Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Evolution of Winter Sport Tourism

Merry Christmas to all my fellow skiers and snowboarders! 

As a special holiday gift to you all I am giving you a sneak-a-peek at the first chapter of my new book, Winter Sport Tourism: Working in WinterWonderlands (co-written with hubby, Simon Hudson). If it doesn't miraculously appear in your Christmas stocking this week, then hopefully this excerpt will encourage you to go online and buy it for yourself: 
Changbaishan Ski Resort 
The origins of skiing are open to debate. In the Altay Mountains of China, a handful of petroglyphs have been discovered depicting archaic skiing scenes, including one of a human figure on skis chasing an ibex. But since petroglyphs are notoriously hard to date, it remains a controversial clue in the debate over where skiing was born (Jenkins, 2013). Chinese archaeologists contend it was carved 5,000 years ago, but others say it is probably only 3,000 years old. The oldest written record that alludes to skiing, a Chinese text, also points to the Altay, but dates to the Western Han dynasty, which began in 206 B.C. Norwegian archaeologists have also found ski petroglyphs and, in Russia, what appears to be a ski tip, carbon-dated to 8,000 years ago, was recently excavated from a peat bog. Each country stakes its own claim to the first skiers. What is widely accepted, however, is that whoever first strapped on a pair of skis likely did so to hunt animals (Jenkins, 2013).

Vintage ski photo at Lake Louise taken by Eddie Hunter 
Documentation of skiing’s earliest emergence as a leisure pastime associated with tourism dates back to the mid-nineteenth century in Europe. There are references in 1868 to Norwegians travelling on skis from Telemark to Christiana (now Oslo) primarily for social purposes. Almost two decades later (1890), recreational skiing emerged in North America (Scharff, 1974), and soon after, socially-focused skiing clubs began to develop across Europe and North America, facilitating the creation of more and better ski facilities (Batchelor et al., 1937).

St Moritz, Switzerland
It is believed that winter mountain holidays started after 1866, when an hotelier in St. Moritz,Switzerland, invited a small group of British summer guests to visit his property during the winter months (Cockerell, 1988). On their return, this group enthused so much about their trip that it soon became fashionable among the British upper classes to take a winter holiday in Switzerland. In those days there were no lifts, so considerable time was spent walking and climbing mountains but, in the winter of 1910-11, Sir Henry Lunn managed to persuade the local authorities in Mürren to open the Lauterbrunnen-Mürren railway line. The Lauberhorn drag-lift opened the following year. Lunn was then responsible for organizing the first-ever downhill race in Montana, Switzerland in 1911. Meanwhile the 1905 Olympic games had included skiing in its program of activities despite skiing not being a recognized Olympic sport. At this time, not only was there a growing interest in skiing as a participant sport, but there was a desire on the part of destination managers and developers to keep resorts operational for an entire winter season. In the process of developing this strategy, the concept of a broader set of physical facilities and a more sustainable market base for skiing development is believed to have originated (Williams, 1993).

Mt Norquay, the oldest ski
resort in Canadian Rockies,
turns 90 this year
By the beginning of the First World War in 1914, there were at least as many German skiers in Switzerland as there were British, and these two countries today still provide a large proportion of outbound winter tourists. In 1924, skiing was introduced as a formal event at the Olympic Games in Chamonix, France, and was highlighted again in the 1932 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, U.S. These two events helped place skiing at the forefront of winter recreational activity in both Europe and North America and gave a further push to its development as a major contributor to winter-based tourism (Liebers 1963).
Vintage Vail: Courtesy of Vail Resorts

In 1929, the first mechanically-propelled uphill lift designed solely for skiers was installed in Canada, and within a few years most ski slopes of any significance in North America and Europe had one or more such lifts in place. Snowtrains transporting thousands of skiers to the slopes became commonplace throughout North America in the 1930s. 

Sun Valley Idaho Roundhouse Poster

In 1936 Union Pacific developed the first tourism-oriented ski resort in SunValley, IdahoThe resort became the prototype for world-class ski areas in North America. In Europe, the first real mountain ski resort was Megève in the Haute Savoie region of France, its development coinciding with the first ski lift in France in 1933. The Winter Olympic Games of 1936 held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria, Germany included both downhill and slalom races, and further raised the profile of the sport.

Old ski friends in Courchevel in the 80s
The growth of skiing was dampened by the Second World War but, after the war, skiing in a mass tourism context began to emerge. Inspired by the military role that skiing played in northern combat areas (my own father learned to ski in the army), skiing was introduced to thousands of returning troops as a form of winter recreation. Meanwhile better access to ski destinations was brought on by the development of family automobiles and rising standards of living, and rapid improvements resulted in safer and more comfortable ski equipment. 

By the late 1940s and early 1950s, the second phase of ski resort development took place in France with the opening of resorts such as Courchevel, Méribel and Tignes. Off-slope amenities for skiers began to emerge, with lodging, culinary experiences and entertainment becoming important components of a ski vacation (Tanler, 1966). The invention of snowmaking in the 1950s gave a further impetus to the growth of ski facilities, a technological development that not only lengthened the duration of a ski season, but also made the sport possible in areas where natural snowfall was less than abundant.

