Thursday, February 26, 2015

Millennial Mountain Must-Haves

Millennials enjoying a fondue lunch at Gstaad's Restaurant Eggli - Copyright: Gstaad Saanenland Tourismus
A click of a mouse, the scroll of a finger, the press of a button – this is how Millennials have grown up and how they now conduct business, reservations, purchasing, communication and social transactions. Increasingly, marketers have been turning their attention away from Baby Boomers and towards gratifying the instantaneous needs of the Now Generation.

There are currently around 79 million Millennials in North America – that’s three million more than Baby Boomers who are predicted to dwindle to just 58 million by 2030. Otherwise known as Generation Y, they were born between 1980 and 1999, children of the Digital Age. While the younger component is still financially dependent on parents, older Millennials are at peak purchasing power and an ideal target market for ski resorts. So what are the keys to attracting, satisfying and retaining this demanding demographic?

Gstaad skiing - Copyright: Gstaad Saanenland Tourismus
Here are a few Mountain Must-Haves for Millennials:
- Free Wi-Fi throughout ski hill
- Social and wired areas in lodges and in ski hotel lobbies
- High tech, cellphone-friendly websites
- Apps to replace traditional ski maps, ski info
- Real time reporting and responding
- Trustworthy peer reviews
Automated check in/out at ski accommodation and automated bill paying
- Automated, smart card lift passes for ease of purchase and use
- Smart technology and plentiful power outlets in lodges, hotels, bedrooms
- Cool factor at the hill – unique, emotional component, age-appropriate freebies
- Social responsibility programs at hill, après ski venues and hotels
- Pod hotels – reducing hotel costs in order to have a larger budget for more active vacation experiences

Social media, online reviewing and apps are mainstays of Millennial choice-making. Around 40 percent of Millennials are likely to share travel experiences during their trip and 34 percent will disperse details via social media on their return. Likewise, they use peer reviews, checking on average 10.2 sources, before booking. This is a vast resource of feedback that hotels and destinations can harness for their own marketing purposes. 

The village of Saanen, Gstaad - Copyright: Gstaad Saanenland Tourismus
One Swiss resort which has responded to this high tech trend is Gstaad, particularly in regard to apps. Visitors can benefit from up to date information from many different sources including iGstaad App for Android, iSKI Swiss,, Snocountry, Skitude, myswitzerland, Skiline, Schee & Mehr. Gstaad’s piste map is interactive and Pistenbericht gives a daily updated snow report, slope report, weather and web cams.

Gstaad at night - Copyright: Gstaad Saanenland Tourismus
Gstaad is also active on social media. Their Facebook tagged Gstaad – come up, slow down” is updated daily and they have a strong presence on Instagram and Twitter. Gstaad incorporated a responsive design into their website - - which is compatible with every gadget, smartphone and computer. They are also able to track users. “During last year (2014) 64.02 percent of the users were desktop-users, 19.15 percent mobile users and 16.83 percent tablet-users,” says Antje Buchs, Project Manager Public Relations for Gstaad Saanenland Tourismus. “Thanks to the responsive design, it is also possible to book hotels and apartments with smartphones.”

Restaurant Eggli - Copyright: Gstaad Saanenland Tourismus
Despite their reliance on online communication, Millennials are actually more sociable offline than previous generations – so long as technology is close at hand. With such constant access to images of social activity, they are subject to the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) phenomenon. Around 58 percent prefer to travel with friends: that’s 20 percent more than other demographic groups. Free Wi-Fi around the slopes of Gstaad in social spots such as the Eggli, Rellerli, Saanerslochgrat and Wispile mountain restaurants means that digital devotees can relax in between runs and socialize while still keeping in touch online.

Peak to Peak Suspension Bridge - Copyright: Gstaad Saanenland Tourismus
Wow factors for Gstaad include the chance to visit the world’s first peak-to-peak suspension bridge, Peak Walk. Spanning 107m, with spectacular mountain views, the bridge starts at the top of View Point on Glacier 3000 and finishes at Scex Rouge peak. Glacier 300 also gives Gstaad the longest ski season in the area.

