Laughing at future corporate ski trips

In 2007, visionary comedians came together to create a celebrated comedy festival in the Austrian mountains – the Altitude Festival – what a prophetic name. As snowpacks become less reliable at the margins of the winter season in some resorts, new attractions are likely to appear to complement the action on the snow.

As the climate changes, the temperatures and weather patterns at the start and end of winters are set to become ever more challenging for ski resort owners. These ‘shoulder’ periods form a key component of the economics of a ski resort, its hotels, lift companies, shops, bars, restaurants, and activity companies. So, whilst the climate is going to provide an increasingly uncooperative backdrop for corporate ski trips, it rests with the ski areas to diversify their product offering. 

Tweaking the wheel

An increasing number of ski areas are set to become uneconomic in the near term. Ski areas with bigger capital investment, and those located higher in the clouds are more likely to adapt and diversify, than fold. So as the likelihood of post-Easter powder is diminished in future, then destinations will need additional hooks with which to fill hotels and ski lifts, both at the start and end of the winter season. 

The audience at the Altitude Festival is proof of concept that the powder hounds can be outnumbered. The consensus in the audience was that the smorgasbord of comedy occupied an equal role to the action on the snow. Sure, everyone was sharing stories of the snow action, but the fact was that most were die-hard Altituders, having visited for multiple years. So, whilst the spring skiing and snowboarding was an integral part of their reason to visit, it was by no means the sole reason.

Mitigation as well as diversification

Heavily invested ski areas are already set up to smooth out the vagaries of early and late season winter conditions. Snow cannon networks are well-established and expanding the reach and water storage systems is incremental, mitigating much of the capital outlays. There is also a rush to power these systems with renewable sources, often local solar or hydro solutions.

Snow saved from previous winters is another development that is providing a more sustainable snowpack for early season skiing. Pushed into large piles and covered with insulating biomass, these stores are reconstituted on the ski piste at the onset of the following ski season.

A few years back there were sci-fi-like renderings of tunnelled lower mountain trails in Ischgl. The idea was to exit the snow-sure mid-mountain area, into temperature stabilised tunnels. This idea seems to have been well and truly dumped.

You’ve just got to laugh

Guests can laugh in a comedy festival, they can spa in the mountains, and they are likely to be able to enjoy ok to good pre-Christmas or spring snow conditions in many locations in the Alps, for a few years yet. Ski areas will die or expand depending on their location, yet all are likely to see a divergence in the attractions designed to lure corporate ski trip planners. Yoga, spa, meetings in the clouds, air sports, dining and even comedy are all likely to rise in prominence in the coming years. And let’s not forget one of the great corporate ski event activities – après ski. This great leveller can be performed in any snow conditions. 

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