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Mature adults increasingly drawn to adventure activities

This is an excerpt from Leisure Programming for Baby Boomers by Lynda Cochran,Anne Rothschadl & Jodi Rudick.

Life Is an Adventure: Outdoor Adventure Program Ideas

Rather than "activities," baby boomers enjoy experiences. Traveling "off the beaten path," waking up to a picturesque view of the mountains, riding a bike and feeling the wind swoosh past, or just enjoying a picnic with friends and a few ants may be attractive. Outdoor recreation offers a great variety of experiences, but the most sought after and increasingly popular is outdoor adventure; boomers are seeking a bit of risk in their outdoor experiences.

Boomers got their first taste of outdoor recreation in the 1950s and '60s when many boomers were children. Families purchased cars and began driving to visit outdoor areas, go camping, or have picnics. "Mobile homes" became popular as people traveled more. More and better roads were constructed to carry the increased traffic. Overall access to outdoor resources improved. Participation in outdoor recreation by all ages has increased steadily since that time, becoming more prominent and more active.

Outdoor recreation differs from other forms of recreation in its dependence on nature as a component of the activity. Snow is necessary for cross-country or downhill skiing, sledding, or snowboarding. Lakes, streams, and rivers provide places to fish, canoe, kayak, and run white-water rapids. Other natural features ensure our enjoyment of hiking, camping, leaf peeping, and bird watching. The interaction with nature inherent in these activities distinguishes them as outdoor recreation.

Outdoor recreation goes beyond the aesthetic surface and provides the participant with psychological, spiritual, and physical well-being benefits. In a study of 135 boomers, Cochran (2005) found that participation in outdoor leisure solely for the element of nature involved was favored by 63 percent of the men and 60 percent of the women. Seeking outdoor recreation for purposes of relaxation of mind, body, and spirit was noted by 42 percent of the men and 53 percent of the women. Participation in outdoor leisure for physical health or exercise was also important to 48 percent of the men and 45 percent of the women in the study. Boomers in general pursue outdoor leisure activities for relaxation, play, and continued growth.

According to the most recent National Sporting Goods Association survey (, the most popular outdoor activities (i.e., those with the highest percentage of participation) for 45- to 54-year olds in the United States in 2007 included exercise walking, swimming, hiking, boating, golf, bicycle riding, and backpacking. Increasing in popularity were activities such as skateboarding, mountain biking, running and jogging, and fishing. These results were echoed in a study of active baby boomers and older adults conducted by Del Webb in 2007 ( The outdoor sports that this group (who live in communities designed for people aged 55 or older) ranked as extremely important were walking, swimming, golf, fishing, and canoeing/kayaking. Increasing in popularity were biking, hiking/climbing/rappelling, river rafting, downhill skiing, Rollerblading, competitive running, and hang gliding/parasailing/parachuting. It is clear that the boomers want to be physically active. One of the fastest-growing trends for this segment of the population is a form of outdoor recreation called adventure recreation. The key to making recreation "adventurous" is to add a calculated risk factor-some aspect of the activity that expands the participant's comfort zones. The risk may come from taxing one's physical skills, pushing one's mental capacities, or experiencing elements of danger.

Two factors are key for baby boomers who crave this type of recreation. First, when pushing one's limits, the risk must be calculated. For example, white-water rafting or rock climbing can be dangerous and deadly-even for seasoned participants. Baby boomers who are not experts need an experienced teacher or guide, good equipment, good safety gear, and instructions on what to do in case of a mishap. It is for this reason that we recommend contracting the professional services of experienced outfitters for adventure activities that have a moderate to high element of risk or danger. These outfitters should have trained leaders (be sure to check the outfitters' credentials) and should carry appropriate liability insurance (be sure to check their insurance).

Secondly, boomers like "soft" adventure. They are willing to work hard, get dirty and sweaty, and push their physical and mental limits. At the end of the day, however, they want a nice meal, perhaps with a glass of good wine, and a comfortable bed. The taste for soft adventure means that shorter trips and activities may be more attractive than longer ones.