Fondueland Gstaad - Copyright: Gstaad Saanenland Tourismus
While every Alpine resort offers fondue evenings, Gstaad has gone a step further with Fondueland. Here guests enjoy fondue while sitting in one of two giant wooden fondue-pots which each seat up to eight people. The specially designated huts are open year round and accessible by foot, bike, sledge or snowshoes. Catering to Millennial music mania, Gstaad’s Ride on Music is a three-day festival with a mix of hiphop, street, rock and folk music, with satellite events on the slopes by day and in town by night.

Snowshoeing at Gstaad - Copyright: Gstaad Saanenland Tourismus
The Superpass satisfies another ‘Millennial Must-Have’: value for money. It covers three ski areas with one ticket, encompassing 188 lifts and 630km of skiing. Although Gstaad is by no means a cheap ski resort, it prides itself on making skiing accessible to youth and families. And youth lift ticket rates have been extended up to the age of 23. The resort also has several affordable lodging options including Saanewald Lodge, Spitzhorn, Hamilton Lodge and a new youth hostel in the nearby community of Saanen which was incidentally dubbed by actress, Julie Andrews as “the last paradise in a crazy world.”

Alpine authenticity at Gstaad - Copyright: Gstaad Saanenland Tourismus
Environmental sustainability is an important issue for Millennials, who have grown up with recycling and the notion of reducing environmental footprints. In this respect, Sustainable Gstaad has various ongoing ecological projects including traditional alpine farming, hydro-electric power stations, a central hotel laundry, and green fuel for piste equipment.

Gstaad groomers - Copyright: Gstaad Saanenland Tourismus

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The world’s top ski resort designer

Paul Mathews at Niseko United, Japan in March 2014 with Yotei San Volcano in the background
Since 1975 Paul Mathews has been designing ski resorts all over the world, numbering in the 400s by 2015. In the course of his work he has met many world leaders including the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, President of Montenegro and the King of Spain, Juan Carlos, who offered to trade jobs with him for a winter season. “I declined saying that being a King was really too hard work; shaking hands and smiling at people you did not know and did not particularly care for,” says Mathews. “To which he laughed and said my job was definitely better than his.”

Mt Washington Ski Resort
Having grown up skiing in Colorado, early in his career he designed a brand new resort on Vancouver Island, Mount Washington Ski Resort, which opened in 1978. With his academic background in forest ecology and landscape architecture, he was able to satisfy environmental prerequisites at Mount Washington, preserving soil, water and forests while creating a viable resort. “It was critically acclaimed and it quickly became the second most visited ski resort in British Columbia,” says Mathews. “Word of mouth led to jobs down in Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon.”

Whistler Blackcomb by Paul Morrison
In 1975 he became Chairman of the initial Resort Municipality Of Whistler Planning Commission with some oversight of the design of the new Whistler Village. He also commenced planning for Whistler Mountain ski area with responsibility for the extensive system of lifts and slopes. From his Whistler-based company, Ecosign, Mathews has gone on to design over 400 resorts in 38 countries, always with an eye to creating an Alpine flavor, looking at the resort as a holistic picture, and centralizing services. This is not an easy task but Ecosign has researched how far the average skier will willingly walk around a resort and how much uphill walking they will tolerate. Moreover, Mathews does not allow stairs in an Ecosign resort, favoring ramps instead. Slope capacity is also taken into account as well as the difficulty level of runs and the carrying capacity of lifts. Ecosign is now able to use a software program detecting the best snow on the mountain and the warmest spots to construct restaurant patios. 

