This past week, I was lucky enough to attend and present at the 2022 Midwest Ski Area Association's (MSAA) Summer Meeting and Tradeshow. The show is the association's annual summer conference and is always a MUST visit for me and many others across our industry. This year was awe-inspiring as the conference hosted over 425 ski area owners, staff, and vendors, making it one of the largest in the organization's history.
I have been to quite a few conferences across several industries in my career, but I have to say that this one is by far my favorite. Being able to learn from so many great industry minds in one place is an experience that is hard to comprehend. And if that element doesn't get you excited for the ski season, then the bar banter after the educational sessions wrap-up certainly will! If you work in the Midwest Ski scene, I would be sure to add this event and organization to the top of the to-do list for next season. Head over to https://www.msaaevents.org/ to learn more.
Bruce Firestone Receives 2022 MSAA Jim Vanderkelen Achievement Award
For those unaware, Bruce is a legend among the Midwest ski community. Bruce started his over 52-year (and counting) ski career at Mt. Holly, shoveling snow on the area's rope tow. But it didn't take long for Bruce to work his way to the top, becoming the Mountain Manager of the area in 1976 and partnering with Joe Kosik Sr. in 1980 to build Bittersweet. In 1984 they would partner again to develop their own snowguns, which they still produce and use today. The partnership would continue as the pair took on Pine Knob in 1986, Searchmont in 2016, and reacquired Alpine Valley-MI in 2021. In addition, Bruce continues to oversee the operation of 6 ski hills across Wisconsin, Michigan, and Canada.
On top of all of this, Bruce has been highly active in several ski organizations, including Skiing Wisconsin and MSAA, throughout his career. Very well deserved, and congratulations to Bruce, and a big thank you for all of his influence on the Midwest ski community.
Notable Stats and Takeaways
I attended (and hosted) several sessions throughout the week, and although I can't cover all of those topics, there were quite a few takeaways from the conference I would love to share with all of you.
The Midwest ski scene has seen some healthy skier/rider visits over the past couple of seasons. This past season (21/22'), the Midwest saw 6.8 million visits, our second-best visitation year since 2015 and 3.4% above the ten-year average.
Similar to skier/rider numbers in the Midwest, we have also seen a big jump in capital improvements over the past couple of seasons. Last offseason (summer of 2021), the Midwest saw four new chairlifts installed. This season seven new lifts are being installed on top of millions of dollars in other improvements. This trend is looking to continue as I confirmed over ten new chairlifts being installed across the Midwest next summer. On top of chairlifts, dozens of ski areas plan to add additional runs, infrastructure improvements, and snowmaking advancements within the next couple of years as well.
Despite the great news regarding skier/rider and capital reinvestment numbers, most ski areas in the Midwest are still struggling with finding staff members. But before you get concerned, I don't expect this to impact regular operations moving into the season. Ski areas are already planning and preparing for these shortages. We may see minor changes, such as reducing food and beverage choices to improve efficiency, but I expect most areas to operate as usual from the skiing/riding side. As always, if you or anyone you know is looking for wintertime employment, check out your local ski area!
The Midwest median age last season was just 17 years old, the youngest of all regions in the country by over half. The overall age of the national ski regions last season was 35 years old. Looking at the historical data, this is not anything new but was something that opened my eyes quite a bit.
The Midwest owns the night skiing market, with over 28% of our visits last season happening at night - compared to the National average of just 19%.
The Midwest sees an above-average amount of beginners, with 19% of our visits coming from them the last season. This is a big jump from the National average, which was 9.5% last season.
Surprisingly (to me at least,) the Midwest had the smallest percentage of racial/ethnic minorities hit the slopes across all regions, with just 9% of our total skiers/riders being a minority. Comparing this to the Pacific Southwest's 28%, we have an excellent opportunity to get more minorities involved with the sport. I believe this is especially true as the Midwest is home to several major cities with diverse populations.
Also surprising, the Midwest had the highest percentage of summer revenue, accounting for 18% of annual revenue. Compared to the national average of 13%, this shows that more Midwest ski areas continue to diversify their products and offerings. Side note: this is a great way to support your local hill outside the regular ski season.
This conference is always a great reminder of how hard this industry works to put us and keep us on snow during the winter. Watching our ski areas work together and learn from each other's mistakes and successes is an excellent demonstration of how amazing this sport is. Numbers and statistics are one thing, but the excitement felt throughout the week was unprecedented. The ski industry (especially in the Midwest) is moving into an exciting period of progression and change. Of course, we still have plenty of opportunities, such as growing our sport's diversity, but I'm incredibly excited about the future of the sport.
Internally, Midwestskiers.com (MWS) marks its seasons by this conference - meaning that we have officially entered the 2022/23 season! I'm excited to share that we have a lot of planned content for this upcoming season, building on what our viewers enjoyed over the past few years. Expect to see more vlogs, hill guides/tours, industry-related BTS, and much more. As always, our goal is to keep Midwest skiers & snowboards informed and stoked to get out and enjoy winter across the Midwest.
Cheers to the start of the 2022/23 season, pray for snow, and I hope to see you out there!