Senior Skiers Are Our Future

1976 was a low-snow year. Resorts in Colorado were having a difficult time keeping guests engaged and enjoying the mountain. During this trying time a trio of part-time PSIA ski instructors at the young Copper Mountain Resort came up with an idea for a ski program for adults 45 and over to enjoy the mountains, each other, and the sport of alpine skiing that had been such a passion for them and others.

This program, to be named the Over the Hill Gang, became a true force in skiing in Colorado and beyond.

In 2018, three authors (Jerry (Moe) Mosley, Steve Hultquist and Lance Secretan) completed a five-year labor of love and Peak Performers was published. The book, subtitled “The Remarkable History and Adventures of a Seniors Skiing Program in America,” provides a lively and intimate picture of the creation of Copper, the advent of the Over the Hill Gang, the history of the 10th Mountain Division (many of whom founded todays great ski resorts) and the stories which grew from them.

The book compiles more than 38 years of history from the major contributors to the senior skier programs, over the last four decades, in Colorado.

Active senior skiers and riders are an important key to the sustainability of snow sports, representing a growing percentage of skier days and a large portion of disposable income. They also represent influence with their extended family in terms of vacation time, the use of discretionary income, real estate purchases and much more, impacting resort revenues from the Ski & Ride School to real estate, lodging, food & beverage, and retail.

Today at Copper Mountain, the Over the Hill Gang is a season-long program within the Ski & Ride School. PSIA Certified instructors lead groups of skiers around the mountain 4 days a week (Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday), providing pocket coaching on technique, tactics, and terrain; guiding the groups to terrain appropriate for their ability; and finding less crowded, more enjoyable parts of the mountain throughout the day.

As a result, the members improve their skiing, enjoy skiing with others who share similar levels of ability. Spouses often have different levels of ability than their partners and the OHG provides an opportunity to enjoy skiing within their own different ability level groups, and the guides also offer clinics on special topics throughout the season, such as the very popular Mogul Madness 2-day clinic with its focus on bump skiing with lower energy and more fun.

Senior skiers and a senior skiing programs haves the potential to increase both direct revenue and make a broader impact for any resort. For example,

  • Members help fill the lifts midweek.
  • Members purchase food and beverages, and often stay for après-ski activities. At Copper they are among the most regular customers for dancing to live musicians!
  • Members purchase from the resort retail stores, including clothing, equipment, and resort items.
  • Members often bring guests to the mountain, including family and friends who also become connected to those they meet in the Over the Hill Gang.
  • Members feel an ownership and affinity to the mountain, often extending recommendations to those they meet in their off-mountain lives, becoming extended members of a resort’s sales force.
  • As instructor guides retire from the program, they are often a great asset to the mountain’s marketing when they are kept informed and connected.
  • The stories which come from the program—many examples of which are in the Peak Performers book—draw others and are often popular with business luncheons and similar gatherings. The Copper OHG has been featured on news magazines, for example, because people love to hear about the excellence of the skiing and are inspired by the examples of active seniors doing what they love.

Since the founding of the Over the Hill Gang at Copper Mountain in 1976, senior programs have been formed in various ways and with a variety of structures. At Copper, for example, the program is owned and run by the resort’s Ski & Ride School. In other locations, it is independent, and contracts separately with one or more areas for access and benefits. There are many potential approaches to setting up the possible structures and relationships for the benefit of the members and the associated ski areas.

While children’s programs have long been a primary focus of the industry and ski area Ski & Ride Schools, seniors are often left out, and so have checked out of the sport, reducing benefit to themselves, their families, the ski areas, and the industry-as-a-whole. Given the aging of the general population, it’s time to refocus on the senior skier as a primary constituency, and to offer programs which benefit them in ways which matter to them. They want to get better; they want to enjoy it more, they want to connect with others who are like them, and they want to do it with their partners in ways which align with them individually. A program like Copper Mountain’s Over the Hill Gang can help any ski area offer these benefits and reap the rewards of serving the customer well.

Authors: Moe Mosley, Lance Secretan, Steve Hultquist

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