In this post we compare what we’ve heard from our partner schools with what we can learn about client desires by analysing global internet search traffic.
Going above and beyond 🪂
People who live in the mountains have always been hardy, creative, folk who can figure out how to make the best of any situation.
That’s why, although the past year has been harder on the ski industry than any time in recent history, activity providers have found a way to keep delighting their customers.
Last week, we spoke to several of our partner schools across the Alps and, although the current restrictions are very different in different areas, the response to the situation has been very similar: going even further to personalise each client’s experience, and offering them new ways of experiencing the mountains that they may not even know about!
As we’ll see below, this response fits perfectly with what search data analysis reveals about changing consumer desires and expectations.
In the long term, the lessons learned during this difficult period could help to revitalise the winter sports industry by bringing new demographics and younger people to the mountains.
Alternative winter sports are booming! 💥
The Covid-19 restrictions in French and Austrian ski resorts are currently on opposite ends of the spectrum.
In France, ski resorts are open to holidaymakers – with hotels welcoming visitors from near and far – however, the ski lifts are not allowed to run.
In Austria, the lifts are running, but only really accessible to those within a short drive of a ski resort, as all forms of overnight accommodation are closed.
What is interesting about both areas is that, whilst many of the people looking to visit a ski resort during a pandemic are already keen skiers, many people are looking for different ways to make the most of being socially distanced in the great outdoors; human-powered snowsports are taking off 🚀🚀🚀
Interest in snowshoeing, ski touring and cross-country skiing rises by 200-600%! 📈
In France, searches for ‘Ski de Fond’ (Cross-Country Skiing) are dominating other winter activities.
Whilst in Austria, snowshoeing and ski touring are the popular choices.
In fact, these non-Alpine skiing disciplines are so popular at the moment, that right now they’re being searched more often than ‘ski lessons’ are searched in a regular winter season!
The search volumes for these activities are anywhere from two to six times as high as they are during a regular winter season, and are dwarfing the number of searches for terms like ‘ski lessons’.
These search results tie in well with what we’ve noticed around our homebase of Val d’Isere, namely that the shops are mostly sold out of all ski-touring and shoeshowing kit, whether for sale or for hire!
People want to learn new ways to get outside and exercise whilst remaining socially distanced.
To those of us who live in the mountains, these activities aren’t actually new – after all snowshoeing and Nordic skiing pre-date Alpine skiing by quite some time.
However, even regular skiers are likely to have questions about new disciplines, and there is a huge influx of non-skiers interested in exploring the mountains; getting outdoors has never seemed as desirable as it does after you’ve been locked down in a city for months.
People are not only searching for what activities are available, they also want to know all about them.
And who better to help them all along their path than qualified mountain professionals? 😎 💪
Check out these diagrams of commonly searched winter activity questions:
Based on the above questions, which focus on the basics, what needs to be cemented in the minds of our potential guests is that there’s a big benefit to taking repeat lessons, beyond just learning the foundations.
With any of these activities – ski touring, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing – improving technique translates to using less energy, going further faster, and having more fun sooner.
Navigating winter season 20/21 – insights from our partners
Our partner schools across the Alps have been kind enough to share some of their strategies and insights with us.
Winter 20/21 in France:
We spoke with Jacinta, Commercial manager at Evolution2 in Chamonix and they have seen some real silver linings – new ways of working to cope with the pandemic and new, innovative activities taking off in addition to the revival of older sports that have faded in popularity.
“We’ve had to adapt in Chamonix, to offer lots of activities without the lifts running; we are well prepared and even if the lifts do not open this season, we are able to offer our guests lots of diversity!
Due to the nature and diversity of our town, Chamonix had a fantastic holiday period!
What worked well for us was:
Cross-Country Skiing – We are very lucky and fortunate to have cross country ski trails in Chamonix that you do not need to access via a lift.
These were a complete sell-out. We are advising all guests coming over the February period to pre-book their cross country skis if they wish to partake in this, or there won’t be any left in the whole town!
Snowshoeing – this has always been pooh-poohed and classed as a non-ski and sometimes boring activity but I’ve actually become addicted it’s bloody brilliant! Our guides have been so pleased with the guests reaction because it’s not normally high on the guests agenda and they’ve absolutely loved it! A lot of these guests who visited this year are not regular skiers.
