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Fort Lewis College students evaluate effectiveness of ski signs through class survey

Slide with Respect Project aims to see how resorts can better market their messaging
Students in a Fort Lewis College marketing research course developed a survey exploring how skiers view safety messaging while on the mountain. Marketing professor Tomasz Miaskiewicz is interested in finding out how much safety signage impacts skiers while out on the slopes. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The skier responsibility code was first developed in 1962 and over the years has undergone a variety of revisions that apply to how the sport has changed. But how often do skiers pay attention to safety signage and messaging while on the mountain?

Fort Lewis College marketing professor Tomasz Miaskiewicz and his students are trying to answer that question through a survey conducted as part of a two semester marketing research course.

“We always try to tackle something that hopefully have some sort of impact, or at least is interesting to dive into from a research perspective,” he said.

The survey asks a series of questions about skiers’ experience level, their preferred ski resort’s dedication to safety and how safety messaging is perceived by riders or “snowsliders” on the mountain.

The goal is to reach as many different perspectives as possible. Miaskiewicz said his marketing research class is made up of students who are expert skiers, intermediate skiers and those who have never tried skiing. The diversity adds a wide array of perspectives when it comes to skier safety. However, the goal is for students to remain objective through the research process.

He said the research is not to tell people how they should behave on the mountain but rather how riders react to certain messaging. Miaskiewicz said this type of survey goes beyond the traditional context of a marketing research project. Because the survey inspects different demographics and how they’re impacted by safety language, he felt it fit the marketing class’ curriculum.

“The messaging really needs to be honed in,” he said.

The students are analyzing how marketers can create messaging that will apply to all skiers based on individual preferences. He said if marketers use the same messaging on every skier, it is likely to be disregarded.

“You’ve got to speak using the right language and messaging. This way people understand the core message while at the same time, you don't feel like you're trying to tell them what to do,” Miaskiewicz said.

The marketing students will spend the next semester taking the information received from the survey and developing messaging for different demographics of skiers. Because the students have not finished conducting the survey, they have not figured out what those demographics will be yet.

Miaskiewicz hints that some targeted audiences may have to do with age, family and type of skier but will not know for sure until the survey is completed.

The idea for the research project started when ski industry officials reached out to the college wanting research to be conducted on safety messaging. When Miaskiewicz was notified of their interest, he thought it would be a great opportunity for a marketing research project.

Survey questions were developed from interviews with ski industry officials and researching popular industry news sources like Ski Area Management Magazine.

Miaskiewicz said one event that spearheaded ski industry research regarding safety messaging was the death of Eldora Mountain Resort ski instructor Ron LeMaster who was killed in a ski collision.

“That was definitely a big wake-up call for the industry, saying something needed to be done,” Miaskiewicz said.

He said the research will most likely dictate that the messaging for on-mountain safety signage could be improved. But how it could be improved is the question the students are still trying to answer.

Miaskiewicz said creating safety messaging for ski resorts can be tricky. From one perspective, safety is important to ensure customer satisfaction but sports like skiing, snowboarding and ski biking are based on the concept of pushing boundaries.

That is why it is important for his students to develop language that resonates with a variety of different skiers.

“At the end of this research, we’ll probably figure out that there isn’t one message that works and there might be 10 different messages for 10 different segments that works,” he said.

Beyond messaging, he said how the language is communicated could be a factor. The students will look at how safety messaging is perceived when coming from ski patrol versus a sponsored athlete as part of questions asked in the survey.

“We’re super motivated that we can actually make an impact and develop these message but we're a long way away from that end point,” he said.

The survey will be available through mid-December because Miaskiewicz wants to give as many people a chance to respond as possible.

The survey can be viewed at: https://fortlewis1.sjc1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_eFALQzwpG2r9Wd0


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