Courtesy of Vail Resorts
The 1960s saw the start of the great ski boom. Europe witnessed the creation of a new generation of fully integrated ski stations, while in North America, larger resorts in New England, Colorado, California, the Canadian Rockies and the Eastern townships of Quebec emerged to meet the growing demand for winter vacations. Wooden skis and leather boots were slowly phased out and replaced by metal and fibre glass skis and plastic boots. While the 1970s were a period of massive market and product expansion, the 1980s presented a decade characterized by industry consolidation and product management (Williams, 1993). 
Fernie - Courtesy of Fernie & District Historical Society
Influenced by changing demographics, ski markets began to mature. By the mid-1980s ski facility supply had in many regions outstripped demand, and many poorly managed ski destinations were experiencing financial difficulties (Kottke, 1990). In response, destinations were forced to address both product and market issues in a more business-like fashion, and a more tourism-focused approach to ski area development commenced. Larger ski centres with tourist, rather than resident, ski markets continued to grow, while many small centers faltered. Consequently, between 1980 and 1990 the number of ski areas dropped by 18 per cent in North America. Counteracting this trend, ski area capacity expanded by approximately 50 per cent during the same period.

Me (right) skiing Meribel in the 1990s - no hat, no
jacket, tie-dye fleece and long straight skis!
In the 1990s the greatest impact on the ski industry came from the snowboarding boom. One of the disadvantages of skiing at the time was that it was technically very demanding at a high level of performance. Unless they started at a very young age, the average recreational skiers taking an annual week’s ski holiday could not develop the skills necessary to ski steep, fast runs, big bumps and deep powder snow expertly. However, a snowboarder could learn to stay upright and turn after one morning, and tackle powder within a week. Such a high learning curve led many skiers to cross over to snowboarding, with over 60 per cent of snowboarders in North America in the 90s having skied before they adopted boarding (Spring, 1997). Snowboarders now represent around 30 per cent of the market for most ski resorts.

Rossignol Experience 88/Blake Jorgensen Photography
The arrival of ‘shaped’ skis on the market was another big influence on the industry in the 1990s, dramatically impacting the learning curve for skiers. Deep sidecuts to help skis carve short, clean turns had been sneaking up on the industry for a century, but in 1991 Elan came out with a Sidecut Extreme (SCX) ski that had a 22.25mm sidecut, three times what most racers were using for slalom at the time. The ski performed extremely well on the race circuit, and then in 1993 Elan sent out the prototype SCX to ski instructors in American resorts and the reaction was extremely positive. The instructors couldn’t believe what a fabulous teaching tool the new skis were – beginners and intermediate skiers were able to carve turns almost immediately after trying shaped skis. 

Courtesy of Rossignol
Manufacturers like Rossignol, Atomic, Fischer and Head followed suit, designing sidecut skis of their own, and by 1997 shapes had proliferated in all directions. It was possible to buy deep shapes, moderate shapes, race shapes, carver shapes, powder shapes, expert shapes, learn-to-carve shapes and learn-to-ski shapes. In fact, shapes were so radical by the turn of the century that the International Ski Federation had to impose limits on the size of sidecuts used in ski races.

Niseko Japan/Niseko Photography
The 2000s witnessed a general maturity of the industry. Total skier visits fluctuated around the 400 million mark during this decade, with the 2006/07 season characterized by particularly weak demand due to unusually warm weather in the Alps. Visits were steady as major mature markets (like the U.S., Canada and the Alpine countries) stagnated or declined, as was the case of Japan, while other markets were emerging, such as China and Korea.
Niseko Japan/Niseko Photography
The 2000s were also characterized by diversification in the industry. An increasing proportion of those taking winter sports holidays on a regular basis were not skiing at all. Secondly, even avid skiers were typically skiing less. On average they were somewhat older, and new high-speed lifts enabled skiers to attain their physical stamina quotient much more quickly. So winter resorts realized that they had to offer more activities than just skiing and boarding, both on- and off-snow. The more progressive resorts began to expand the range of activities they offered, such as ice-skating, snow-scooting, sledging and dog-sledging, ice-driving, paragliding, snowmobiling, and tubing (the increasingly popular activity of sliding down the slope on the inner-tube of a truck tire). Many resorts – Verbier in Switzerland is one example – also looked to enhance the efficiency, quality and profitability of their restaurants and shops. The market for in-destination services in general is vast. According to Euromonitor International (2014), it accounted for almost $2,000 billion globally in 2013 - significantly larger than the transportation and travel accommodation markets - and it is expected to record a strong eight per cent CAGR (compound annual growth rate) in the 2013-2018 period, to reach $2,800 billion.

Stowe Mountain Resort, Vermont
In addition to diversifying their product offerings, destinations are also positioning themselves as more than a place to visit, attempting to expand economic development by attracting new businesses and new residents. Stowe in Vermont, for example, is currently regarded as one of the most tech-friendly towns in the U.S., according to Google. In its second annual award program, Google named Stowe as the 2014 eCity for the State of Vermont. The eCity Awards recognize the strongest online business communities in all fifty states, communities that are embracing the web to find new customers, connect with existing clients and fueling their local economies. Stowe is now home to a robust array of businesses that have created growth and advanced the digital economy in the state. Stowe’s recognition as Vermont’s eCity is also built upon the many small businesses that are participating in e-commerce and the technology industry throughout the community.

Stowe Mountain Resort, Vermont

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