Arapahoe Basin's opening days come together through a collective effort of a talented, well-organized team. But what does being first in the nation look like to a marketer? Adrienne Saia Isaac walks us through her day.
Adrienne, it’s opening day at Arapahoe Basin. Loveland’s a few days behind, so it’s just you. First in the nation. What time are you waking up and what’s the first thing you do?
I’ve often compared Opening Day to Christmas – you can barely sleep the night before because you’re so focused on the excitement that the next day brings. I generally get up between 3:00-4:00 a.m., depending on the projected media turnout, and arrive at the Basin around 4:30 a.m. (sometimes earlier, sometimes later but I’m always among the first to arrive – one time I beat Alan by 20 seconds. I was proud of that, he laughed at me J). I shower and lay my clothes out the night before. I even slept in my longs once because I am a chronic “snoozer” and, as such, am rather paranoid about oversleeping. Straighten hair, put on makeup – whatever makes me look most awake! – and immediately get some green tea. My dog usually comes with me to work on Opening Day because it’s a long one. She generally gets out of bed 20 minutes after I do!
You finally stop hitting snooze and arrive at the resort. What’s next and about what time is it by now?
I like to be on-scene to help our media set up and to troubleshoot any technical issues. If the local affiliates join us, they’re often broadcasting for the morning show, so I take the very early interviews in the 4 and 5 o’clock hours. I also usually let the 6th Alley Mug Club line into the A-Frame building to get warm (yes, Mug Club die-hards routinely beat me to Opening Day! That is dedication, folks).
It sounds this opening day timeline starts long before opening day. What’s leading up to this early morning?
Opening Day really begins 24-48 hours ahead of time. We don’t have an opening date picked in advance; I’ve had anywhere from three days to exactly 24 hours notice prior to opening. One time, I traveled to Dallas for a media outreach trip, spent the night, and received a call at 9:00 a.m. the next morning telling me to send out a press release then fly back because the Basin was going to open the next day. That was hard work, but working under pressure like that gets me amped. The feeling surrounding Opening Day is simply electric and prepping for it is a rush.
Once Mountain Operations make the decision to open, the Marketing team starts spreading the good news. As soon as Alan says “Go,” I’m sending out press releases, coordinating media interviews, setting up media access, updating the website, composing and sending our email newsletter and coordinating/posting about it on our social media. The phone seems to ring the moment I hit “send” (sending a shout out to KOA Radio – they are ON IT!). Our team and Colorado Ski Country also coordinate any video or photography needs. It can be difficult to find professionals to cover opening when the date is up in the air (thankfully, A-Basin’s photographer, Dave Camara, is the absolute best and plans for the “unplan-able” in October).
Does practice make perfect with all these moving pieces?
When you’ve been doing this for a few seasons, you start to get a pretty good handle on the tasks you need to accomplish. It’s helpful to have draft versions of your messaging as well as your creative collateral all organized in advance. That takes away some of the pressure of the time crunch. And it’s good to get some talking points in your brain, because the first thing you are quoted as saying ultimately ends up being the quote that’s going to be used in every opening day piece nationwide. [Note: yes, I have a story about that.]
Story? Let’s hear it.
Oh man, it’s embarrassing. I was such an excited puppy my first season, and I went a little overboard on a quote that got picked up in an Associated Press story about Opening Day. I was trying to give credit to our snowmakers, who work incredibly hard but are in general a pretty low-key crew, and in doing so I made a boasting statement that didn’t really fit with who we are at the Basin. While the statement itself was innocuous (I said something like, “We have the best snowmakers in the state, maybe even in the nation”), it totally came off the wrong way. And, of course, it ended up everywhere. It was a humbling experience in learning to balance my genuine enthusiasm for A-Basin and what we do, and understanding how we speak about our operation.
So you’re at the mountain wrapping up your first interviews. Have you eaten anything yet or are you running solely on green tea?
I eat a toasted bagel with cream cheese in my car on the way to the mountain. It’s still dark, so I’m usually blasting some rock music (Tool, Pink Floyd, my ski playlist) on the way to continue the wake-up process. I also bring fruit – a banana or clementines – that I can stuff in a pocket and carry around with me.
What else happens before the lifts start spinning? How does the timeline play out?
6:00 a.m.-8:55 a.m.
I post on our social media around sunrise to get things rolling. Since I already took the early morning television interviews, Alan takes most of the 7:00-9:00 a.m. slots. I run around coordinating those to make sure everyone gets the time with him that they need. Once the live shots are done, I’ll talk with the newspaper and magazine reporters, and do some live social with them as well. There’s also usually some IT troubleshooting to be done; connectivity can be an issue at 11,000 feet.
