If you've never tried skiing because you think it's expensive, hard to learn, dangerous and not a good family activity - beware.
The Ski Industries America and National Ski Areas Association plans to spend $14 million next year just to get you on the ski slopes. The two associations, which recently announced a merger, will kick off a five-year national campaign next fall to lure those who have never skied into the lift lines."Everything we do will influence someone to start skiing," said Bill Akers, director of marketing for the Ski Industries America.
You'll see television commercials selling the fun, exhilaration and health of skiing. You will probably see a lot of families and older people in those commercials, as the industry tries desperately to appeal to the aging Baby Boomer who is married and has children.
You will get fliers in the mail; you'll see booklets in every sport store; you will hear about 1-800 phone numbers for those interested in learning to ski; and you will see other corporations that could profit from the campaign - such as major credit card companies - jumping on the bandwagon.
The national associations will conduct seminars for local resort owners and ski retailers to show them how they can create their own ski promotions to complement the national campaign.
All of it is aimed at getting the "never-ever skier" on the slopes.
The associations created this campaign after a New York marketing research firm, McKinsey and Co., told them there are 35 million potential skiers in this country who aren't skiing. So the associations hired a national advertising agency, DMB&B, to hunt those folks down and put them in ski bibs.
If the program goes the way the associations hope, it will dramatically change the sport.
"A lot of changes will have to be made in the way we do business in the ski shops and at the ski area to accommodate these new skiers," Akers said. "We have to become user friendly."
As the associations envision it, travel agencies, hotels, restaurants, ski shops and ski resorts will do everything they can to make skiing appealing, affordable and easy.
For example, learn-to-ski packages will be available everywhere. The cost of many packages will include meals at fine restaurants and alternative entertainment. Travel agencies will become more adept at selling total ski packages the way they now sell luxury cruise packages.
In Utah last year, only 18 percent of those who traveled here to ski came on a package trip, said Bob Bailey, executive director of Ski Utah. The rest had to plan their own trip.
"That's not user friendly," Bailey said. He wants Utah to leap into the package market.
Taking a lesson from the cruise industry, the ski industry is no longer selling skiing as a sport, it is selling it as an "experience," complete with dining and entertainment.
The Colorado resorts have already caught the vision of the ski experience. They are particularly eager to provide that experience to families. USA Today recently featured the variety of children's entertainment created by the Colorado ski resorts to draw families to their slopes.
The associations intend to attack all the fears that keep people from skiing: fear of expense, fear of cold, fear of injury, fear of age.
The two associations announced their new campaign at the recent annual Ski Industries America trade show in Las Vegas. They stressed the need for the industry to pull together in this national marketing effort and speak with one voice.
But it was clear that one voice is hard to come by in the industry. For example, the industry is trying hard to dispel the perception that skiing is expensive by helping local resorts put together startlingly cheap learn-to-ski packages.
Yet, Tom Richards, a national marketing expert, offered a seminar at the trade show for retailers that focused on the affluent customer as the key to financial success.
"Read my lips: Skiing is not for poor people. It is a rich person's sport. You won't make the money you need to succeed by hanging around with the poor end of the industry," he said.
"Go to Vail. Go to Aspen. A lift ticket - I don't care if it's on a package deal - is $30 or $40. You take a family of four and that's $120 just to say hello to the mountain. You haven't even skied yet," he said. "You walk around and take a look at Vail and what you see is affluence. Those people spend a ton of dough. We have to start thinking about those people."
The ski industry has never spoken with a single voice, conceded Mike Leonhardt, senior vice president of DMB&B. It has been fractured by conflicting messages. But Leonhardt's job is to fix that problem.
"We want to see everyone deliver the same message in a consistent manner to the same target audience," he said.
Much of the associations' money will be spent to help ski shops and ski resorts catch on to what the associations are trying to accomplish and realize how much the sport's survival depends on achieving those goals.
The associations will use seminars, marketing conferences and newsletters to help local ski businesses get on the wagon, Leonhardt said. They will teach ski-shop owners how to turn their rental and sales businesses into information centers as well, by showing them how to provide customers with information about resorts, lift tickets, hotels, restaurants and related entertainment.
After that, it's up to each local area.