Diversity was a key focus of the second annual Snow Industry Summit held at Copper Mountain Ski Resort, and the organizers of the event brought together a talented and very motivated group of speakers to help address the issue. The issue of diversity in the SnowSports industry addresses not only the underlying morality of being a part of an open and accepting culture, but also opens up opportunities for the sports to grow.

While Snowboard participation has been steadily growing for quite some time now, it is simply replacing the declines in the skiing population, and keeping the overall SnowSports market relatively flat. Other SnowSports Activities, such as snowshoeing, are providing some growth for the industry, but compared to the millions of skier and snowboarder visits each year, it is relatively small, and more than offset by the declines in cross-country skiing. Snowshoeing is the most diverse of the main-stream winter sports, and yet according to OIA’s participants with potential study, it is still 85% white, 13% Hispanic, 0% African American, and 2% ‘other.’

The SIS panel on diversity was comprised of Roberto Moreno, the president and founder of Alpino, a program that brings Denver inner-city children to the slopes; Schone Malliet, EVP of the National Brotherhood of Skiers, an all African-American National ski organization; and Amy Buckalter, SVP of global sales and marketing for Watermark.

The Snowsports industry has addressed the diversity issue before, mainly through the recent surge in women’s specific product. According to Buckalter this was the “low-hanging fruit” because women were already on the slopes. The industry was filling a demand that already existed and addressed it through product design and product-based marketing. Addressing different ethnic, cultural, and age groups will be much more difficult and require the same commitment that many companies have shown in the women’s market.

“Whoever is ahead of the curve, and jumps on top of this… The rewards will be at least as large as successfully addressing the women’s market,” said Buckalter.

Roberto Moreno, himself Latino, has been bringing urban youth to the Rockies and introducing them to the mountain lifestyle for over three decades. A major part of his winter program involves skiing, snowshoeing, and snowboarding. His perspective of the industry truly illustrated many of the hurdles that must be overcome.

“Next time you go to a ski resort imagine that everyone is Black or Hispanic,” he said. “Then imagine that the only other person who looks like you is pushing a maid’s cart.”

Mr. Moreno also referenced a multi-cultural “sweet-spot” where a buzz is created in minority communities, making mountain culture cool. “We are living in a time when pop-culture is taking its cues from ethnic culture,” he said. “Creating a buzz in minority communities that focuses around mountain culture will change the face of the industry.”

To accomplish this he recommended looking for a “Tiger Woods of Skiing” and noted that Snowboarding is already a step ahead with Marc Frank Montoya attracting a Hispanic audience. He also noted that the biggest problem for the industry may be ignorance of our own shortcomings.

“In 30 years I have never met a racist in the ski industry,” said Moreno. “But I have come across a lot of people who, because of geography, have led very sheltered lives and don’t understand any culture but their own.”

Schone Malliet highlighted the economic benefits of targeting the African-American market and alluded to a pent up demand in this segment of the population. The NBS is the largest ski organization in North America and it is made up entirely of African-Americans. It boasts 20,000 members belonging to 84 different clubs in 41 cities and has been around for over 30 years. However the most impressive statistic is the fact that 75-80% of new skiers introduced to the sport by NBS stay with the sport. The industry average is only 15%.

The NBS has several programs on its plate, but the organization feels that creating ethnic employees at ski resorts is vital to creating the “buzz” mentioned by Mr. Moreno. NBS is piloting a program that takes African-American High School Graduates, who are not immediately going on to college, and giving them resort jobs that expose them to the mountain lifestyle.

This approach brought up a classic ‘the chicken or the egg’ discussion, regarding the need to attract employees or participants first, but it seems that whichever direction the industry chooses, one is likely to attract the other.

One approach that did not come up is a strategy that is viewed as vital in the women’s market. K2 has had much success integrating female perspectives into every step in the go-to-market process for its products; would the same not be true when trying to market to ethnic groups?

Other issues tackled by different panels included a Target Marketing workshop by Jeff Bliss, the president of Javelin Group, and Roy Turner, the director of web market research at Sage Island; Grassroot Marketing and Guerrilla Tactics by the same duo; a look at the future of SnowSports with Glen Heimstra, founder of Futurist.com; ‘Calculating the Impact of China;’ ‘The Nuts and Bolts of Financial Planning;’ and several more valuable presentations and round-tables.

The one downside to the event was the attendance. BOSS estimates that the event was down 30% compared to last year, and the rough press release numbers from this year and last year confirm that with “over 300” in attendance last year and “over 200” this year. Additionally, the vast majority of the crowd was made up of vendors with precious few retailers. This left several speakers scrambling to re-work their power-point presentations.

There could be several factors causing this including the late winter that both the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast experienced. With conditions priming so late in the season, retailers were likely doing whatever they could to clear out inventory before the buying season comes to a close.

BOSS spoke with SIA’s president, David Ingemie, who felt that the timing may have been off this year. “I think timing is the biggest issue the Summit is facing right now,” he said. “So many people are burned out this time of year.”

Moving forward, Transworld and SIA will likely discuss a change in timing and/or venue in order to approve attendance issues. Mr. Ingemie simply told BOSS that they will discuss anything that could improve the event.