New skiers and snowboarders had to be lightning fast to snap up the deal of the season at Whistler Blackcomb Snow School (WBSS) last week.
In just 12 hours, 450 spots — 300 skiers and 150 snowboarders — were sold out in the beginners-only Never Ever Days program, which took place last weekend (Jan. 17 – 18). The $25 ticket included a full day on the slopes with lift ticket, lesson, equipment rentals and even a beer at a special après event.
“We want to grow the industry,” said Bartosz Barczynski, general manager of the adult WBSS. “A lot of times people are looking for an excuse not to try (skiing or snowboarding) and this kind of eliminates all the excuses. It’s really for us to get the people who have never really considered doing it to give it a whirl so we can share our mountains with them.”
This is the fourth year WBSS has offered the Never Ever Days product over the course of a weekend in January, and have now introduced the sport to more than 1,500 participants.
“The first year it was actually completely free, but from my understanding, people had to actually pay something to make the contract legally binding,” said Barczynski “It was also very difficult for us to staff because people would sign up, not pay anything and wouldn’t have anything to lose if they didn’t show up. At least this way we have a pretty good rate (of attendance).”
By giving participants an affordable and accessible way of trying out a snow sport, the initial financial hit taken by the ski school is soon made up by people booking follow up lessons and returning to the resort in the future. In March 2014, Barczynski attended a “Beginner Conversion Week” summit at Jiminy Peak, NY and presented the concept of Never Ever Days to ski area representatives from all over North America. The simple and non-committal strategy of Never Ever Days — compared to other complicated enticement products that costs hundreds of dollars — was mostly well received by the attending ski areas owners.
“Convincing owners of respective resorts to make that initial investment is challenging,” said Barczynski. “For us it has more than paid off, but in the big picture, if everybody did this then the Never Ever Days could be a North America-wide program. We’re hoping (it) will catch on.”
While concerns have been voiced in recent years about the drop in skier visits from baby boomers retiring from the sport, the ongoing marketing to appeal to youth seems to be filling that void.
“We’ve been doing different versions of this for a long time,” said David Lynn, President of the Canada West Ski Areas Association. “If you look at the aggregate skier visits in North America, they actually grew for many decades then have somewhat leveled off recently.”
Lynn pointed to skier visits in B.C. being dependent more on the fluctuating Canadian dollar and seasonal snow conditions rather than a lack of interest in the sport.
“It’s definitely not a dying sport, but we would certainly like to have higher levels of growth than we’re experiencing right now,” he said.