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Snow sports court minorities

A snowboarder

TEXT OF STORY

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Sports like skiing and snowboarding have traditionally been lily-white like the snow, but increasingly businesses are courting members of color. The growth in the snow sports industry has been flat for years and if the current economic model doesn't attract new blood the fiscal future could be dire. Marketplace's Jeff Tyler reports.


JEFF TYLER: Wally from Virginia is just the kind of snowboarder the sport needs.

He flew out to San Diego for business. When the meetings wrapped, he drove two hours to Mountain High, the closest resort.

WALLY: I'm going to go one more ride. Go buy a shirt. Then drive two hours, go back to the hotel and I fly in the morning at eight o'clock.

Wally works in software development. He's 44. Black. And he's invested.

WALLY: That's my board right there. I just bought some new bindings. I'm a snow boarder now.

And not because Wally needs to prove something.

WALLY: I don't think it is something I must conquer because of the color thing. The sport itself is a challenge enough.

The sport faces a big challenge of its own, an economic one: Its bread-and-butter clients are growing old.

ROBERTO MORENO: There's simply not enough Advil in the world to keep baby-boomers skiing forever.

That's Roberto Moreno. His organization, Alpino, promotes minority participation in snow sports.

In the Denver area, where he's from, Moreno says as many as 90 percent of urban kids never enjoy the Rocky Mountains, which are right on their doorstep, though he says resorts increasingly recognize the need to reach out to Hispanic and other minority markets.

MORENO: There will be a lot of ski areas that will simply be out of business if they don't figure out ways of creating messages that have the potentiality of resonating with people of color.

Exclusive high-end resorts like Vail have partnered with Alpino to provide discounted packages for city kids. A lift ticket, lessons, equipment, and transportation to the resort all for about $28.

MORENO: That seems to be the amount of money that an underserved family can usually afford to provide a snow-sports experience for kids.

But it's not only the cost.

Back in California, the resort Mountain High emphasizes its inclusivity.

That's the complete opposite of traditional marketing campaigns, which tend to hype a destination as "exclusive." Mountain High's John McColly says minorities feel at home there because the staff reflects the market.

JOHN MCCOLLY: So when you show up at the resort, if you're Korean, you're going to see some lift operators who are Korean. If you are Hispanic, you're going to see some rental technicians who are Hispanic.

In a sport where minorities make up less than 15 percent of the market, McColly says Mountain High's customers are eight percent Hispanic and more than 20 percent Asian.

MCCOLLY: If you aren't talking to them. If you aren't generating participation from their market, you're going to be out-of-business.

And it's not just true in diverse states like California.

Across the country in New England, where attendance was down last year, resorts are also reaching out to minority skiers and snowboarders.

In Los Angeles, I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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