Before the lift opens, I make sure to take time to swing through both the lift line and the Mug Club line to say hi to some familiar faces. It’s like the Basin comes alive again when those characters are back at the mountain. The crew from Loveland usually stops over for a visit (we’ll go say hi on their opening day, too), and it’s always fun to catch up with those guys. This is also the time when I’ll sneak more food – thankfully, Colorado Ski Country always brings donuts to Opening Day!
Most media know the drill, and set up across from where the chair loads to get their shots. Our leadership, lift ops and marketing teams are all there too.
9:00 a.m. (on weekends, 8:30 a.m.)
There’s a countdown from 10 and then the lift starts turning. The first chair is always whoever gets there first once we announce – we don’t get involved with any of that. Once we get people on the hill, it’s kind of a relief – it’s this whoosh, this exhale, because the build-up is over and we’re back to doing what we’re good at and what we love – skiing and riding.
Between lift opening and 10:30
There are still a few more interviews to coordinate or participate in. I make sure all of our journalists have everything they need – quotes, video/photos, lift tickets. Then, I usually go just sit down in my office for a minute and breathe.
Our photographers usually have their selects edited around this time period and ready to go out. We work closely with Colorado Ski Country to send out photos and press releases about the day. We post on social media again (e.g. the photo of the “COLORADO IS OPEN!” banner and first chair).
I boot up and pick up my skis from the tune shop (nothing like getting them waxed at the last minute!). It’s a tradition to take at least one run on Opening Day every season (I only missed one when I was injured and not cleared to ski). The marketing team will go out and take a couple laps to kick off the season. We try to do this every Closing Day, too. Then we get lunch (the importance of food is really a trend here, huh?) in the 6th Alley.
By that time and you calling it a day or are there still loose ends to tie up?
There are always some loose ends to take care of – making sure everyone got the interviews they needed, checking that I’ve answered all the emails about the day, and posting again to social media. I could sit at my desk and tinker for hours, so I really have to stop myself after 4:00 p.m. At the end of the day, our staff convenes in the 6th Alley for a celebratory beverage. We’re a close-knit circus here at the Basin, and we appreciate hanging out and decompressing with our friends at the end of the day.
How important is it to Arapahoe Basin’s season and marketing/PR strategy to be the first in the nation to open?
It’s wildly important, but it’s also something that’s almost entirely out of our hands as marketing professionals. We can sell the stoke, but we can’t control the weather. So while it’s important to be prepared for Opening Day, I’ve learned that you can’t get bent about when it’s going to happen. We’re also going to make sure we have the snow surface to accommodate the early-season traffic, and a forecast that will allow us to stay open.
How about first in the west or even just Colorado? If someone opens out east, what impact does that have on the value of your opening day?
Being the first of the seasonal resorts to open, whether it’s in the nation or in the state of Colorado, is significant in terms of the amount of positive media attention we receive. It’s huge. Additionally, once we’re back to turning the lifts, our employees are back to work and we are generating revenue. So it makes sense for brand recognition, for our business, and for our local community and economy to kick off the season as soon as we can.
In terms of the media exposure, a ski area opening out east doesn’t seem to have as much impact as another Colorado resort opening before we do. The thing about the Basin and many of the Colorado ski areas is that once we open, we aim to stay open seven days a week to the public, and that makes a big difference in how opening day out here is perceived. And when you are situated in a winter sports mecca like Colorado, the story translates well nationally.
More importantly, Opening Day matters to our guests. We wouldn’t dedicate the resources to opening as early as we do if there weren’t a demand for skiing. There are guests who travel across the country annually for opening day. Sure, there may be only one run open, but Opening Day is about so much more than acreage. It’s so fun, and the vibe is so electric – you all get to experience that “first day of school” feeling where everyone is excited to see each other and catch up (except there’s definitely no homework at the end of the day here). And you get to enjoy lift-served skiing on the Continental Divide, which does not suck.
Any opening day tips for anyone who will handle their first this fall?
Be prepared. Have your facts and area info ready to go well in advance so you’re not scrambling. Know your historical dates, especially if you’re going outside the general Thanksgiving to Easter operating calendar. Get as much done in advance as possible to make sure you can actually breathe and enjoy the day.
That’s the most important thing – don’t forget to have fun. It’s really easy to lose perspective when you’re sleep-deprived and running around like crazy. Our COO, Alan, the entire team here at the Basin and my friends in the ski industry are fantastic for helping to keep things in perspective.
Let yourself be excited – to be blunt, Opening Day anywhere is a freaking cool thing to be a part of. The stress of the season hasn’t struck yet, and you have tons of people stoked to be at their home mountain. Whether you open with one trail or 100% of your terrain, it’s all good because it’s all skiing.
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