Friday, March 1, 2013

Bring back the ski bus

The National Ski Areas Association reports that just 15 percent of people who try snow sports become long-term participants. That means that the number of new skiers and boarders coming online isn’t keeping up with the rapid decline in participation by aging baby boomers who fueled the economic expansion of mountain resorts starting in the 1960s.

If mountain towns are to prosper, ski resorts and ski communities soon must undertake intensive training and education initiatives. In other words, it’s time to bring back the ski bus—and more.

Baby boomers grew up with access to small ski areas, Saturday ski buses, ski clubs, group instruction and gear exchanges that made winter sports more affordable. It’s time to renew such programs along with undertaking a push to put skiing and boarding into schools and community recreation programs.

Unlike other sports, alpine skiing, boarding and cross-country skiing aren’t normal parts of most physical education programs Yet, unlike many sports, skiing and boarding are lifetime sports that strengthen social connections among participants as time goes on.

Despite the virtues of skiing and boarding, entry is more often serendipitous than not. Mountain towns like ours do a good job of engaging youngsters, but similar efforts are needed near cities where most participants live.

Arts organizations know that training kids in visual arts, drama and music not only enhances their lives, but creates audiences that support symphonies, acting companies, galleries and museums.

Ski resorts are slowly taking a page out of their book. Colorado’s Vail Resorts recently bought two Midwest ski areas near Minneapolis and Detroit to grow interest.

Kids needs winter sports, and winter sports need them. Getting them together will stop the “downhill slide,” but will require more than mere advertising.

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