|Recap of the 2015 CCSAA Eastern Meeting
The annual Cross Country Ski Areas Association (CCSAA) Eastern Meeting was held in early November at Waterville Valley, NH with about 60 attendees who were there to network, get industry info, and discuss the topic of XC ski racing. There were 29 ski areas and 10 product/service venders represented at the meeting and participating in the Trade Expo. This event was planned and run by ski area personnel for ski area personnel (see more on this point later).
The CCSAA Strategic Plan was unveiled to the members publicly for the first time. The org was founded in 1977 and one of the motivations for the CCSAA Board to embark on the strategic plan is that CCSAA executive director Chris Frado has been at the helm for most of the org's existence. The Board is looking forward and wants to lay the foundation for the org to devise a plan for succession of the org leadership and maintenance.
Currently, CCSAA has 167 ski area members (70 east, 10 central, 60 west and 27 Canadian). The org also has product/service provider and retail membership categories. The goals of the CCSAA Strategic Plan include increasing CCSAA's relevance in the snow sports industry, becoming a hub offering tangible value by identifying areas of focus, growing the membership, running industry events, and creating new industry-wide marketing channels.
Rebecca Dayton of the Olympics Sports Complex in Lake Placid conducted the Strategic Plan presentation laying out the specifics of the plan objectives. Members of the CCSAA Board are fully engaged in many aspects of CCSAA and there is a need for the members to begin weighing in on the dialogue about CCSAA directions. Surveying members and reporting in the monthly newsletter are ways that CCSAA has been informing members about the plan.
A discussion about the plan centered on the proposed CCSAA on-line ski ticket portal that is under consideration. Many ski areas are struggling to keep up with the times such as electronic trail pass availability and the Internet-oriented mobile focus of the younger generation. There was a question about whether XC skiers will even use such a portal or if lessons have been learned about on-line advance ticket sales from alpine ski areas.
The Nature Valley granola bar sponsorship has been a CCSAA partnership that has lasted many years, and the org feels that it could soon come to an end. If the sponsorship is sun-setted, new sponsorships will be sought to replace it. The Board is also looking at group buying of fat bikes, which are becoming popular as an alternative activity at XC ski areas.
There were some new and changed CCSAA programs announced at the meeting. The new Crystal Pass Program is a fundraiser for the US Nordic Ski Team. It will be made available to as many as 400 nationwide season pass holders who will have free access to all participating XC ski areas. CCSAA is signing up the ski areas and it appears that most of the org's American area members will open their doors to the Crystal Pass holders, who will pay $2,500 each to acquire the privilege for nationwide trail access.
There will be radical changes on the 21-year old Winter Trails program this year. The program garners awareness of, and introduces people to, snowshoeing and XC skiing. Formerly, Winter Trails was publicized as one day in January and now it will become a month-long program to align with the alpine/snowboard learn-to-ski month. The Winter Trails program will no longer be marketed as a FREE introduction, so participating ski areas can run different programs all month long or for part of the month and charge a nominal fee for people to try the sports. There is hope that the ski areas offer a return incentive to Winter Trails participants.
Ed Wray of SIA presented slides on the State of the Nordic Market that reviewed various statistics and an overview of trends. The info was generally informative but not very useable. For example it was mentioned that an SIA downhill study provided details about how to tailor messages to people in the X, Y, and Z generations and that would've been of great value at the CCSAA meeting. The presentation gave information such as the female XC ski participation peaked in 2011-12, most XC skiers are casual participants, and the top state with XC skiing populations was Massachusetts, while the fifth highest state was Arizona. With regard to the Skier Visit Survey conducted by SIA, it was reported that there were 85 ski area responses that represented one million skier visits. The average ski area visitation reported was 12,400 and this brought some groans from the audience.
Building a Nordic Culture
Kris Cheney-Seymour, a speaker from Lake Placid gave an informed presentation of what a highly motivated community organizer can do to build a Nordic ski culture in a community. He has coached and worked at a number of ski areas and organizations where he saw the creation of the XC ski culture in Park City with the Utah Nordic Ski Alliance, in Maine at the Maine Winter Sports Center, and in New York at Dewey Mountain Recreation Center. The presentation was well received and it made one feel that Kris is well suited to offer his experience for hire in more ski area communities.
XC Ski Racing
The director of the New England Nordic Ski Association (NENSA) Zach Stegeman spoke about the 3,400 member org that sanctions races, youth ski programs, and grassroots development. NENSA also maintains an overall calendar of competitions, sanctions and conducts recreational events, educational programs, coach training, and has an adaptive Nordic ski program. Stegeman wanted to emphasize that NENSA is not only for the "snot and lycra" crowd; but the organization does mostly cater to XC ski racing.
Following the NENSA presentation, a panel about ski racing programs made opening remarks and then the meeting attendees asked questions. The most significant topics included how NENSA can help and advertise to the racing community; the value and practices of hosting the Bill Koch Youth Festival with 600 kids and their families; how to address late race registration concerns; and how to minimize impacts of holding a race on weekend recreational business at the ski area.
Good ideas included offering racers a specially priced season pass and using NENSA coaching clinics to help increase the number of people to become XC ski coaches to address the current coach shortage.
The CCSAA Eastern Meeting was planned and run by CCSAA Board members in an effort to alleviate CCSAA executive Chris Frado of some responsibilities and it should be deemed a success as a first effort using that formula. CCSAA Board members Reese Brown, Rebecca Dayton and Nate Harvey handled the particulars of planning and organizing the event with Leah Wilson, director of the Nordic Center at Waterville Valley.
The CCSAA Board will do the same for the CCSAA Conference to be held at Snow Mountain Ranch in CO on April 5-6, 2016. Next year's CCSAA Eastern Meeting is slated to be held at Eastman Cross Country in Grantham, NH next November.