SnowSearch and industry leaders aim to bring millennials back to slopes
As the skiing and snowboarding industry gradually loses the interest of the rising generation, organizations that depend on the popularity of those sports to survive are wracking their brains about what to do. One possible solution is sweeping through Park City, and the U.S. at large.
SnowSearch is a website designed for millennials and Generation Zers to plan ski and snowboard trips that launched earlier this month. Reviews of the resorts are user-generated and all of the information needed is in one place, making it easy for users to see where snow is dumping and immediately book lodging, lift tickets and ski rentals.
Several winter sports organizations are embracing the vision of the two East Coast young adults now living in Utah who created the website, and collaborations are underway to get it in front of millennials’ eyes.
Mike Cremeno, vice president of sales and marketing for the ski rental service Ski Butlers, which is based in Park City, said that when Bryan Dunn and Luke Zirngibl rolled up in an RV to explain their business idea this summer, there were several benefits that jumped out to him. Mainly, it was the access to accurate and real information for users.
“They are uncovering completely trusted information that’s unbiased and cool content to help mainly millennials, but really all travelers, get access to information and really pick and choose what vacation is best for them,” he said.
Ski Butlers has since paid to be featured directly on the site.
Dunn said that as he spent time studying how millennials make decisions and purchases, he discovered the demographic between ages 18 and 34 tends to look away from sponsored content. He and Zirngibl decided to make reviews about each of the 400 resorts on the site from the perspective of regular people experiencing the slopes just as users would.
“You don’t want to hear about Vail from Vail, you want to hear about it from the crowd,” Dunn said. “They’ll tell you the good and they’ll tell you the bad.”
Ski industry and travel officials have stated that baby boomers are aging out of the sport and millennials are not coming in droves to fill the holes they leave behind. Most point to the high cost of skiing as the reason, but others mention that multiple activities compete for millennials’ attention and dollars.
Cremeno said that millennials also tend to have different booking habits, which the industry has not catered to in the past. They care about the convenience of booking as well as the cost, far more than older generations.
Plus, Dunn added, millennials are looking for a more well-rounded experience, from knee-deep powder to a thriving nightlife.
“There is a whole different set of criteria that our generation is going skiing around, and it’s as much on mountain as it is off,” he said.
So, the site also has reviews about the best places to grab a bite to eat or listen to music.
Nick Sargent, president of Snowsports Industries America, said that he sees the potential of the site. Having the ability to read reviews about resorts and see current snow conditions could be a game changer. If skiers and snowboarders have a good time, it increases the likeliness that they will return to the slopes.
“They are redefining the point of play,” he said, “and making sure that people come back to do it again and again. Then, they go into stores to buy gear. They go to the ticket windows… It’s good for the snowsports community because they will keep coming back for more.”
SIA, which has headquarters in Park City, is a nonprofit trade association that connects suppliers and retailers of snowsports gear to each other and to resources and opportunities within the industry. Sargent said that he is helping to spread the word about the site to all of SIA’s 1,200 members because he believes in its ability to boost the number of millennials skiing.
Mike Mallon, executive director of the U.S. Snowboard and Freeski Association, said that he uses the site to list the 500 events the Lake Tahoe, California-based, organization hosts every year. Now, members can sign up for an event and book lodging in one sweep.
Dunn and Zirngibl, who grew up in New York and New Jersey, respectively, began building the website in January, but have already gained support from organizations throughout the country. They spent the summer touring in an RV, living off the road near Park City for a while before finally deciding to settle in Cottonwood Heights.
The two are excited about the growth and the possibility of making a difference in the industry. Since both have a love for winter sports, they want to make sure everyone experiences the joy of flying down the mountain on skis or a board.
“The perception of skiing, if we’re being honest, is it’s complicated, it’s expensive and it’s exclusive,” he said. “Our whole goal with this is to break down the barriers of that because we think that will increase engagement. (We want to) create one centralized platform that uplifts the entire industry.”
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Vail Resorts has entered into a definitive merger agreement to acquire 100 percent of the outstanding stock of Peak Resorts. Through the acquisition, Vail Resorts will add 17 U.S. ski areas to its network of resorts.