Three factors impacting outdoor industry business according to Eccles Alumni Forum panelists

It’s easy to forget about the business aspects of the outdoor industry when you’re skiing through fresh powder or mountain biking the scenic trails along the Wasatch. But behind the beauty and excitement lie ever-changing factors that are carefully calculated by industry professionals.

The most recent Eccles Alumni Forum, Level Up Utah: Winning Business in Nature’s Playground, featured four outdoor industry titans who brought to light some of the challenges about running a business in the industry.

In fact, panelist Nathan Rafferty, President and CEO of Ski Utah, said that the outdoor space is one of the toughest industries to do business in. Why? Because there are a whole lot of external factors that come in to play. Take a look at the top three factors the panelists discussed that affect their business profitability:

  1. Traffic Congestion

While skier days have increased by 30 percent and Utah’s population has increased by 16.5 percent over the past decade, the number of people able to get up and down the canyons hasn’t increased at all.

If you’re a skier, snowboarder, hiker or all of the above, you’ve probably been stuck in traffic in one of the canyons at some point this winter. Or worse, you’ve had to turn around because the canyon closed. According to Rafferty, ski resorts could lose close to a quarter-million dollars a day when the canyons shut down, so it’s no surprise these businesses, including Ski Utah, are trying to figure out a solution.

“Everyone has an idea of what they think would work best,” said Rafferty. “To me, I think we need to get the rubber vehicles off the road and come up with a solution that takes avalanche concern out of the equation.”

Potential solutions include adding a lane in the canyons to allow for two lanes going up in the morning and two lanes going down in the afternoon, a high-speed gondola that can hold 25-30 people per gondola car, and expanding UTA bus routes to include more pickup spots closer to downtown.

  1. Utah Economy

Utah is being put on the map more and more for its thriving business atmosphere and plentiful outdoor activities, and the number of locals, tourists, and businesses continues to rapidly increase as a result.

“The fact that our mountains are so close is a unique, powerful weapon that I don’t think that Colorado has,” Adam Cole, Owner of Cole Sports, explained. “More people are noticing, and it’s attracting more big and local businesses.”

Shaun Deutschlander, Owner and Operator of Inspired Summit Adventures, has seen a 50 percent growth in her business each season and her specialties (backcountry touring and outdoor education) have seen a 400 percent increase in the last decade. “From a business perspective, it’s been phenomenal,” she explained.

Charlie Sturgis, Executive Director of Mountain Trails Foundation, commented on the expansive potential growth opportunities during the ski off-seasons. “People can come here and utilize the ski areas more in the summertime, and we’re not building anything to do that – just capitalizing on the assets the ski resorts already have,” said Sturgis.

  1. Climate Change

With accelerated business and growth comes concern with the long-term vision of the outdoor industry and mother nature itself. Since much of the industry relies heavily upon weather conditions, many businesses are very engaged in climate change issues. “About half of the ski resorts have a full-time staff member dedicated to climate advocacy,” said Rafferty.

While Utah is lucky in the respect that it snows so much and the ski seasons are already long, smaller ski resorts around the country could start to see the effects of warmer temperatures on their businesses. By diversifying the uses of our space, we can help “maximize potential and minimize damage,” as Sturgis put it, moving forward in the industry.

Our next Eccles Alumni Forum will feature a panel discussion on Customer Experience on April 22 at 11:30 a.m. in the Bill and Pat Child Family Community Hall. Stay up to date by following @ecclesalumni on your favorite social media platform.

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