If you’re looking for an affluent market that spends money on travel, hobbies and leisure activities, you can’t go wrong with skiers. According to the National Ski Areas Association’s (NSAA) 2007/2008 National Demographic Study, 29 percent of skiers have incomes of $100,000 to $199,999 (vs. 16 percent of U.S. households according to the U.S. Census Bureau), and 19 percent of skiers have incomes of $200,000+ (vs. 3 percent of U.S. households). Skiers spent close to $3 billion on their sport last year, including $835 million in equipment, $1.6 billion in apparel and almost $1 billion in accessories, says David Ingemie, president of SnowSports Industries America.
When we talk about skiers, we’re discussing snowboarders as well. “It’s becoming entwined,” says Lenore Cunningham, sales director of Lake Group Media, which manages the SKI and SKIING magazines mailing lists. “Most catalogs and suppliers cater both to the snowboarder and the skier. In the beginning, a lot of ski resorts wouldn’t permit snowboarding, but that’s all changed. So now skiers and snowboarders coincide.”
Sleuthing Out Skiers
Twelve million to 15 million people in the U.S. call themselves skiers, says Troy Hawks, managing editor of the NSAA Journal, the magazine of the NSAA. While ski areas have set record seasons for seven of the past eight years, the number of skiers remains flat. The reason for the record seasons is that people who are already skiers are becoming even more loyal to their sport. “It’s not so much that we’re expanding to new participants, but our current participants are going more often,” Hawks says.
Most skiers hail from good ski areas—but not all. Many skiers are from warmer regions who travel to their favorite ski spots. “We generated about a million visits out of Florida and Texas,” says Hawks.
According to the NSAA’s demographic study, the skier population has trended older over the past several seasons. The average age of participants increased to 36.5 this season from 36.4 last season—and has increased from 33.2 during the 1997/98 season. “Some of that is attributable to the baby boom generation,” explains Hawks. “You’ve got these folks that have the resources, the second home in the mountains, and obviously they’ve got resources as far as time goes. So I think you’re seeing them stay in the sport.”
Forty-one percent of skiers are female, though the proportion of women to men varies depending on the region; for example, in the Southeast, 46 percent of skiers are female, and in the Pacific West, the proportion is 35 percent female. “We notice females dropping out a little earlier than males,” says Hawks. “In their early to mid 30s, they begin dropping out of the sport.” While a smaller percentage of skiers are women, marketers should be sure to target them, as female heads of the household are typically the ones who determine where the family goes on vacation. To appeal to women, some resorts even offer women-only courses, yoga and spa treatments.
Making the Sale
Skiers are, of course, big buyers of skiing and snowboarding equipment and accessories, such as skis, boots, snowboards and clothing. Women’s products are hot items, says Ingemie; four of the top five selling skis last year were women’s models. Skiers are also big travelers, since many of them need to travel to their favorite ski areas. Finally, many skiers purchase SUVs to fit their skiing and snowboarding equipment and to travel to ski areas.
Outside of the category, skiers buy equipment for other sports such as bicycling and snowshoeing, electronics like cell phones, cars (other than SUVs), restaurant meals, and health products like energy bars.
In addition, “Skiers are a great audience for environmental fundraising, because of global warming and its direct correlation to their hobby,” says Cunningham. “So they tend to be very environmentally conscious and are a great market for environmentalists to target.” According to Hawks, Aspen found that around 38 percent of the people it surveyed consider a resort’s environmental initiatives when booking a ski trip.
Catching Big Air With Skiers
Ingemie says direct mail marketing is a good way to reach skiers since they’re such a diverse market. E-mail marketing is also a tactic to try, since many skiers are Internet-savvy. In addition, print ads in skiing publications like SKI and SKIING can help you directly reach the market.
And don’t be afraid to get creative with technology: Many resorts offer to send ski condition updates to skiers’ PDAs, and Hawks has noticed that many companies these days send him their media kits on thumb drives rather than in print.
When marketing to skiers, “Image is important, especially on the snowboard side,” says Ingemie. “The right relationship with an athlete or a personality helps.” Also, be sure not to lump all skiers into one category and speak to them in the same way just because they ski; as with any other market, you need to target the subgroups differently—for example, a baby boomer skier has different likes, dislikes and concerns than a teen skier.
Skiing is about more than, well, the skiing—it’s an entire lifestyle that you need to appeal to in your marketing. “Marketers tend to appeal not just to the sport but the entire lifestyle—the fashion, the affluence, the night life,” says Cunningham. “There’s a lot more that’s involved in skiing. The magazines I work [with] highlight different ski towns—what is their nightlife? What are their best restaurants?”
Target the subgroups of skiers, pay attention to image and be creative in your marketing, and you’ll be schussing toward profits with this affluent market.
Linda Formichelli is a freelance writer based in New Hampshire. She wrote about marketing to nurses in Target Marketing’s December issue.