My mother taught me to be nice to the elderly, not to give them the ranch. With the leading edge of the Baby Boomers now 55, resorts will start to feel a growing pressure to let seniors ski free as this demographic "baby in the python" moves down the line. The ski industry should calmly take a deep breath and say "no."
At many of the major resorts, seniors now constitute 5 to 10 percent of skier visits. And guess what segment of the population is the fastest growing? By the year 2030, 20 percent of Americans will be 65 or older. Besides, today's seniors are heading into their golden years truly golden. They are the best bank-rolled generation to head into retirement. So here's a beaut of a business plan: Give your product away to the fastest growing segment of the population and the one that can most afford it.
Why is the ski industry soft as a marshmallow when it comes to its elders? Other sports aren't. Andy pleads that seniors 70 and older have earned a ski-free handout because of their commitment to the sport. My 71-year-old uncle plays golf four times a week-and has done so since people wore "I like Ike" buttons. Imagine if he walked into the pro shop at Pebble Beach and demanded free golf because of his age. If Pebble charges my uncle $350 a round (plus a cart-fee), why should Vail give its skiing away? Why do skiing's gray panthers demand a ski welfare state but not the same from other pursuits?
How about a working dad with a $2,000 mortgage, two kids in college and (irony alert) two elderly parents to look after. Why shouldn't he ski free instead of the robust retiree who turns on MSNBC for the stock-market report before hitting the slopes? And I won't talk about a single mom and the validity of her claim to walk past the ticket window directly to the lifts.
The better business model is to perpetuate the sport by providing free skiing to kids, hooking them on the experience, and hosting them as they raise families and hit their prime earning years.
Seniors skiers have earned our unflagging respect, admiration and courtesy. But free skiing? Not until I turn 70.