American Ski Clubs’ Most Pressing Priority
By Peter Porton, Pentagon Ski Club President

What are the objectives of a ski club, especially ours? To offer the best ski trips at the best price? Sure, that’s one objective. To have fun? Absolutely, skiing and fun belong together. To ensure safe skiing? You bet, we don’t want to hurt ourselves and we don’t want to hurt anyone else. To offer social benefits? Of course; as a matter of fact, most clubs can probably point to spouses who met on a ski trip and to people who have made life-long friends.

All of these are necessary goals for a ski club to strive for. But, actually, the single most important goal of any ski club is the continuance its own existence; the Pentagon Ski Club’s primary function is its own survival. Thus the major part of the effort your council exerts every year is oriented towards getting people to join the club.

This isn’t a specialized problem, almost all ski clubs I have ever talked with have the same problem: maintaining membership. Ski clubs require a certain critical mass of people. If there are too few, then a club is unable to offer an enticing trip schedule. Without that, members or potential members will look elsewhere. When a club can offer only one or two trips per year, the potential for mistakes increases: mess up and you lose your audience. Then, without other successful trips to point to, a club’s season becomes a disaster.

Every year, the PSC has had a trip or two that didn’t meet all our objectives (we’ve even had some disasters); we survived because the large majority of our trips were successful. In effect, we can afford a failure every now and then, just like a lot of successful companies can.

Microsoft has foisted less-than-optimum computer programs on the public (usually anything with a 1.0 behind it); Mercedes has tried to sell a clunker occasionally; and even Disney has released some terrible movies. These companies remain successful because such instances reflect only a small part of their total product line.

Given that we need to increase (or at least maintain) our membership, how do we accomplish this? Get more young people; get snowboarders; target women or minorities. I’ve heard this for years, but I don’t think that’s the real answer. The total amount of skiers in the US hasn’t changed much in the last 10 years, so there isn’t a larger base out there to get people from. Young people often can’t afford a week of skiing. The days of cheap skiing are gone: resort expansion, quad lifts, and the great tendency of Americans to sue when they fall and have a boo-boo have raised the cost of lift tickets to $40-$50 per day (clubs, of course, get discounts).

And equipment isn’t cheap, especially considering that most people only ski a week or so per year. Also, the PSC doesn’t offer cheap, one day learn-to-ski trips any more because we can’t sell them (and no-one wants to lead such trips; that is very definitely a weakness in our club, but it’s also a reality). Snowboarders won’t join clubs; by and large their demographics consist of young males (and some females) who hang out in their own packs. It’s a generational thing. Don’t bother telling me about all the adults who are taking up boarding: they aren’t yet a blip on our ski club’s screen. (For the PSC in the last several years, I can think of one, and he’s moved.)

What’s the answer? I think it’s really obvious: when you go skiing, do you notice how many people you meet who are skiing by themselves, with friends or with their families? A lot! But of the millions of skiers, how many belong to a ski club? Not enough. Are they aware of the benefits we offer? I doubt it.

What does this all mean? I think we need to target those skiers. We need to expend more of our energies by attracting people who already enjoy the sport. The PSC is very successful for a small club (300 memberships). We offer a larger schedule per capita than any other club I know. Last year, all of our trips operated in the black. That’s a credit to a lot of people: your council, your tripleaders, and most of all to all you members who recognize that our products are pretty damn good.

Instead of looking for new markets, we need to play to our strengths: enticing the people who already ski and have the disposable income to sign up for a great vacation. We are competing with cruise trips and golfing weeks for their attention. If we can show these people that skiing with the PSC at Aspen or Whistler or Telluride is easily as great or better than a cruise to Jamaica or a golf week at Pebble Beach (and a lot more healthy!), then we win. Americans have an enormous amount of free time: we need to convince them to spend some of that time skiing with us.

What can we (the whole club, not just the council) do about this? Talk the club up! When you meet people on a trip, mention who we are and the fun we have. When you meet people in your office who ski, get their name and address and the PSC can send them a membership package or newsletter. It’s in all our best interest to advertise our benefits. You, our membership who are reading this right now, recognize this. It’s now up to all of us to reach out and let other skiers know about the benefits we offer. Heck, just show them our schedule!

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