Marketing Tips

When you are developing marketing campaigns for outdoor adventure programs, these are some important things to keep in mind:

  • You may not be objective. As a programmer, you may love outdoor adventure activities. Because of your passion, you may have forgotten what it feels like to be a novice. But, to successfully market your programs to new customers, you must put yourself in your prospects' shoes, fins, hiking boots, skis, or flip-flops. You may not be objective enough to develop a marketing message that can effectively attract new participants. Promote the benefits of the program, not just the features. Be especially careful with jargon and slang. Many outdoor, extreme, and adventure activities involve a language and lingo all their own. Help customers feel comfortable in the outdoor recreation environment by avoiding words, phrases, and jargon that can make people feel like foreigners. No one wants to feel like an outsider-right, dude?
  • Safety sells. Promote the safety of your programs. Adults, unlike children, understand that they are not invincible and may feel vulnerable when trying something new or risky. Stress the safety features and the safeguards associated with your program and equipment. Proudly showcase your staff's experience, education, awards, and certifications. While most children couldn't care less about your higher degrees in sport management, exercise physiology, or therapeutic recreation, many adults will be impressed and reassured by your credentials.
  • Flips might flop. Don't depict the extreme side of a sport when trying to attract first-time participants. When designing ads, Web sites, and other marketing materials, try to show or otherwise include boomers (not teenagers or young adults) actually participating in the activity. Tony Hawk might be the perfect person to attract teenagers to skateboarding, but his thrills, chills, loops, and flips might scare the heck out of a baby boomer who is trying to get up the nerve to ride for the very first time.
  • Taste this. Sampling is a great way to encourage people to try something new. Not only do samples eliminate financial risk since they are typically free, but they also appeal to our sense of curiosity. When it comes to outdoor recreation activities, look for ways for boomers to get a "taste" of an activity by offering free clinics, workshops, open houses, mini-sessions, or demos. While I might not want to invest a whole day in something new, like cross-country skiing, consider hosting an Adult Snow Day in which I can try several outdoor winter activities, including sledding, skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing.
  • Cut expenses. Outdoor recreation often requires expensive equipment. Help boomers wishing to try new activities to secure the equipment they need through some creative partnerships. For example, work with local retailers willing to loan or rent equipment or "demos" to program participants. Your agency might even invest in its own inventory of rental equipment, enabling first-timers to take part in outdoor recreation with little or no initial investment. As outdoor enthusiasts-young and old alike-become more advanced, they may be willing to donate or sell equipment to others. Your agency could sponsor (or cosponsor with your local sporting goods retailer) a community-wide gear-swap, helping to lessen recreation expenses.

Outdoor Adventure Programming Ideas

The following activities serve as a guide to creating outdoor adventure programs with boomers. Adventure comes in many forms and does not have to involve actual high risk-only the perception of risk. Keep in mind that baby boomers tend to prefer smaller groups-which are also more appropriate than larger groups for adventure recreation. Be sure to include an educational component (e.g., learning how to put on your own climbing harness, learning how to "read" parts of the river) and a social component (perhaps as simple as a cup of coffee and a place to sit and chat with the activity group). Retelling of the adventure makes it memorable.

Treasure Hunting: Geocaching and GPS


Search for treasure as we learn to use global positioning system (GPS) to find a geocache (a site where current artifacts are buried). You will get to take the "treasure" home and leave your own for the next geocachers. Bring your hiking boots and an artifact (poem, drawing, small craft item, letter) to leave. Dress for the weather.

Purpose and Goals

  • To learn to use GPS for guidance in the woods
  • To explore cross-country natural areas
  • To socialize
  • To connect with people you do not know

Length and Format

One 2- to 3-hour session


Outdoor terrain with variety and interest


One leader and one staff member (in case of illness or accident)

Equipment and Materials

  • GPS device
  • Maps
  • First aid kit
  • Drinking water
  • Clothing appropriate for weather conditions
  • Snacks


  1. Describe the purpose, history, and excitement of geocaching.
  2. Teach participants how to use the GPS device.
  3. Give safety instructions and guidelines for the adventure.

Options and Variations

Before the trip, the leader should locate the site her- or himself so as to know the features of the terrain and cache site.
The Web site is a treasure trove in and of itself.

Mountain Biking for Wimps


Looking for an adventurous ride outside in the forest? Hop on a mountain bike and join us for an ultimate ride for anyone with any ability level.

Purpose and Goals

  • To have an outdoor leisure experience
  • To have a social experience
  • To gain new knowledge and information you can use in the future in a recreation pursuit
  • To reach and achieve goals
  • To exercise the mind and body

Length and Format

One 3-hour session


Outdoor park and recreation area with cart paths or bike trails


One facilitator-leader

Equipment and Materials

  • Safety equipment (helmets, pads, first aid kit, repair kit)
  • Mountain bikes with suspension


  1. Give an overview of mountain biking.
  2. Review parts of the bike and bike handling.
  3. Teach techniques for easier riding.
  4. Stress safety and trail etiquette.
  5. Demonstrate use of a mountain bike.
  6. Have participants practice techniques on a flat surface.
  7. When participants are ready, take an easy group ride.

Options and Variations

Explain features to look for along the trail, history of the park, and so on.
Provide information about mountain biking groups and trails.

This is an excerpt from Leisure Programming for Baby Boomers.

More Excerpts From Leisure Programming for Baby Boomers