If you love to ski and enjoy teaching others, operating an indoor
ski training center can allow you to combine these interests. But even though
indoor skiing requires no snow, be prepared for slow summer months -- it's
best to combine your training facility with another related business.
Indoor ski training centers allow people to learn to ski or snowboard without
the wet and the cold. They can also be used by skiers to rehabilitate after
injuries, or by experienced skiers to improve their techniques.
Training takes place indoors on ski decks, which are like large, carpeted
treadmills set on an incline. These ski decks were invented in England for
ski racers to train and remain conditioned throughout the year. Both ski and
snowboarding equipment can be used.
Learning on the indoor ski decks is an ideal setup for beginning skiers
or boarders. It's warm and dry, and, according to Mini Mountain's manager
Ed Kiser, 200 minutes of simulation is all it takes to make someone a skier
After their indoor training at the facility in Bellevue, Washington, Kiser's
clients are ready to ride the chairlift to the intermediate slopes at their
This type of training helps beginners avoid spending half their ski vacation
learning the sport. It also allows experienced skiers to experiment with snowboarding
without sacrificing on-snow time to learn.
This training is particularly effective with children. "We take away falling
down [and] getting wet and cold by teaching them inside," Kiser says. "Then
when they go up there they have confidence...and they just take off."
"It even benefits people who have skied all their lives," says Graham McCoy,
a Sun and Ski Sports manager in Texas. "Skiers can develop bad habits on the
snow, but the carpet surface is more demanding, so turns must be executed
The Summer Blues
Tom Walderon founded Mini Mountain in Washington over 20 years ago. Jim
Chase has been teaching at the indoor ski school at Sun and Ski Sports for
even longer than that. Both agree that indoor ski training is most profitable
when combined with another business.
Walderon stresses that this is a very seasonal profession. It is busiest
in the fall and winter. Chase echoes his thoughts. "When the grass gets green,
people lose interest," he says. Sun and Ski Sports tried to provide indoor
ski services year-round, but found it most effective to offer the training
only from October through March.
To combat the seasonal nature of skiing, Sun and Ski Sports focuses on
selling inline skating, swimming, camping and other summer sports paraphernalia
during the warmer months. During the ski season, it sells skis, boots, clothes
and accessories. It also rents ski equipment.
Chase notes that the ski lessons help generate a lot of business for the
stores, since it is not unusual for students to buy clothes and rent equipment
there as well. About half of Sun and Ski's stores now offer indoor ski training,
and he feels the ski schools helped the chain expand to its current count
of 14 stores.
Mini Mountain is also a full-service ski shop. It has batting cages and
recently added a rock climbing wall to generate business during the summer
An indoor ski center requires a big enough facility to house the large
ski decks. The biggest ones are like indoor mountains, about 12 feet wide
and 40 feet long.
Mogul Slope North America custom builds two smaller versions, which go
for $41,000 and $53,000. Mini Mountain has two indoor ski decks all year-round,
with a third added in the winter. Mini Mountain sells ski decks for around
The location of the indoor ski center is an important consideration. Walderon
thinks the best location is near the ski mountains. He feels people will be
more interested in learning to ski if they have access to on-snow skiing.
Mini Mountain is about two hours away from the nearest ski hill. It offers
packages that provide a series of indoor lessons followed by an on-snow lesson
to help with the transition to the real thing. It also offers weekly bus trips
and on-snow lessons during the ski season.
The Sun and Ski Sports shop in Texas, on the other hand, is successful
despite being 10 to 12 hours away from the nearest mountain in New Mexico.
Qualified trainers are essential to the business. Chase, who is certified
by the Professional Ski Instructors of America, says it's a battle to get
top-rate ski instructors in the South. Walderon also knows the importance
of trainers. He feels his master's degree in physical education has been a
valuable asset to running a business that revolves around teaching a sport.
Marketing is Key
This is a business full of potential. There is little competition amongst
existing indoor ski schools. There are several scattered across the U.S.,
but neither Chase nor Walderon could name more than a few.
A bigger problem may be clients' unfamiliarity with the concept of indoor
training. "People are still skeptical about skiing or snowboarding on carpet,"
says Kiser. "They don't see how a technique simulator is going to represent
the real thing."
Mini Mountain generates interest in its center by using a portable ramp
at fairs and other events -- it allows people to see how easy it is to learn
to ski or snowboard.
Effective marketing is one of the keys to recouping start-up costs. Mini
Mountain is geared towards children and families. It offers training packages
for kids as young as three, and hosts children's birthday parties that involve
ski or snowboard instruction and use of the batting cage.
Walderon feels snowboarding will become a more family oriented sport as
younger kids learn. "Dad will have to learn, too," he says. Despite the growth
in boarding, Mini Mountain still teaches more people to ski than snowboard.
Taking the Long View
What Walderon enjoys most is the teaching aspect of the business. "I love
helping people learn something they may not think they can do, then watching
them do it." He says it is especially rewarding to work with children.
But he points out that it takes a while to establish a customer base and
generate income. "Take a long view," he says, "because you are not going to
be profitable overnight. Then you need to have enough business sense to stay
around to do it."
Information about the business, plus links to worldwide snow
Ski Area Management
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statistics and industry links
Professional Ski Instructors of America
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