Written Roger Lohr – XCSkiResorts.com
It was a snowy and blustery day for the CCSAA Eastern meeting held at Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center in Gorham. NH. There were 65 attendees representing 29 ski areas and 9 venders. The group had lunch in the recently opened Glen House hotel, which was first built in 1852 and was destroyed four times in fires. It has been 30 years since they started planning for the hotel’s reconstruction on the site near the Mt. Washington Auto Road and Great Glen.
A key feature of the new facility is that it is heated and cooled with a geothermal system and other sustainable efforts are practiced. A hydro power system will soon be installed to produce 20 kwh of electricity on site, there are EV chargers for autos, and the Great Glen lodge is heated by a pellet boiler.
The CCSAA meeting was begun with new snow outside and a keynote presentation about climate change that was pretty much a downer…but the speaker did jokingly point out that the CCSAA logo has 7 points which makes it the only snowflake on the planet that does not have 6 points. The speaker commented about warming trends, the increase in precipitation, and gave a dire warning that within a couple of decades lower elevations in New England might have a climate similar to present Maryland!
A second presentation was given about social media with tips about Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter with dos and don’ts that were offered for each. Information about who is using the different forms of social media was shared. The acceptable number of hashtags and a call to action were tips that were mentioned.
TrailHub presented a sales pitch for replacing paper trail maps with its digital service for a fee.
Information about CCSAA programs was reviewed by CCSAA Executive Director Reese Brown, who described the new CCSAA websites (one for consumers and one for CCSAA members). There are new partnerships with Fischer Ski, the ski magazines, and he made a brief mention that the org has hired a public relations agency. It was announced that the annual CCSAA Conference will be held in Lake Placid, NY on April 2-3, where attendees can experience the Olympics sites.
Encouraging people to become skiers is paramount and in a new partnership, CCSAA ski areas are now listed on the Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month website that promotes learning to ski during the month of January, a day of celebration on Friday, January 11, and Bring a Friend. Ski areas can take advantage by posting their “special offers” for their respective “learn to ski” offer for the month, on January 11, and Bring a Friend. There is no cost to list the special offers in a state-by-state menu on the learn to ski website that can be done via http://www.ski-snowboard.org/start-lss-m/submit-offers
Data and Trend Info
Reese also reviewed data trends and info from the CCSAA ski area survey, where there was an increase of areas that responded from 35 the previous year to 56 this year. But the low level of ski area response precludes drawing many meaningful conclusions from the info. The attendees suggested that the number of skier visits associated with season pass holders be increased substantially for the survey purposes. Currently the survey assumes 9 skier visits for each season pass holder and it was suggested that the number should be about 20 visits.
Other trends were cited. Less than half of the meeting attendees offered fat biking at their areas. There was a recommendation that rental inventories be upgraded and that is directly impacted by millennials who want to experience cross country skiing but are less interested in owning their own equipment.
Reese called for more ski areas to participate with the survey. He wants to provide members with information about revenue categories that can be correlated to skier visits. He also commented that snowmaking is attainable by many more ski areas and he is dedicated to help demystify snowmaking for XC ski area operators. Another statement made was that grooming equipment sales have increased and that is a sign of optimism in the snow sports business.
There was an outdoor snowmaking session and a presentation about kids program. Two other sessions that I attended at the CCSAA meeting included what to do about “trail poachers” and retail/rental margin makers. One ski area operator quoted that he felt that his area lost $10-15,000 of revenue annually to people who sneak on the trails and don’t pay for a trail pass. A significant aspect of the issue is that ski area employees do not want to confront nonpaying skiers and make a scene.
The discussion included representatives from a cross section of ski area operations. Some areas use ambassadors rather than “trail police” to engage with nonpaying skiers. Staff training and role playing is important for employees to feel comfortable with approaching poachers. It was also suggested that it is better to have a greeter in the parking lot so that the engagement happens prior to the skier sneaking on the trails. The conversation with poachers should include the value of groomed and signed trails (cost of grooming equipment and staff, insurance, safety by patrollers, etc.). Communicate to people within the region to inform about this issue perhaps in letters to the editor in the local newspaper, announcements on town websites, posting on a list serve, etc.
One suggestion was to use snow fences to prevent entry to the trails. Another idea was to have people check trail passes at key trail intersections. Signage about what the trail pass covers was an additional idea. Some ski areas trade a season pass for volunteers to become trail ambassadors. It was suggested that the trail pass should be attached to skiers so that it is visible. While many XC skiers want to “do the right thing” a soft confrontation with trail poachers might help explain why the area operator is justified asking for everyone to pay a fee to access the trails. There was also a suggestion that police arrest some people sneaking on the trails early in the season to make an example of them.
The retail/rental margin makers outlined how to increase profit by buying with preseason discounts and marking up prices. The Great Glen shop does well with stuffed animals, cheap sunglasses, logo products, and weather-related items such as gloves, snowpants, and mittens. The most profitable retail items in general (not XC ski oriented) were outlined as cosmetics, bottled water, greeting cards, mattresses and furniture, fountain drinks, jewelry, movie popcorn and medical prescriptions.
The discussion about rental was conducted by Rossignol’s Will Masson, who suggested using the good-better-best concept for the rental equipment inventory. The good is an all around XC ski that can be used in the tracks and the better is a wider ski with steel edges, while the best is a combi ski that can be used for skate skiing. He showed the ski bindings and demonstrated the adjustable binding positions for impacting grip and glide. This works great with the popular skin skis to perform in varying conditions. The tips he shared was to get people on new skis that are light, waxless, and have adjustable bindings, get new skiers (and everyone else) a lesson so they become more proficient at XC skiing, and send out staff to enhance skiers’ experiences with tips, guided tours, and engagement on the trails. All good ideas.