Ski resorts urged to reach out to Gen Z

BANFF, Alberta — Aging demographics are a long-term concern in the U.S. ski industry, and a number of measures must be taken to reverse the trend.

But one thing that ski resorts can do right away to engage Gen Z is to more effectively develop marketing strategies that reach teenagers and young adults where they like to hang out — namely, select social media platforms.

That’s the message that Issa Sawabini, partner of the action sports-oriented marketing agency Fuse, told an audience of ski industry leaders on Wednesday at the Mountain Travel Symposium.

It’s also key that organizations be social stewards, actively supporting environmental and social causes and making sure that they make those actions known.  

“It’s the expectation of this generation that you do more than make money, more than deliver something,” Sawabini said. “You’ve got do right by the people and the planet.”

His messaging was delivered to an industry that has reason to listen. During the 2021-22 winter season, children 17 and under accounted for 24.8% of visits to U.S. ski areas, down from 31.9% in 2005-06, when the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) began tracking such data. 

The story is similar with young adults, ages 18 to 24, who accounted for 8.1% of downhill skiing and riding days last year, compared to 12.4% in 2005-06.

While young people have dropped as a proportion of U.S. ski areas visitors, older skiers’ share has risen. Those 65 and over accounted for 7.5% of ski area visits in 2021-2022, nearly triple their share 16 years earlier. In addition, the share for people ages 55 to 64 has nearly doubled, from 6.6% to 12.1%.

Overall, the median age of U.S. ski area visitors was 35 in 2021-22, up from 28 during the 2005-06 season. 
These aging demographics are a concern, explained Adrienne Saia Isaac, director of marketing for the NSAA. 

“You have to play the long game when you look at the future of the sport,” she said. 

Solutions will need to be numerous, including attracting more people of color. Last year, 88.7% of ski area guest self-identified as white. Sixty-three percent were male. 

Still, more effective marketing is one key to tackling skiing’s age challenge. 

Sawabini said the place to find Gen Z is on the social media platforms of their choice: YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat. Among the 94% of Gen Zers who use social media, 95% use YouTube, 67% use TikTok, 62% use Instagram and 59% use Snapchat, Sawabini explained, citing Pew Research data. 

Furthermore, he said, 72% of Gen Z watches YouTube daily. They watch 65 videos per day on average, but a third of time they’ll move on after 30 seconds. In addition, 40% of Gen Z uses TikTok and Instagram for searches instead of Google or other traditional search engines. 

As a result, Sawabini suggested the ski areas develop short and punchy marketing videos that strike at the core of what are the most common Gen Z values.

Tying marketing efforts to events that appeal to young adults — the oldest members of Gen Z are now 24 — is another strategy Sawabini suggested. He cited mountain music festivals as one example and suggested travel packages pegged to such events. 

“There are so many mountain events that are awesome and additive,” Sawabini said. 

As for messaging, he cited research showing that 69% of Gen Z say they trust a company more after they learn it supports a social cause and 72% say they are more likely to purchase a company’s products. Also, 71% say that brands should help them achieve their personal goals. 

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