2020–21 Finalists & Winners
BY DAVE BELIN, DIRECTOR OF CONSULTING SERVICES, RRC ASSOCIATES
THE 2020–21 SKI SEASON PRESENTED MANY CHALLENGES,
particularly for lines of business that traditionally take place inside or with groups of people, such as equipment rentals, food and beverage service, and snowsports school. Ski resorts had to act quickly and resourcefully as winter approached, making many operational adjustments to ensure a safe and healthy season for visitors and employees amid the pandemic. Case in point: nearly 90% of U.S. ski areas implemented group lesson capacity limits this winter, according to the 2020–21 Kottke End of Season and Demographic Report.
These challenges, however, did not dissuade several ski areas from their long-term
focus on skier and snowboarder conversion — taking a multi-season approach to developing lifelong snowsports participants through their creative and dedicated learning programs. The NSAA Model for Growth identified this conversion process as the key inflection point in the growth of the business. The efforts made to catalyze conversion are critical for the longevity of the industry and did not go unnoticed, even amid an exceptional season.
This year’s NSAA Conversion Cup contenders embodied the focus and commitment that it takes to not only get people to try snowsports but to stick with it over the long term. They took unique and varied approaches to inspire conversion in different markets across the U.S. However, a few common themes emerged among this season’s finalists that address some of the most pressing contemporary objectives of the snowsports industry. All three are making efforts to reduce some of the traditional barriers to entry of snowsports
(e.g., costs, specialized gear, time commitments), and place particular focus on bringing youth into the sports. We applaud these exemplary ski resorts that are helping inspire a love of snowsports among diverse audiences, cementing the viability of our industry into the future.
Winner: Sky Tavern, NV
The 2020-21 Conversion Cup winner is a ski area that is dedicated to the long-term development of young skiers and snowboarders — so dedicated that they don’t even sell daily lift tickets to the public. Sky Tavern is a volunteer-run nonprofit committed to teaching the youth of Reno the life lessons that skiing and snowboarding instill.
The youth program at Sky Tavern has been in operation since 1948 (how’s that for a long-term commitment?). Over 2,000 kids go through the program each winter, which lasts eight weeks and costs just $250, including rental gear. Additionally, scholarships are available for families that need it. The majority of the children in the program are first-time skiers, and many of the coaches are alumni of the program. Many kids graduate to become skiers at other local mountains, like Mt. Rose and Diamond Peak.
Most importantly, the program is available to all and has been since just after World War II. Everyone is welcome, as illustrated by this comment from a participant:
“This is our first year with Sky Tavern. I don’t ski or snowboard, so I was completely out of my element. The Sky Tavern team has been wonderful to work with and has been great about helping us figure things out. My son loves the program and has learned a ton from the instructors. Thank you for all you bring to our community.”
Parent volunteers are an integral part of Sky Tavern’s operations. They run lifts, shovel snow, cook food, and donate other needed labor to keep Sky Tavern running. Not only does Sky Tavern teach kids, it also teaches parents so they can keep up with their children on the slopes. The program thrives due to this focus on building social ties. For over 70 years, Sky Tavern has fostered a community of snow lovers who continue to pass down this passion to future generations.