Winter sports resorts are ramping up their facilities to bring in more events. In this case, though, it’s not just slopes, snow cannons or even bobsled and luge runs that are getting the upgrades.
It’s the SCUBA facilities. The archery ranges. The ski golf courses. The go-karts.
As another season of winter sports competitions takes shape, resorts are using other attractions to increase their appeal to event planners who want to increase the number of athletes traveling in with family members and friends. And it’s a trend that shows no signs of abating.
Snow sports, after all, are a challenging market when it comes to keeping spectators entertained. With the exception of a few events in which groups of competitors are participating all at once (hello, snowboardcross and skiercross), most of the day is spent waiting for one athlete to compete.
That gets boring, particularly for family members who don’t participate or can’t relate to the sport. After all, there’s only so many hours a person can sit in the lodge reading a book. And while sports planners of summer events have long been able to encourage local tourism, it’s a bit harder to convince athletes to bring along family members – particularly children – for events during cold weather (and during school months) when there seems to be less available for them to do.
As a result, says Travel Weekly, resorts are increasing their family-friendly off-the-slopes options. In fact, it has become an irreversible trend.
“Dog sledding, lift-assisted snow-tubing and snowshoeing are becoming almost commonplace at resorts big enough to support them,” notes the article. “The idea behind the expanding menu of activities is to make the notion of a ski vacation more appealing to a wider market.”
And as the competition to host winter sports events heats up, resorts are becoming incredibly creative. Homestead Resort in Utah offers visitors who come to Park City, Deer Valley or any of the nearby mountains the chance to try a SCUBA lesson in the Homestead Crater geothermic hot springs. The 1,000-plus-year-old crater, billed as the only warm water SCUBA destination in the continental U.S., is on the Homestead Resort property and boasts naturally heated mineral water of 90 to 95 degrees.
If slopeside SCUBA isn’t enough of a selling point, there are plenty of other creative marketing options. California’s Alpine Meadows has taken to offering snow golf, played with green tennis balls. Copper Mountain in Colorado, which in 2016 will host the U.S. Revolution Tour (Rev Tour) for snowboarders and freeskiers, has not only non-ski winter activities but a facility with Xbox and PlayStation terminals for those who prefer to stay in. Minnesota's Lutsen Mountains host diversions such as live music,snowshoe tours and hikes to frozen waterfalls.
Some resorts make it a point to have a wide range of ‘no skis required’ options. Big Sky Resort in Montana, already an international snow destination, has also set itself up as a summer resort by hosting summer activities such as mountain bike competitions, obstacle races, etc. And these days, it has a full range of options for non-skiers, including winter ziplining, climbing wall sessions, high-roping, campfire activities (with s’mores) and more.
“There is an increase in generational travel and not everyone in the family may be a skier, but we make sure we offer other activities they can still enjoy together,” says Sheila D’Amico, public relations manager of Big Sky Resort. “Not only do we offer lots of non-skiing activities at the resort, but plenty near the resort with horseback riding, horse-drawn sleigh rides, dog sledding, and the crown of Yellowstone National Park. It’s great being so close to Yellowstone National Park, as millions visit the park in the summer, but in the winter, it is so pristine and magical when seen via snowcoach, snowmobiling, or cross country skiing.”
Planners know these are the years in which visibility of winter sports (and the resorts that host them) will need an extra boost. The next winter Olympics won’t take place until 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. But the economic potential is here now, just waiting to be tapped. In fact, according to a study done by officials at Gallatin National Forest, Americans spend over $4.8 billion each year on equipment, clothing, and services related to non-motorized winter recreation. It’s only a logical conclusion that increasing that number means being more inclusive in terms of visitors.
Having more to do than ski or snowboard (or watch skiers or snowboarders) is pure sports tourism, encouraging families to come in early and stay on after the competitions are through. It means positive economic impact for the area and has additionally created its own micro-economy by fostering a network of vendors who are ready to offer programs such as nature tours or history programs that appeal to those who have little to no interest in snow sports.