I just spent a very exciting first week of December skiing on delicious packed-powder snow. This is the time of year when ski towns are full of people scrambling for the best jobs with free season passes and the most powder-snow days off. It's the time of year when your mind is willing to make graceful turns down the side of a hill but your body cries out in protest.
Because I've been involved in the ski industry almost as long as there has been a ski industry, I'm occasionally asked to serve on some sort of panel and dispense some sort of wisdom.
A recent panel addressed how to get more people interested in skiing. The first words out of my mouth formed the question, "What is the most successful business in America today?" The lack of the right answer prompted me to start my sales pitch.
The biggest business today is the drug business. Drug dealers don't tell you to pony up a $100 bill to get a sample so they can hook you. They give you free samples until you're hooked.
Yet, if you want to get someone in your office hooked on skiing, you have to tell them, "Oh, by the way, bring along a $100 for your first day." Sixty bucks or more for a lift ticket, $25 bucks for rental gear, and if you think you can get a good mountaintop lunch for $15, I would like to see where that place is. Instead, why not give away virtually free samples of skiing to hook the next generation of riders?
The terrain off a beginner chairlift is so flat that with good equipment a beginner skier is bored on his third day. With so much equipment around, why not have a ski shop in the city offer last year's unsold gear for $10 per day? The shop could work with the resort on a package that would provide a beginner with equipment, the use of the beginner lift, a hot dog and a soda for lunch and a cup of hot chocolate at the end of the day. Then the beginners could watch a free ski video that shows the thrill of the sport once they learn what they're doing.
The new skier would have his or her skiing friend as an escort through the difficult part of finding a ski shop, renting gear and getting to the resort. They could be shown where the bathrooms are, where the sundeck is and be helped on the hill by an apprentice instructor who could point them down the hill in the right direction.
The resort could offer, say, 200 sets of equipment per day, which could give the rental facility an income of $2,000 per day that it's not making now. That would pay for the hot dogs, soda and hot chocolate, as well as the salaries of a few instructors.
Nearly 60 years ago, I had to teach beginners-on seven-foot wood skis-how to make snowplow turns down a small slope they had just climbed up. Almost every one of those beginners were brought to Sun Valley, Idaho, by a friend when a learn-to-ski week cost $85 and included room and board, lift and lessons.
Almost anyone reading this can remember Day One on skis: where you went, what you wore, the tree you turned around. And of course, you can never forget the person who took you to the slopes for the first time.
Today, very few people take a never-skied-before friend because a day on the mountain is so costly that most people don't want to waste the time by introducing a friend to the sport. Maybe someone can tell me why reducing that cost for beginners is not such a good idea.