Family eating s'mores

The Perception Challenge for Ski & Ride

Dave Gibson

Marketing 101: Perception is Reality. And when it comes to the sport of skiing and riding and the industry that relies on it, we have a perception issue that's holding us at less than 3% participation in North America. At a time when boomers are dropping out, we need millennials to make up the difference and to hold us over coming decades. However, this generation has little time, little money, and is risk adverse. If we look at the visual story we've been telling, its no wonder we're not gaining ground with this generation.

The picture we form in our mind's eye has a tremendous influence on this perception. Back in the day, those images started off romantic and sophisticated. Then during the 80's the perception became more fun - apres ski, hot tubs, and wild times.


Then in the 90's things shifted to Extreme, and today we have X-Games and kids hucking themselves off insane drops. This approach did grab attention but it also made the sport less approachable. The bar got too high. Kids got hurt. This just didn't work for moms and risk adverse millennials.

Go big or go home? Well, they went home.


First, we need to shift our visual focus in this direction.

The story we need to tell isn't about the sport itself, it's all that surrounds it. Skiing and riding isn't a sport. It's a lifestyle. For many, or perhaps even most, what makes someone crave for a weekend at the mountain isn't the skiing or riding itself. Its the conversations on lifts. Its the connection we feel with our friends and family. Its the cute dude or dudette at the bar. It's smores with kids and grandparents. Its then the photos, stories, and memories that we then carry with us throughout our lives.

This isn't an original idea. Already many resorts and regional organizations that promote the sport are shifting the balance to focus more and more on lifestyle.

Here are some examples:


Focuses on the town and its heritage.

Ski New Hampshire

When learning to ski becomes more than just skiing.


Ski more, shred more, chill more, cheers more, because Mountain Time is a state of mind that can only be found in one place, Utah.


Family culture from the perspective of Mom.


And here are three examples where humor is used to break barriers and make our story relatable to anyone, whether they ski or not. 


Halley is really a modern trailblazer in keeping our sport light, fun, and relatable.


Keeping it real. A must see. Hahaha!


And last, but far from least.... my man Chandler: The King of Spring @ The Beast. What's great here is relevance and timing. Winter of '15-'16 the Boston area was literally buried. They got so much snow that people couldn't leave, or wouldn't because they'd lose their parking spot that they'd just shoveled out.

This spurred an on-going King of Spring series that is just awesome.


Changing national perceptions is beyond what manufacturers, individual resorts, or regional associations can accomplish. This requires a national coordinated strategy and effort. We need a plan that directs our visual storytelling. A plan that embraces PR as a pro-active tool to plant storylines in movies, television, books, and articles - instead of only a reactive tool to clean up messes. A plan with a budget to produce content that will resonate with potential skiers and riders, and then a budget to place that content in the channels where our target audiences live.

No amount of investment in grooming, snowmaking, F&B, real estate, or facilities will move our needle beyond 3%. We must invest in Marketing. And I am very optimistic that we now have this leadership at the National Ski Area Association to accomplish this. No pressure Kelly :)