With a top-class panel discussion and around 100 ski enthusiasts from sports, business, media and culture, a new chapter in Viennese winter sports was opened. Conclusion of the successful kick-off event for the WienSki Business Club: "Let's tackle it together to get more young people into snow sports again."
The WienSki Business Club is an initiative of the Vienna Ski Association (WienSki). The aim of the platform is to create an innovative network of sport and business. Regular meetings and joint activities should result in new business contacts and valuable synergies. In addition, a financial contribution is to be made to support young winter sports enthusiasts. The kick-off took place in the spacious ambience of INTERSPORT WINNINGER in Stadlau, where the largest selection of ski models in Austria can be found on an area of 1,000 square meters, as host Manuel Winninger emphasized.
The list of podium guests was just as impressive: Patrick Ortlieb, FIS and ÖSV board, Olympic champion; Christina Wilfinger, Managing Director of SAP Austria; Martha Schultz, Vice President of the Austrian Chamber of Commerce; Barbara Bleier-Serentschy, Head of Marketing Volksbank; Gerhard Hrebicek, President of the European Brand Institute. The main topic discussed was how to win over more young people for snow sports and what role conurbations like Vienna play in this. The audience included prominent names such as football coach Peter Stöger and musician Andy Lee Lang.
Creating infrastructure, preserving cultural assets
Before the discussion began, Roland König, the new President of the Vienna Ski Association since June 2022, explained where the journey should go in the next few years. For example, a new business advisory board has already been set up in the association. “We want to uphold the fascination for skiing in Vienna and partially bring it back. It is about a corresponding broad effect in the population, so that more children learn to ski again. Therefore we have to create the framework conditions and infrastructure to be able to practice the sport successfully - also at a high level," explained König.
Another main initiator of the WienSki Business Club is Martin Dolezal, CEO of the Snowsports Academy. “Snow is an Austrian cultural asset – and it is a connecting element, because people come together when they ski. And with the Business Club, we want to create exactly this breeding ground - with the primary goal of promoting snow sports and their importance in eastern Austria and in the federal capital Vienna."
This also applies to the very important area of integration, as Martin Dolezal illustrated with an example during the Covid pandemic at Semmering: "Many people with a wide variety of cultural backgrounds went up at the time and you could clearly see the great enthusiasm they felt when they made contact have felt with snow. In every free space, people slid down with all sorts of things - whether with plastic bags or just on the seat of their trousers."
Key experiences in kindergarten age
Martha Schultz, Vice President of the Austrian Chamber of Commerce and owner of six ski areas in Tyrol, also sees the first contact with snow and sport as a key experience. “In our ski areas we also run the catering and accommodation – from youth hostels to 5* hotels. 25 years ago I started looking at school ski courses. At that time mainly because of the so-called January hole. Today, 60,000 students come to us from Germany every year, from the far north to the south. And it is precisely our task to promote this enthusiasm – for example with kindergarten weeks, which we also carry out and which are very popular.”
FIS and ÖSV board member Patrick Ortlieb, who works as a hotelier in Vorarlberg, agrees. “The fact is that there are fewer and fewer school ski courses in Austria. But in Vorarlberg we are now starting again with kindergarten ski courses – because getting the children on snow is the most important thing.” In general, the ÖSV mass sports department and the state associations also play an important role. Therefore, Ortlieb sincerely thanked the Vienna Ski Association for taking over the organization of the WienSki Business Club.
"Especially in metropolitan areas like Vienna, a ski hall is also an issue," added Ortlieb. “Obviously, a basic prerequisite for this is energy self-sufficiency – not only in times of an energy crisis like now. But it's about this first contact with snow - and a second, third and so on, to then go skiing in Hochfügen or on the Arlberg."
Heros, digital media and simulators
Christina Wilfinger, Managing Director of SAP Austria, learned to ski in Joglland as a native of Styria and is still enthusiastic about it today. "Austria is a ski nation - and that's incredibly attractive. From an international point of view, this also offers an opportunity to get skilled workers to Austria.” Another point is to get families excited again, especially in the metropolitan areas. “In order to turn these people into fans, I have to know them and their needs very well. Event marketing and hero effectiveness are important here – there used to be a parallel slalom on Rathausplatz.”
"In order to win these new customers, you should also use technical means and digital media such as TikTok or SnapChat so that you get into people's heads in a positive sense - especially when young people today have an attention span in the millisecond range," says Wilfinger .
Barbara Bleier-Serentschy is in charge of marketing at Volksbank and is responsible for cooperation with the ÖSV ski jumping team. “An advantage of this sport is that I am not dependent on snow. That means I can quickly and easily implement them with mats. Simulators are also a good asset. That alone gives me a good feeling about how it feels when I jump down on skis.” The great success of the Wiener Stadtadler, for example, which is one of the most successful youth teams in Austria, shows how sustainable this strategy is. But there is also an excellent team spirit in the entry-level area. “Equipment is exchanged among each other. I can also create new motivation and enthusiasm for the sport if I tell my friends about it," says Bleier-Serentschy.
Skiing as identity
For Gerhard Hrebicek, President of the European Brand Institute, “skiing is an essential identity-forming brand for Austria. It's a successful export and we see that especially in international relationships when we invite customers to ski. Everywhere they know us for that. This is not only important economically for industry and tourism, but also emotionally in the sense of cosiness, music and sociability.” Developed a concept for an indoor snow dome. "But I think projects with carpet or plastic slopes are just as important," explained Hrebicek. "There are also swimming pools and not everyone goes to a lake."
At the end of the official part, Martin Dolezal summed up. “The topic of snow sports is currently very emotional and should be considered more objectively. But if something has a strong presence in the media, it also offers opportunities. Of course there is room for improvement in many respects – for example when traveling to the ski areas by train.”
He sees another crucial point in a general rethinking. “We are not used to roller and plastic pistes or indoor snow domes in Austria, but the situation is completely different in countries like the Netherlands. There, many people learn to ski in this way and thus get interested in a holiday in Austria's mountains. And we should take that as a model in Vienna and bring the fun directly into the city.” Dolezal's motto for this is #SnowConnectingPeople – whether on the snow or at events like the WienSki Business Club.
Photos – Copyright Tanja Zach
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Vienna Ski Business Club
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