennials (like the girls on board, below).
The problem the snowsports industry faces here is that for every Baby Boomer who eventually hangs up their skis for good, they need two Millennials replacing them.
The primary reason for this declining trend in young people actively taking part in snowsports hardly takes a genius to figure out; we just don’t have the money. According to a 2017 report by the Resolution Foundation, our generation is the first in well over 100 years to be financially worse off than the generation before us. As costs of living increase faster than average wages, our disposable income takes a hit, meaning that we Millennials are forced to be more choosy than ever with where we spend our precious extra cash. Here’s where the winter sports industry has its biggest problem when it comes to attracting new young blood.
COSTA RICA V COST A FORTUNE SKI RESORTS
Snowsport holidays have several entry barriers that can be off-putting to first timers; skiing and snowboarding can be difficult to learn, potentially painful and cold, but for Millennials the cost factor is the biggest obstruction. For Brits, the average winter sports holiday in Europe costs around £870 per person according to Ellis Brigham (and this is before Brexit potentially hikes up prices even more). It's a hefty sum, which rises even higher for newbies when you add the expense of getting kitted out with the necessary clothing and gear. Now, consider that on a similar budget it’s possible to do a month in South-East Asia or Central America and you begin to understand why the idea of spending a week falling on your arse on a frozen mountainside is the less appealing option.
But what about those of us who’ve been skiing or snowboarding since we were children, those of us who’ve already got the bug because our parents are from the generation who could actually afford snowsports family holidays? Well, we already know that existing Millennial skiers and snowboarders are spending less time in resorts than the generations before them, and this can be partially attributed to the type of travel experiences that my generation now desire, and what offers the best bang for our buck.
A 2017 survey of 5000 Millennials as in 18-35 year olds, conducted by the travel company Contiki, discovered that zip-lining through Costa Rican rainforest, or bathing in Iceland’s thermal springs were among the top 20 most coveted travel experiences; snowsport trips didn’t get a look in.
We are the Instagram generation, hungry for the most unique, eye-catching and ‘like’ worthy experiences that we can share with our followers. An endless stream of new and exciting global experiences hitting our newsfeeds, combined with easier and cheaper travel to far flung destinations has opened up a world of exploration that was inconceivable or inaccessible to most of our parents when they were younger. Even for the snowsports enthusiasts among us, expensive weeks on the slopes simply don’t offer as much value for money in the ‘experience’ stakes as a backpacking trip of a lifetime.
The boom of the Millennial driven ‘experience economy’ hasn’t gone unnoticed by snow industry executives, who in recent years have poured a lot of energy, and presumably cash, into trying to turn boring old ski resorts into Millennial adventure playgrounds. Music festivals on the slopes (such as Snowboxx in Avoriaz, below), paragliding, bungee jumping, snowmobiling, ice climbing, the list of activities and entertainment available in ski resorts designed to grab our tiny Millennial attention spans is ever growing.
But all of this seems to be kind of missing the point. Combining outdoor activity, Insta-perfect scenery and the opportunity to show off, snowsports already have the necessary components of a marketable ‘Millennial experience’. As those of us who are hooked on the white stuff (I’m talking snow here) can testify, skiing and snowboarding really can be enough fun by themselves. Throwing a load of additional activities (at additional costs) into the mix without addressing the existing financial elephant in the room is not going to send young people flocking back to the slopes. Resorts need to be thinking less: ‘If you build it, they will come’ and more: ‘if you make it affordable, they will ski’.
The industry isn’t completely oblivious to our situation however, and some resorts are taking steps in the right direction. In the USA, resorts in close proximity to major metropolises are waking up to the Millennial market potential on their doorsteps, and there are some affordable offers emerging. In recent years the Peak Resorts group have introduced their Drifter Pass, which gives season long shredding across 10 resorts to 18-29 year olds for just $399. A pretty good deal, even by this tight-fisted Millennial’s standards.
Other resorts across the American East Coast are making similar moves to entice students and 20 somethings from New York, Boston and Philadelphia into making regular trips to the mountains. In Europe there are slow signs of improvement too, for example Serre Chevalier now offer discounted rates on week long passes to groups of three or more 18 - 25 year olds. However, these kind of deals are still few and far between, and most of the European big boys are still a long way from providing genuinely affordable skiing and snowboarding to the Millennial masses
MOVING MOUNTAINS (TO SNOW CENTRES)
What is really concerning here is that this problem has the potential to reach far beyond my generation. If Millennials continue to shun the slopes then who is going to introduce our kids to snowsports and bring through the next generation of talent? We’re at a strange point with competitive skiing and snowboarding in the UK; the role models are more prominent than ever, but unless snowsport participation can reverse its decline we’re in danger of being unable to capitalise on this and drive future success. Where is the next Aimee Fuller (below, image Roxy) or Dave Ryding going to come from if we Millennials are unable to give the next generation the opportunity to hit the mountains?
To their credit, British Ski and Snowboard are making valiant efforts to grow snowsports in the UK, with initiatives to offer discounted or free sessions at indoor or dry slopes across the country. However, their mission for the UK to become one of the top five Olympic ski and snowboarding nations by 2030 will surely be a serious challenge if Millennials are still being priced out of the ski holiday market. As good a job as our artificial snow centres do at introducing people to skiing and snowboarding they are no substitute for the real thing. Are our children destined to only experience skiing or snowboarding from within the confines of four walls, while Europe’s pistes regress to being the preserve of the super rich?
IN THE OLD DAYS WHEN THERE WAS SNOW
The future of skiing and snowboarding as sports is one thing, but the future of the snowsports industry and those whose livelihoods rely on it is a far more troubling issue. Thousands of people worldwide earn their living through through this industry, mostly via winter sports tourism. In Europe especially, entire communities have been built around skiing and snowboarding and they need a dependable flow of visitors each winter to survive. Unless things change soon and Millennials can be persuaded to spend more of their time and crucially money, on ski or snowboard trips, the future of snowsports and those dependent upon them looks very bleak indeed.
Of course, as irreversible climate change (created by our predecessors) continues to tighten its distinctly un-icy grip over the planet, winter sports will probably be finished within the near future anyway; another thing of the past for Baby Boomers to reminisce fondly over, like free university education or affordable housing.
So don’t worry about saving too hard, the mountains will probably be snowless by the time we Millennials have the money to go to them anyway.
Angus, 28 , is a writer, photographer and snowboarder. Riding for 15 years, he has snowboarded in Austria, Andorra, Slovenia and France, including a season in Tignes. Aim: to spend less time in an office, more time outside.
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Main Image: Angus Rosier