Ski Touring & Splitboarding – As you know Chamonix is a mecca for off piste and we have been going back to our roots. It really has been absolutely epic so the guests who come here with any level of skiing can experience this. We make sure to use a number of areas from easy to more difficult so all our guests can enjoy this.”
In addition to the more traditional activities above, Evo2 also found that newer disciplines worked well:
“We also offered an electric fat-tyre mountain bike. This enabled the guest to experience all the mountain bike routes with little effort, through forests and trails on the valley floor.
The e-scooter was super popular. These are the small scooters where you stand and don’t need to pedal. Each day these were full and this was a great opportunity again for guests to experience all our little forest trails, without the bulkiness and weight of a bike.
Our famous Paret sled and Husky sledges were also very popular over the holiday period. Whether the lifts open or not over the half-term holidays, we are looking forward to them.
We’re also very excited about more people trying all these different activities beyond skiing. Enjoying the mountains in many different ways has always been at the heart of Evolution2 and one good thing about Covid-19 is that new people are coming to the mountains, and more people are starting to try different activities.”
Winter 20/21 in Austria:
We spoke with Anita and Toni from Skischule A-Z am Arlberg who shared their emphasis on quality and flexibility with us:
“We’ve always said that taking a winter-sports holiday in a high Alpine region is a great way to unwind, take a deep breath, open your senses and connect with nature. Challenge yourself with sports, but also appreciate the environment.”
With fewer people in resort, appreciating the space and tranquility has become a highlight.
“There is no apres ski this season, but a nice picnic on a scenic, silent spot can bring more enjoyment than overpriced beers in crowded and loud bars with drunk people. It’s a matter of preference, but we see the benefit in different options.
We want to be authentic, conscious and sustainable. We like to give our guests the best mountain experiences with the understanding that it is not a playground, but you are in real nature in a high Alpine environment here. We can tell guests about weather conditions, snow profiles, climate, nature, wildlife, culture etc. We also offer snow safety training (on a private lesson basis) for example.
Flexible activity planning is the idea. For Skischule A-Z am Arlberg, flexibility has always been key, it’s really a matter of us listening to the wishes of our guests and us advising + making sure to have the best possible day in the snow. This is our top tip, not only for this winter, but that is business as usual for us.
In addition to the high-mountain skiing, Arlberg offers great cross-country skiing, both classic and skating.
No lift needed and multiple options through the valley – in Pettneu am Arlberg, even cross-country skiing at night has been busy, with illuminated courses on Monday and Friday evenings till 22:00h.
There is a lot more to cross country skiing than may be apparent at first glance.
It’s really cool! Or actually – it’s very hot! It has become increasingly popular and it’s a true (sweaty) work out, if you do it properly.
A good technique lesson is very useful!”
Looking ahead: life in the mountains post Covid-19
Last year Laurent Vanat, author of the International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism, said that “In many places, baby-boomers represent the majority of skiing participants; this generation will progressively exit some of the mature markets without being…replaced by future generations with the same enthusiasm.”
That outlook may be changing after this winter, however, improving the long-term outlook for mountain activities post Covid-19.
This past summer was the busiest it’s been in decades for many mountain resorts as many people vacationed in their home country. With a little bit of luck, they’ll have enjoyed their Alpine holidays enough to make them a lifelong habit.
This winter is another opportunity to win over a future generation of customers. Many younger people find learning to ski difficult and time consuming, preferring activities that are instantly rewarding.
We met with an Australian activities marketplace at a trade show last year who told us an interesting story.
They began with surf lessons and quickly noticed that over 90% of surf lessons sold were beginner lessons.
They thought ‘What’s easier than surfing?’ and began to sell Stand-Up paddleboard lessons.
These sold 300% better than surf lessons.
Their next thought was ‘What’s easier than SUP?’ and began to sell kayaking lessons.
These sold 300% better than SUP lessons.
For us, the takeaway from this winter is that being more flexible and offering experiences that are instantly rewarding (as the saying goes, ‘If you can walk, you can snowshoe’) is a great way to diversify winter activity providers’ offerings.
With a bit of luck, the business lost this year will come back many fold in years to come.