Interski 2019 kicked off under blue skies on the slopes of Pamporovo, Bulgaria, Sunday, with more than 500 attendees from around the world coming together to share ideas about how they can have a personal impact on growing snowsports in a changing market.
National media were on the slopes to cover the event, held for the first time in this Balkan nation that encompasses mountainous regions and a portion of the Black Sea coastline. Hundreds of spectators, skiers, and snowboarders drove up from the nearby city of Plovdiv and the capital of Sofia to ride in unusually warm weather and enjoy the international demonstrations.
PSIA-AASI and its partners played a significant role in opening the event. Along with the entire PSIA-AASI National Team and support staff, nearly 100 members made the journey to the educational symposium, where former AASI Snowboard Team member and Chairman of the Board Chair Eric Sheckleton, who is now vice president on the Interski Presidium, opened the indoor sessions.
“It was incredible way to open Interski 2019,” Sheckleton said of the day’s crowds and media attention. “And I am pleased to introduce the keynote speaker, a longtime partner of PSIA-AASI, SNOW Operating President and CEO Joe Hession.”
Old Resort, New Guest
Hession, who has been a leading proponent of terrain-based learning and increasing new student retention, shared an interactive presentation in which he discussed the many challenges and opportunities in reaching – and keeping – skiers and snowboarders who try the sport for the first time.
“Generation ZED,” the post-Millennials who will increasingly comprise the emerging market for snowsports participation, will challenge the snowsports industry to continue to find new ways to get and keep their attention, particularly in a market where 85 percent of first-time participants try the sport once and never return,” Hession said.
“Generation ZED has been involved with technology one hundred percent since they were born,” he added. “And technology will continue to play a dramatic role in how we as an industry interact with them.”
Even more importantly, Hession said, “The number-one reason why people don’t come back to skiing and snowboarding is that they don’t find it fun.”
He went on to describe four different subsets of “FUN,” including:
- Serious Fun, which includes lifestyle sports like skiing and snowboarding
- People Fun, which involves social bonding
- Easy Fun, which requires little skill, but also achieves low buy-in
- Hard Fun, which involves serious commitment, and hundreds of hours of learning and training
“Mikaela Shiffrin,” Hession said, “is a great example of someone who is having ‘serious fun.’”
For snowsports to prosper, he said, they need to include a bit of all four kinds of fun. For example, the sports need to provide opportunities for easy entry, such as intuitive terrain-based learning features like mini pipes and rollers that beginners can easily access on their own, while also inviting them to participate in lessons.
In closing, Hession said that an industry often entrenched in a time-honored way of doing business will need to continue to embrace change. “We need to continue to think about what our customers want, rather than how we have always done things,” he said. “Sometimes the past is so strong that you’re not able to see where you’re going.”
Kids Can Snowboard
Anyone who follows a PSIA-AASI National Team member on social media knows that this Interski began long before the opening ceremonies. The Alpine, Adaptive, Cross Country, and Telemark Teams have been training on the slopes of Pamporovo for their presentations this Friday. And the Snowboard Team partnered with Burton to give two local Bulgarian schools a Burton PE Riglet presentation.
Members of the Snowboard Team visited two local schools before Interski began, putting about 40 kids through 5 stations with the Burton PE program. One of the stations was a boot-fitting station, which help team members get ready for the kids when they took their newfound skills into on-snow experiences. Other stations featured foam blocks and small boards, a grab mat, Riglet pull boards, and a Spooner board.
“Each station gives the kids a feeling of excitement for what the experience of snowboarding will be like and helps raise awareness of the skills involved with learning to snowboard,” said AASI Snowboard Team Coach Scott Anfang.
“It was great working with the kids,” he said. “They seemed nervous at first, and then it was all smiles and high fives. We had an awesome support crew from the resort, and other instructors helped us out with some basic translations. In the end, playing with snowboards is playing with snowboards no matter where you are in the world or what language you speak.”
Burton Global Resorts Manager Shaun Cattanach, who is a former AASI Snowboard Team member, joined the indoor and on-snow presentations. He said, “Our Riglet PE Program is an incredibly effective way to expose kids to the sport with indoor training. It’s something we’ve done in China and Japan and around Europe. But in Bulgaria, this was the first time.”
He added, “It breaks down the barriers of getting the kids to the snow and starting to teach them there. Now, along with everyone who jumped in to help this happen, we’re all fired up for this afternoon when they will actually be riding for the first time.”
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- Peter Kray