Paul Mathews
With annual revenues around $3million, Ecosign remains a relatively small company with 20 employees. Their modus operandi is to identify terrain for the ski area and base village, bearing in mind climate – especially snowfall, sun and wind. Next they map out the best slopes and send in foresters and surveyors to fine-tune the layout to match the natural topography. Lifts, ski runs, and base areas are then penciled in. “A greenfield project could take four years,” says Mathews. “An addition or renovation to an existing project could perhaps take just one year.” The team travels extensively, dealing with different cultures, languages and international media and attends trade shows in America, Canada, Europe and China on an annual basis.

Skiing right through the centre of Sun Peaks, designed by Paul Mathews with a Tyrolean motif - photo credit: Royce Sihlis
The name Ecosign is actually a contraction of “ecological design”, Mathews explains: “Ecosign has become a world-wide reputable brand for mountain resort design.” However, his innovative ideas where honed by negative experiences at badly executed ski areas during his youth skiing in Washington State: “That led to interest later in life to undertake university studies in forest ecology and landscape architecture at the University of Washington in Seattle as the educational foundation needed to design good mountain resorts.”

Nakiska Mountain Resort - photo credit: Devon Gamble
Ecosign was responsible for identifying possible sites in readiness for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. “We ended up identifying seventeen different potential areas, narrowed that down to approximately three and finally, the Government of Alberta chose development of Nakiska at Mount Allan to host the Olympic Alpine Skiing events, the legacy training site and a commercially viable recreational ski area,” Mathews explains. “Nakiska at Mount Allan filled all of those goals and was built for $23 million and continues to host about 200,000 skier visits annually.” This work lead the Austrian lift company, Doppelmayr to recommend to Nippon Cable, Japan that they hire “Olympic Planners” which lead to Ecosign’s first job in Mount Zao, Japan in 1984. “We have since made plans for 34 areas in Japan including 13 new greenfield projects,” Mathews adds.

Next followed work preparing master plans for Swiss resorts in Laax, Arosa and Savognin which in turn led to assignments in Austria, Spain and France. “The company’s reputation and breadth of projects just grew organically, averaging about ten new projects per year plus of course taking care of a lot of existing customers,” says Mathews.

Skiing beneath the heated Orange Bubble Express at Canyons
Courtesy Canyons Resort
A career coup was getting the contract in 2010 to re-figure the ski lift system at Courchevel, one of France’s ritziest resorts. The same year he redesigned Canyons Resort in Park City, Utah. He was also responsible for choosing the location and designing the resort of Rosa Khutor as well as mapping out the competitive courses for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. And Ecosign was chosen to plan PyeongChang, Korea for the Freestyle Skiing and Snowboarding venues for the 2018 Winter Olympics. The company also won an international competition to design the Snow Cluster competition venues for the Beijing bid to host the Olympic Winter Games in 2022.

Me skiing Canyons, Utah - photo credit: Simon Hudson
During Mathews’ long career he has noticed three important technological improvements which have assisted ski area planning. “Detachable grip chairlifts, snowmaking systems and winch cats for grooming ski slopes have very substantially changed how we design ski resort,” he explains. “In fact, I was considered the first ‘early adaptor’ in seeing the tremendous potential benefits of detachable grip chairlifts and gondolas. Given rope speeds two to three times faster than conventional fixed grip lifts allows us to go two or three times longer distances for equivalent travel times and due to the carrier spacing allows us to go much higher verticals up to 800 or even 1,000 meters with existing wire rope construction methods. Winch cats allow grooming of steep slopes and snowmaking has improved tenfold from when I started in the business in efficiency and quality and quantity of snow.”

And the future for Ecosign when Mathews retires? There’s a transition plan in place whereby several senior VPs will team up with Mathews’ son and daughter to continue the lasting legacy.  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Freeski Female-Style

Elevate ladies buckling up for first day at camp - photo Louise Hudson
Despite the fact that around two-thirds of skiers and boarders are male, there are an increasing number of ski school programs devoted to promoting advanced skiing for women. Just as females generally respond better to group instruction at gyms, they also prefer a women-only group format for winter sports. Resorts have recognized that many women are intimidated by mixed gender groups, are more likely to sign up for same sex instruction and also more likely to stay in skiing if they have females among their ski friends.

