skier flying through sky with "Perception Matters" written across

The Perception Barrier to Growth in the Winter Resort/Recreation Industries

David Gibson

David Gibson -

At this year’s 2020 NSAA East & West conferences, I’m hosting panels to discuss the impacts of Perception on Growth in the winter resort and recreation industries. This panel taps the minds of leading resort industry marketers, PR pros, and senior management to validate this Perception Barrier, and explore solutions.

The West panel at Squaw included Gregg Blanchard (Slopefillers/Inntopia), Matt Peterson (Powdr:Boreal/Woodward Tahoe/Soda Springs) and Jon Slaughter (Sugar Bowl).

The East panel at Killington will include Mike Solimano (Powdr:Killington/Pico), Steve Wright (Jay Peak), and Drew Simmons (Pale Morning Media).

This topic has been my soapbox for years. I looked back and found that I started writing about this in 2015 after the NSAA National show.  In 2018 I started a video series called Moving The Needle to explore the barriers and opportunities for Growth and the role of Perception. I interviewed industry leaders, and again and again these experiences further reinforced my belief that if we want Growth, we must address the Perception Barrier first.

This Perception Barrier boils down to the perception that skiing and riding is too expensive, too dangerous, and too difficult. There are of course additional perceptions that keep both new skiers from stepping in, and lapsed skiers and riders from returning. 

Perceptions are mental impressions that aren’t formed by facts alone. Often facts have nothing to do with these powerful perceptions that drive many consumer decisions. They’re formed by a mixture of experiences, feelings, and impressions by what we hear in conversations, what we read, and especially what we see on our screens.

As we all know, perceptions can be shaped. It takes strategy, creativity, and resources. And today we have very effective tools. In my interview with Steve Wright (GM Jay Peak), he says: “the nuance to our world now is that we have the ability to change the message by channel - in a way we couldn’t 30 years ago. So there’s no reason that the appropriate message doesn’t travel along the appropriate channel and hit the appropriate guest. Now... there’s no excuse for not doing that." 


As Steve also tosses out in that interview, perhaps we need “ground cover provided by some national body or a consortium or subset of NSAA”.  We ponder this again in the sessions... who should be doing this?... NSAA? I used to assume that, because otherwise who would? However, the history of resistance to marketing from Michael Berry, the Ski It to Believe It debacle (30 years ago), politics, committee inertia - and now in particular, Vail’s apparent pressure on associations to stop marketing (which I don’t yet understand) - all make me wonder. 

Before getting too far over our ski tips, perhaps we should first be raising this as a topic within the NSAA Growth Committee. The Growth Committe might first consider whether these perceptions are restraining growth and whether it would be a wise investment to begin shaping positive perceptions - proacively supporting a messaging strategy. 

At some point, either action will be taken, or we'll face the impact of a smaller pie once the boomer divot hits. Either way, the pie eating contest will reach its limit. And those currently focused on consolidation will need to shift to growing the pie. But why wait? Would it be wiser to do everything to support this now, and reap the investment down the road?

2 men in pie eating contest from movie Stand By Me

We have a product that is like no other. Yet we're stuck at 3% participation. We're stuck here because we haven't worked to grow the pie by delivering impressions that are relatable, accessible, and which entice people outside the existing bubble to even consider skiing or riding. People with less time, less money and more alternatives (to include the phone in their pocket) than ever before. We need to work even harder to get them.

Not just a sport, but a culture… a lifestyle...

  • Health & wellness - physical and mental

  • Connects friends, family, and couples 

  • Visually enticing… Instagram

  • Off screens > in-the-moment

  • Invigorating achievements

  • Starts at small ski areas
  • Is an incredible VALUE

Value. Value. Value.


I’ll leave it there.

talk amongst yourselves