For many years, the number of skiers, and skier visits increased dramatically. However, for the last ten years, skier visits to resorts have been either relatively flat or declining depending on the year. Even before the recent economic problems, it was apparent that the skiing industry has a problem with declining numbers.
In general, skiing, in and of itself, has been seeing a decline for awhile because of the increase in the popularity of snowboarding and other snow sports. Snowboarding is easier to learn than skiing and continues to be popular with kids and young adults. However, both skiers and snowboarders are counted as a "skier" visit when they get on the mountain. So, it isn't just skiing that is leveling off and declining, it is also snowboarding.
For the purposes of this article, both skiing and snowboarding are referred to as skiing. There are a number of reasons why skiing is losing its popularity.
1. Aging population This accounts for much of the drop. The large numbers of skiers who learned the sport in the 1970s and 80s are now older. Skiing is a physical sport and it requires a certain degree of fitness. It is hard for people with aching backs and bad knees to spend a lot of time of the slope. So, as skiers age, they tend to ski less and as the American population ages, it means fewer skiers.
2. Failure to get younger generations and non-traditional groups involved in skiing This is closely related to number 1. For many years, the ski industry operated on auto-pilot assuming that skiers would continue to teach their kids to ski and they did not need to expand their market. The industry is paying the price now.
3. Increased expense - It's not just ticket prices; equipment, travel and lodging have all seen dramatic increases. Families that used to be able to afford a ski vacation, or even a ski weekend, now find it out of their budget. Or instead of skiing each day of their seven day vacation, now they only ski three days. Instead of six trips to the mountains by a local family, they take two.
Additionally, the resorts have continued to find new and creative ways to soak the skiers out of every last nickel. Skiers used to be able to pack PB & J sandwiches and eat on picnic tables. The resorts have removed the picnic tables and won't allow outside food in their restaurants. Families are now forced to spend $8.00 on a hamburger if they want to eat. Parking lots used to be free, now many times you have to pay.
4. Increased competition for family time/vacation time - In skiing's heyday, there was not a lot of competition for the vacation dollar so it was routine for skiing families to spend time each year skiing. However, many other industries realized how lucrative the family vacation and buddy vacation markets are and there is competition from all inclusive resorts, cruise ships, theme parks, water parks and many other places, not to mention the growth in timeshares that now allow people to change where they vacation every year. Even families that consider themselves "skiers" rarely visit every year anymore.
5. Its image as an elite sport hurts it - For many years, skiing clung to its perceived image as an elite sport. It liked to highlight the movie stars and rich people in Aspen and Deer Valley as the people the industry wanted skiing. Aspen and Vail had, and continue to have, annual challenges to see who will have the most expensive lift ticket in the country.
However, that image has caught up to the industry and hurt it. Even though small resorts charge a lot less, people still think of Aspen and Vail and Deer Valley when they think of ticket prices. In reality, even Aspen has to resort to discounted tickets now. Even though snow suits sold at a discount at big box retailers do just fine in the snow, people think they need a name-brand outfit or they'll be kicked out of the lift lines.
The decline in skier numbers is not equal. Some resorts continue to see ever larger skier visits every year while other resorts struggle to stay open. Ski areas are finding that they have to resort to new tactics to draw skiers, "the highest" this or "the largest" that dominate ads. But, if the skiing industry really wants to fix the problem, they need to focus on the areas above.