With an ageing population, ski areas know that it's vital to get children involved in snowboarding and skiing if our sport is to live, thrive and survive in the long term.
One of the challenges ski resorts face is how to make trips to the mountain as easy and stress-free as possible. Doing so will allow families to have the most fun in the snow and, hopefully, kids will learn to love the sport before and as they learn. A big deterrent, however, is cost, as many families still feel they just can't afford to take the kids skiing.
PHOTO: Lake Louise
The International Ski Federation (FIS), the sport's world governing body, hasn't missed this point. Over the past four or five years, the organization has markedly ranked up their efforts, most noticeably with World Snow Day -- an annual event each January when ski areas around the planet are encouraged to offer free or discounted tickets, lessons, and/or fun events for children and families. The 4th World Snow Day is on January 18 next year.
Last season's event saw 610 ski resorts and other organizations in 35 countries. Highlights included "Apen Bakke" (Open Day) in Norway, where 72 resorts opened their doors to an estimated 130,000 participants for free skiing and snowboarding; ski schools at 138 Austrian resorts giving children the chance to try snow sports for as little as five Euros; and the Canadian Ski Patrol World Snow Day, which hosted 20 events across the country to show children the fun of snow sports with an emphasis on safety.
The FIS also recently released the first-ever study of lift ticket prices for children. This report looks at the cost of a lift ticket at 700 ski areas in 50 countries, and aggregates pricing policies in each nation.
The findings are interesting, and they vary a lot.
In Canada, most areas charge less than half price for kids (up to age 16, and sometimes older). Switzerland, Japan and New Zealand are similarly "generous" to encourage children on to the slopes. While it's true that the strong Swiss franc makes an adult ticket among the highest in Europe, and many cynics in Japan might argue that a policy of offering free skiing to children (age 12 & under) by many of its leading resorts is a reaction to declining skiing numbers there, it's still clearly good news for families who want to encourage the next generation.
Other leading ski nations have more of a mixed back of pricing offers. In France, children buy lift tickets at a young age (typically 3 or 4), then pay 70 to 80 percent of the full adult price until age 11 or 12, after which they must pay the full adult price. Most leading ski areas in the country also offer a "family discount" if several members in a family buy tickets together, which can bring the overall cost down. Sometimes, French resorts extend the child price bracket up to age 16 or 18, deepening the savings within the family discount.
In the US, it's a very mixed bag. A lot of resorts offer packages with free skiing for children (particularly in the low season), but some are more generous than others all season long.
Of the bigger resorts in the country, Brighton in Utah has one of the most generous policies, offering free skiing to children up to age 8. Arizona Snowbowl and Bristol Mountain in New York State also offer the same policy (free skiing until age 8).
In Michigan, Ski Blackjack offers one free ticket for a child (age 12 or under) with the purchase of an adult ticket. Nub's Nob, another Michigan ski area, also offers free skiing for children age 8 or younger.
PHOTO: Lake Louise
Another option is the Mountain Collective pass, which is valid for a total of 14 days at 7 leading ski areas in Western North America (2 days at each). The adult pass costs $349, but the price for a child's pass (under 12) has been cut for next season by 55 percent to just $99 -- that's around just $7 a day if you use every day. Ski Banff-Lake Louise-Sunshine in Canada has joined the Collective for 2014-15, which already includes Alta/Snowbird in Utah, Aspen/Snowmass in Colorado, Jackson Hole in Wyoming, Mammoth Mountain, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows in California, and Whistler Blackcomb in Canada.
Other deals worthy of note include Ski Apache in New Mexico, which offers discounts not just to active military personnel, but also to the children of active military personnel.
Tahoe Donner and Boreal are among the resorts in California that offer a "Parent Interchangeable" pass (an idea also popular in Scandinavia). This pass allows parents to take turns skiing with the kids without both of them having to buy separate passes.
All in all, there's a lot going on worldwide to encourage the next generation on to the snow. Resorts can always do more, of course, as children are the future of skiing, boarding, and... well, everything else!
This post originally ran on the Liftopia Blog.