Sierra Resorts Say Customer Base Steady

Tahoe-area ski resorts say a California vibe, a strong snowboard culture and proximity to Reno is helping them buck a national trend of aging skiers.

According to a recent study by the National Ski Areas Association, the average age of skiers and snowboarders rose to 36.6 in the 2006-07 season, compared with 32.1 in the 1996-97 season.

Snow riders age 45 and older make up 32 percent of resort visitors compared with 20 percent a decade ago.

In comparison, skiers and snowboarders age 10 to 32 dropped from 58 percent of visitors in the 1996-97 season to 47 percent of visitors last year.

But Sierra resort operators around Lake Tahoe said their youthful customer base remains intact.

"We're younger because we have a strong snowboard culture plus
that California vibe going on," said Russ Pecoraro, communications
director for Heavenly Mountain Resort.

"We also have a great college following."

Mike Pierce, marketing director at Mount Rose Ski Tahoe, said its customer base reflects the population of nearby Reno.

"We're not seeing any tailing off in young people," Pierce said. "Being that we're only 25 minutes away from a metropolitan area with a population of over 200,000, it makes it very convenient for us."

"Our growth also correlates with Reno's growth in the past decade, so our audience tends to reflect the community."

Although bigger destination resorts nationwide have been hit hardest by an aging customer base, smaller feeder resorts, such as Sierra-At-Tahoe, have been the exception, the association found.

"We're stronger in the younger demographic - 60 percent or so of our customers are age 34 and younger," said Sierra-At-Tahoe marketing director Mindi Befu.

"We also have a higher snowboarding mix than the national average. We've averaged at least 50 percent and as much as 60 percent snowboarders versus skiers in the last five years."

Befu said attracting young snow lovers is important to the industry's future.

"Eventually, the baby boomers are going to move out of the sport as they get older," Befu said. "In order to reach the most amount of people and groom lifetime customers, getting the younger demographic is important."


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