Feeding the snowsports market – What can we do to support schools skiing?

School ski trips have long been a key feeder for the wider market, as they take away the need for a whole family to give the sport a try – with the associated costs and challenges, and allow individual children to experience a trip to the mountains for the first time. But with schools closed for the past 4 months and the return in September meaning strictly controlled mixing of pupils and often the restriction of P.E. and inter-school sports, what hope do we have of school ski trips happening this year? And if we lose a whole year, can the sector ever recover?

With school trips generally booked more than a year in advance, the immediate question is about whether those trips already booked will run in 2021. Most operators are working on a case by case basis, and when a trip can run it is at the discretion of the teachers whether to go ahead. Most operators are operating postponement policies should the school not wish to travel in 2021.

School ski trip bookings for 2021/22 are currently very low, so the impact of the pandemic on the schools skiing sector is likely to be seen over the following 2 seasons.

Prior to the pandemic there was something of a recovery underway in schools skiing. The positives to look forward too are the increased interest/participation in health and fitness, and possibly some relaxing of travel dates with remote schooling having become so much more widespread. But the big risk is once schools get out of the habit of organising a ski trip, will it ever return? In addition, will the recession make ‘luxuries’ such as school skiing simply untenable?

Phil Brown of the NSSA (National Schools Snowsports Association) is still seeing demand for the competitive side. Schools are much more likely to allow children to travel to compete, and whilst this doesn’t necessarily help with feeding the market it does contribute overall to the schools skiing sector.

Virtual opportunities?

Does the virtual world and technology have a part to play in engaging school aged children with snowsports even if they can’t experience it this winter? There is potential, from leading athletes and coaches providing virtual ski fitness sessions to POV (point of view) content from resorts and other providers aimed at schoolchildren, the key is to engage them now and build a desire to travel to the mountains when they can.

Skiing in the UK?

Of course even better than a virtual ski trip is the real thing, albeit in Hemel Hempstead or Milton Keynes rather than Crans Montana or Pila. But to get children engaged and excited about snowsport UK slopes and indoor real snow centres can provide a really positive experience. Their role, and the collaboration with the schools sports tours industry is key.

How can the industry help?

The whole industry, not just the schools operators, rely to an extent on schools skiing to further grow the market, and as a vital part of replacing ‘retiring skiers’ which as the overall ski market ages becomes a more acute problem. In the view of our experts this requires a mindset shift amongst mainstream operators and resorts to view schools skiing as vital to the overall health of our industry. So what can be done? Some suggestions from our panel:

Consider further flexibility for schools ski trips booked for 2021 to ensure they are postponed, not cancelled. As with all ski holidays this needs to be extended down the supply chain to be deliverable.

Offer opportunities for a ‘ski holiday in a day’ at dry slopes and indoor centres in the UK for those children whose 2021 trip is cancelled to maintain excitement and engagement. This could be funded in part though an industry initiative similar to ones seen in the past to support competitive skiing, a voluntary contribution on mainstream holidays, products and other associated snow sports industry sales.

Host ‘teacher trips’ this winter, to show teachers what’s on offer with a school ski trip and what is being done to provide a safe and enjoyable experience. In a similar way to the discounts and offer for health staff over the past 6 months, this could be offered by resorts, operators, hotels, ski schools and other stakeholders whose long term future relies on the market being fed from below, and especially if capacity is available due to an overall reduction in demand this winter.

What do you think could be done to support schools skiing and help keep new skiers becoming regular skiers? Please add a comment below