First night's Elevate Reception at K-Bar, Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa - photo by Emily Beardsley
Jackson Hole has been running Elevate Women’s Ski Camp since 2000. The concept is to raise the bar on women’s ski progression by day, and to facilitate socialization and relaxation in the luxury of Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa by night. A stone’s throw from the resort’s gondola and aerial tram, this four-star hotel is the après ski hub of the camp, offering 25 percent discount on lodging to campers. Evening events are held in conference rooms, in the Spur Bar & Restaurant – a very lively après ski spot - and in the K-Bar, a more intimate lounge bar in the hotel lobby. Although the women separate off into small groups for ski tuition, they mix and mingle at organized lunches and receptions, impromptu dinners and at the final banquet.

Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa
Designed for intermediate and advanced skiers, the camp runs in January and March and has seen so many repeat attendees that it inaugurated a 10-timer award in 2015 to help encourage and reward repeaters. "After 15 years of involvement with the Women's Camp, I am still amazed at the improvement, camaraderie, and the stark enthusiasm of the campers," says Lexey Wauters, camp coach and coordinator. "Campers come from all over the country with widely varied ski backgrounds; they all slide away better, happier, more confident skiers."

Participants - mostly from the USA but also from as far away as Great Britain and Australia - numbered in the 50s at the January camp by the 2013/14 season and in the 60s by 2014/15.

Crystal Wright
As well as providing a vast array of female instructors, one of the camp’s cachets is having three professional freeskiers to help coach. These are Kim Havell, Jess McMillan and Crystal Wright, all cast members of the groundbreaking all-female extreme ski movie, Pretty Faces. As well as trouble-shooting each four or five person ski group with tips and techniques for tackling tough slopes, they contribute motivational presentations during après ski sessions.

"Having three of the top female freeskiers in the industry here in Jackson Hole is a testament to the fact that this is an ideal mountain for women of any ability to cultivate their interests in skiing, thrive with support and keep taking it to the next level," says Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Communications Manager, Anna Cole. "Increasing popularity of the camp year after year only underscores the importance of embracing this strong female demographic and giving them what they need to elevate."

Crystal Wright
During camps ski fitness advice is offered by Crystal Wright, a professional big-mountain skier, Jackson Hole gym owner and fitness trainer. “Ski preparation, maintenance and strength is so, so important. The stronger the skiers are, the less likely they are to become injured,” says Wright. “They also will enjoy themselves so much more because they will be able to ski until the end of the day without feeling like they might hurt themselves. Also, recovery after a hard day will be quicker.”

Me during Elevate Jan 2015 - by Emily Beardsley
As well as providing the blueprint for fitness and stretching at an evening exercise class, Wright rotates around the ski groups adding her tactics for skiing tricky terrain. It’s all about instilling confidence in the women and in their skiing ability, she maintains: “We all look at ski runs and lines differently so I try to relate to them how I push myself through something that is intimidating. The women are better skiers than they think they are, so I try to give them some helpful cues they can think of when skiing a run that they are uncomfortable with.” The key to progress is pushing comfort zones in the company of other like-minded women, Wright concludes. Video analysis enables instructors and skiers to dissect skiing stance as a very visual means of instilling new techniques. And highlights from the videos are put together with matching music to create a lively show at the end of camp banquet.

Tenessa Singleton (left) with Louise Hudson
Attending the January 2015 Elevate Camp, Tenessa Singleton transformed ski apathy into renewed ski fervor. “Until I did this camp, I was so frustrated with skiing that I was going to take up snowboarding,” she says.  I really enjoyed being with women from all over who have a passion for skiing,” she adds. “I have spent the last several winters in Jackson Hole but our amazing instructor introduced us to parts of the mountain I have never seen - secret little powder stashes and tree skiing galore. Besides confidence building and technical skiing, I made some great friends. And the highlight of the camp had to be skiing with three of the best pro skiers in the world.” 

