With the toughest challenges in living memory facing the winter sports industry, we have been asked by many media outlets how the industry will survive, what will change and what challenges should we prepare for in the future?

A recent article in Wired magazine commented on the ‘perfect storm’ of Brexit and Covid hitting winter resorts, and whilst Brexit may not be a factor for all winter resorts Covid is more universal in it’s impact, and especially for those resorts more reliant on winter than summer visitors for revenue is proving to be a much longer lasting headache than was previously considered over the summer.

But, resorts themselves – by which we mean the key infrastructure of lift systems – will survive as the massive investments made were always planned to be recouped over the long term. But the winter holiday experience is made up of so much more than just large infrastructure, the family owned restaurant or hotel independent shop, small and single operator ski schools, taxis and private transfer operators and so many more small and independently owned businesses are vital cogs in the machine that delivers the winter holiday experience for millions .

Many of these businesses face a real struggle for survival, especially if this winter season is severely curtailed or even cancelled altogether which sadly is now a possibility. How can we take action as an industry to prevent this and therefore preserve the diverse offering which the consumers we all depend on demand?

Prior to Covid the greatest threat on the horizon was climate change, and many would argue it still represents by far the greatest long term threat to our industry’s survival. Yet this monumental challenge is being met head on by many small business working together to drive real systemic challenges. Organisations such as Montagne Verte and One Tree at a Time have already demonstrated the power of collaboration in effecting real change.

Working together could provide survival options for many smaller organisations working in our industry. From cutting overheads to sharing expertise collaboration can provide a route to short term survival. We encourage any company facing a very uncertain future to consider who could help them, and who they could help to navigate the coming months. Nothing can easily replace existing customers but there opportunities to operate and trade in other ways if everyone can work together.

And what of the longer term? In the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles it seem impossible to see any way forward. One strategy that can help in these very difficult circumstances is the concept of the fourth option. The fourth option strategy demands looking at the future with a blank sheet. Define your goals first, then think how they can be achieved. Think about what customers are really looking for, not in terms of just the practical but in terms of the emotional as well – what experiences do they seek? What really matters to them? We have seen an example of this recently with French ski resorts opening despite no lifts being able to run. That would have been unthinkable in any previous winter, but by focusing on the experience and emotion of a winter holiday it could be possible to provide a compelling if very different product and proposition.

That difference in itself can have another positive impact, attracting a totally new market segment – as we saw in many cases this summer with first time visitors discovering the joys of a holiday in the mountains. This is an example of leverage creating growth. What other aspects might we be able to leverage to achieve growth? How can we expand our horizons in terms of what our real offering is in order to expand? Other industries have managed this often by redefining their offering and so reaching new markets. In the near future, being able to offer activity based holidays in wide open natural space should confer a considerable advantage to our industry compared to many other destinations. In addition, the products we offer are not subject to threat by technology or other advances, nothing can compare to the experiences we can offer in mountain destinations, hence why we must as first priority protect those destinations themselves.

None of this is easy, the situation we face as an industry remains grave and sadly as we have already seen not all businesses will survive. But we can look forward to a bright future through collaboration, imagination, a willingness to consider new ideas, developing new markets and reaching new customers by focusing on what is is we truly excel at delivering. Looking for the fourth option demands we stay with problems longer to truly explore all the options, and guarantee that however different it may look we continue to deliver incredible experiences in the mountains for many more people in the years to come.

MTN provides strategy consulting for all firms working in the mountain economy whatever their size. If you feel we could help please reach out to us at team@mountaintradenetwork.com for an initial conversation.