By Karen D. Lorentz
KILLINGTON —Last year Killington introduced a new concept to the winter resort industry. A learn-to-ski program featured four days of lessons, lift tickets, and special Elan E-Rise skis, with all participants who completed the program receiving a pair of skis free of charge.
That program is proving to be a game changer with industry ramifications.
The innovative program was so successful—97 percent of the 400 participants completed the program—that Killington came in second in the annual National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) Conversion Cup Challenge, a friendly competition aimed at inspiring ski areas to do a better job of turning first-timers into repeat guests.
The challenge was launched by NSAA in 2010 as part of efforts to increase snow-sports participation. NSAA has been sounding the alarm on the implications of baby-boomers beginning to age out of snow sports and has urged ski areas to adopt beginner-friendly programs. (It was the baby-boomer generation that fueled skiing’s growth in the 1950s as well as the sport’s boom in the 1960s.)
“Without an industry-wide effort focused on attracting newer, younger participants and converting them into loyal skiers and riders, ski areas could face dramatic declines in visitation in the not-so distant future,” NSAA President Michael Berry stated. The industry can accomplish the overall turnaround that is needed by improving the conversion rate (of first timers to repeat participants) “from 17 percent to 25 percent,” he noted.
Rob Megnin, director of sales and marketing for Killington Resort and Pico Mountain, is pleased with the above-average 44.9 percent conversion rate experienced last year at Killington as well as a 39.4 percent for Pico’s learn-to-ski programs.
However, he added that Killington is expanding upon the concept this year, noting, “We still need to do a better job of introducing people to snow sports so that they become core enthusiasts.”
It’s not just the change in demographics that concerns Megnin. He noted that events like 9/11 and the economic downturn in 2008 “changed the way people consume recreation. The continuing challenge is to understand our customers, trends like the importance of family and people being more value-conscious, and the way the Internet has changed the game. We’re looking at all that and are employing the new technology to help people acquire our product.”
As a result, this season Killington will expand on last year’s successful four-day Elan program by including four-day programs for snowboarding and young children. There will also be new teaching/learning terrain based on special features to ease first-timers into the sports and a lodging package for those who want a consecutive four-day experience, he said.
In discussing the tremendous efficacy of the learn-to program, Megnin said that Killington soon realized it was on to something. Since then, Killington has shared its experience with other resorts in the belief that “the merit of the program is good for the industry. If it works, share it,” he said. NSAA and SIA have also asked Killington to share the program at national events.
Elan is now committed to this program at four different ski areas and Rossignol is similarly doing a program this year at three resorts. The new concept “brings manufacturers and resorts together in unique way that has traction,” Megnin said, noting Killington’s commitment to learn-to activity is tops in the East for a destination resort. (Local day areas, especially those in closer proximity to metropolitan areas, typically do more beginner lessons than do destination resorts.)
The Killington 4-day Discovery programs will serve 700 adults—500 with free Elan Skis (up from 400 last year) and 200 with free Burton Snowboards. Each new adult skier or rider will receive a two-hour lesson, rental equipment, and a lift ticket for each of four days on snow (they don’t have to be consecutive days) for a $299 package price. The Elan E-Rise ski is used for the first three lessons and after that, they get the same brand-new ski, bindings included, with a Killington branded top sheet for their fourth lesson, Megnin said. Participants in the new learn-to snowboard program will learn on Burton snowboards and will receive brand new Killington branded boards mounted with bindings prior to completing their fourth lesson (MSRP $499).
New this year, the 4-day MORE Discovery experience includes a Sunday through Thursday stay at the Grand Hotel, lessons each day, equipment, lift tickets, and some meals at significant discount (as well as the free skis or board with bindings) for $749. It will be a full mountain experience, with seeing more of the mountain as well as experiencing local hot spots like the Wobbly Barn, Megnin noted.
Also new are Ministar Discovery Camps for children ages 4-6, featuring four consecutive days of full-day lessons, Elan Junior U-Flex skis, lift tickets and lunches for $349. This program is limited to 200 young skiers, who get to keep their boots and skis after finishing the program, and a complimentary adult lift ticket will be given for use on each day of the program. The free lift ticket is similar to the Bring-a-Friend promotions, but this is the first time it is offered with programs for young children.
Killington is also partnering with Snow Operating LLC, a company that specializes in providing Terrain-Based Learning (TBL), to introduce a dedicated terrain-based learning area for anyone to use.
“It is designed to give beginners the confidence they need in a new sport and will complement our Discovery program efforts and enhance the first-time experience,” said Killington Director of Snow Sports Dave Beckwith.
The TBL area will be open to the public. The ALA trail and two other places (to be determined) will offer the features of the TBL concept.
Additionally, adults completing any of the Discovery programs will receive 50 percent off on lift tickets and lessons for the remainder of the 2014-15 season and all of the 2015-16 season. The four lessons are valid any day during the 2014-15 season, with advanced reservations recommended. For more infor, call 800-923-9444.