Ski School " cash cow on Aspen’s slopes | AspenTimes.com

Ski School " cash cow on Aspen’s slopes

Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” When wealthy folks from places like Los Angeles, Chicago and Des Moines flock to Aspen for the holidays, the Aspen Skiing Co. hopes to do more than sell them an $87 daily lift ticket.

The Skico hopes they will drop a few hundred more on group or private lessons and, while they are at it, rent skis or a snowboard at the company’s Four Mountain Sports shops at the base of the ski areas.

Tapping into the wallets of customers is something the Skico is good at ” better than most of its competitors.

Industry-wide, about 9 percent of people visiting a ski resort took a lesson last season on the day a survey was conducted by the National Ski Areas Association. That number has been flat for the last four seasons, according to the ski industry trade association. The actual number of people taking lessons as a percentage of people visiting the slopes is dropping, NSAA said. Fewer snowboarders are taking lessons.

In the industry as a whole, the skiers and riders who take lessons tend to have lower skill levels and hit the slopes less frequently than customers in general, according to NSAA.

Throw those findings out when it comes to Aspen-Snowmass. The ski and snowboard school is a vital and growing part of the Aspen Skiing Co.’s business model, said David Perry, senior vice president-mountain division. About 20 percent of its destination business ” customers who come from out of state for an overnight trip ” enrolls in classes, he said. Those are the Skico’s bread-and-butter customers.

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And it isn’t greenhorns who only ski a few times per season who take lessons in Aspen-Snowmass. Perry said 80 percent of Skico ski school customers are return guests, he said, and many of them are multi-year return guests.

Perry credited the ski instructors, now known as ski pros, for doing a fantastic job of building strong relations with clients. Many individuals and families have skied with the same instructor for years, sometimes decades.

“A strong ski school equates to a loyal customer,” Perry said.

The Skico devotes special marketing programs for ski school with its out-of-state customers. It’s easy to see why. A full-day, group lesson is $130 per person. A full-day private lesson is $565 for up to five people.

The Skico also tailors lessons to Roaring Fork Valley residents. Locals’ clinics on specialties like bumps, steeps and powder are heavily promoted when people purchase their season ski passes.

To get a grip on how lucrative the ski school can be, you have to look no further than the investment the Skico made at new facilities for beginners this offseason at Snowmass Ski Area. A $25 million Treehouse Kids Adventure Center opened in Base Village at the bottom of Fanny Hill.

The Skico invested additional millions in a beginners’ area at the bottom of the Elk Camp section of Snowmass. It is designed to get skiers and riders higher up on the slopes so they soak up the grandeur of the mountains and get enthused for the sport.

The Ski and Snowboard Schools of Aspen-Snowmass has 1,300 pros lined up at its four ski areas for the busy holiday period. It will be all hands on deck. In fact, even executives like Perry will help out as instructors.

The Skico also bucks the industry trend when it comes to renting ski equipment. NSAA’s resort survey last season concluded that use of rental equipment is fading.

Fewer people may be renting equipment because the ability level is rising, NSAA researchers concluded. “However, even within the various ability groupings, rental usage has been dropping ” suggesting decreased rental revenue opportunities for resorts …” the report said.

During the 2001-02 season, 33 percent of resort visitors rented equipment, according to NSAA. That fell to 25 percent in 2005-06 and stayed the same last season.

The Skico’s experience is different. About 50 percent of the Skico’s destination visitors now rent, said Perry. The overall rental rate among Skico customers is lower because the vast majority of Roaring Fork Valley residents who purchase season passes tend to own their equipment rather than rent.

Aspen’s location works in its favor for renting equipment. Lugging long skis and heavy boots into and out of airports can be an inconvenience. Plus, innovations in shaped skis add incentive to rent the latest gear each season rather than buy and have them outdated in a few seasons.

The Skico operates its Four-Mountain Sports ski and rental shops are prime locations at Aspen, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk, along with four shops scattered around Snowmass. It touts its rental shop as the only one offering free ski and snowboard overnight storage and transfer to any of the four ski areas.

“You get all of the performance and none of the hassle,” Perry said about renting.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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