 Elevate Instructor Christina Cartier (left) with
Jess McMillan (right) - photo by Louise Hudson
During her January 2015 Elevate presentation, Jess McMillan explained how the female pro skiers at Jackson Hole have pushed the boundaries not only on female skiing instruction but also on how female athletes are perceived by the ski industry. “Kim, Crystal, Lindsey Dyer, me and a few others got together four years ago and changed the profile of women in skiing,” said McMillan to the rapt audience. “Before then there was just one token woman in ski movies and in advertising, which meant all the female freeskiers were fighting for the one spot all the time. But we got together and we said enough, we’re going to work together from now on.”

Lynsey Dyer in the Aerial Tram Jackson Hole - photo by Louise Hudson

One of the results of this collaboration was the movie, Pretty Faces. This has been a springboard for many female freeskiing careers, including McMillan’s. She was next asked to star in Warren Miller’s 65th feature film, No Turning Back, with carte blanche to choose a co-star. She picked a personal idol, Ingrid Backstrom. “All it took was us to start supporting each other and it changed the entire ski industry,” McMillan added. With women buying 60 percent of the ski gear sold, manufacturers are gradually realizing that they need female skiers to advertise their products, said McMillan, who helps design ski suits for Spyder.  

Louise Hudson skiing Jackson Hole during Elevate Jan 2015 - photo by Emily Beardsley
Another revolutionary aspect of No Turning Back was that, for the first time in 20 years, the advertising poster featured a woman. The first three skiers depicted in the movie are also female, with McMillan the first woman on skis. As well as two female heli-ski guides, Kim Grant and Chris Anthony, the film also casts women throughout the various scenes, including Heather Paul, Sierra Quitiquit, Kaylin Richardson, Julia Mancuso, and Mikaela Shiffrin.
Crystal Wright

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Heli of a Job!

Working for a heli-skiing operation would be a dream-come-true for many an avid backcountry skier. But faced with the challenging job of directing a heli-ski company’s sustainability program, it may not be as cushy as it sounds. Dave Butler (RPF, RPBio) has the tough job of Director of Sustainability for Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) Heli-Skiing & Summer Adventures. He started his career as a Park Warden in Banff National Park, Canada, went on to work in government handling adventure tourism tenures, and moved to CMH in 1997.
Bell 212, photo by Brad White
Heli-tourism represents one of the great dilemmas and conflicts between recreational enjoyment of the wilderness and the conservation of the fragile alpine and mountain areas. The question of responsibility towards the environment is one which tourism operators have generally been reluctant to accept but CMH has taken a more proactive approach to environmental issues.

The Banff-based company operates in 11 mountain areas of South Eastern British Columbia, bringing in annual revenues of around CDN$60 million with a 70 percent repeat-booking record. CMH holds license rights from the B.C. government to more than 14,000km2 of remote territory in the Purcell, Cariboo, Selkirk and Monashee mountain ranges and is several times the size of its closest competitor in heli-ski visits. Its operations include up to 30 helicopters and eight remote lodges—many accessible in winter only by helicopter. There are three main strands to its business: heli-skiing, heli-hiking, and mountaineering.
Dave Butler

As part of the senior leadership team, Butler heads up CMH’s sustainability program including governance, implementation and reporting. “The company’s efforts have been recognized with a range of provincial, national and international awards,” Butler says. “I coordinate cross-functional teams and the integration of fiscal, environmental and human components of the business and I ensure the company’s approaches are consistent with its long-term sustainability.” Focusing on government and community relations, Butler deals with all land/resource tenures and regulatory issues. “And I supervise, and am accountable for, work of the Run Development Coordinator and Manager of Remote Fuel Operations - both seasonal positions,” he adds.

CMH tree skiing - photo by Mike Welch
As the grand-daddy of heli-skiing since its launch in 1965, CMH has demonstrated a commitment to the environment. “We look at environmental stewardship as one component, albeit a critical one, of our journey toward sustainability,” Butler explains. The other vital ingredients are fiscal responsibility and social/cultural stewardship. “Our founder, Hans Gmoser, was committed to ensuring that we take good care of the special places that we share with our guests, and that commitment continues to today in what we do around wildlife, energy and waste management, fuel management, etc. In fact, Hans was the first in our industry to develop a specific set of wildlife procedures for guides and pilots,” says Butler.

Over the years, CMH has trained its guides to keep a vigilant watch for wildlife. The guides plan their flying and skiing routes to avoid contact, and all wildlife sightings are provided annually to the B.C. Government for their overall management purposes. They use computer software to map wildlife sightings, and to maintain a sense, over time, about the areas where animals spend their time at various times of the year. CMH also looks to external biologists to give them a sense of how best to behave in these habitats.

One of the company goals is to increase energy efficiency in all aspects of the business. This helps alleviate costs as well as reduce CMH’s overall footprint. “So, rather than paying money for off-sets, we use every dollar available to continue to look for ways to be more efficient in our energy use,” Butler explains. “Examples include the way we light and heat the lodges, the ways in which we use helicopters, and the way we move our guests to/from our lodges.”
Yours truly (second from left, top) with Chicks in the Chopper Gang
Environmentalists typically raise concerns about the negative environmental impacts of heli-tourism on fish and wildlife, about waste and fuel storage areas, and about noise pollution. Vegetation, too, can be a contentious environmental issue. In the summer, existing hardy trails are used where possible, and use is dispersed throughout each operating area so that impacts on fragile alpine environments are minimized. CMH claims that the potential impact on the land in the winter is negligible because visitors leave only tracks in the snow. CMH guides are trained in the latest low-impact travel techniques for alpine areas, and they share these approaches with the visitors. CMH also works with local forestry companies coordinating efforts to harvest in ways that work best for skiers while reducing the visual impact of harvesting. Landing and pick-up locations are also placed in areas of minimum impact on the forest.
Waste reduction is also important to CMH. For example in the Adamant Lodge in the Selkirk Mountains, food waste (that used to be consumed by lodge pigs before hoof-and-mouth scares) is eliminated by using a prototype composting system developed by maintenance manager, Duane Dukart. In 2002, CMH established the ‘President’s Award for Environmental Initiative’, a programme which empowers all staff to take a look at what they can change in their own jobs that will help the environment. Dukart received the first President’s Award for his efforts to promote environ- mental stewardship. The same system is now used in the Bugaboo lodge. The company also employs the latest technology in sewage treatment and uses only environmentally-friendly soaps and paper.
Helicopter fuelling locations use leading edge technology to prevent fuel spills from reaching the ground or the water. These systems include engineered containment berms and a state-of-the-art emergency spill response system. Use of helicopters is minimized wherever possible, as this is the greatest direct cost of operations. The fuel for the helicopters is stored at the lodges, and at remote fuel caches, using leading-edge storage facilities.
In order to communicate its strong sustainability standpoint CMH produces regular reports which are posted on its website. Sustainability and environmental policies are also used in marketing messages to potential and return guests. And staff members who interact with guests or media are trained in presenting CMH’s environmental approaches, giving solid examples. “This includes media interviews, and special talks and presentations at colleges and universities, to special interest groups, and at tourism conferences,” Butler adds. 

In 2014 CMH created a new internal Sustainability Advisory Group: “a ‘think tank’ responsible for ensuring we keep looking for both low-hanging fruit, and larger company-changing ideas. This has only been in place since November. A very different approach than our old Second Nature team,” says Butler.

Group Skiing with CMH - photo by Brad White