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Is There Room in Skiing for the Crowded Restaurant Principle?

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Skiers love short lift-lines. Right? But could the message long lines send (a popular resort) overpower the negatives of waiting for chairs? I’ve thought about this question often and finally a marketing example came up in the ski industry to start the conversation. The image at the top is from Chicopee’s new Facebook cover photo.

When I released my collection of 30 resort cover photos a couple weeks ago, I got two interesting responses:

  • You’ve got to wonder what Chicopee is trying to market with that pic of a crowded lift.
  • Strange move. Last thing I would show is a long line at a fixed grip chair.

It got me thinking about something I’ve read many times before: the crowded restaurant principle.

Herd Behavior
So, maybe my label isn’t the technical term for the actual concept, but the idea is this:

If you see two restaurants that sit right across the street from each other. All things equal, people tend to choose the one that has more cars in the front because the cars are a sign of social proof that the food is so good people flock to eat there.

Here’s the thing. To me, Chicopee has never painted a mental picture of a popular resort. That is, until two weeks ago when their cover photo showed huge crowds waiting in a lift line. Instead of being a no-name resort, Chicopee now has a new label net to it in my brain: “popular”.

It Already Exists
In fact, this principle is already in use at least once a year at a handful of resorts: opening day. Take a gander at Day 5 of Whistler/Blackcomb’s EMBEDDED series last year. What is the opening shot of day 5? A huge lift line:

The whole thing is about how many people were waiting in line and how stoked they were to ski.

Solitude vs. Brighton?
I’m guessing a good number of skiers haven’t yet bought a ticket to a specific resort when they board the bus that takes them up Big Cottonwood Canyon in Utah. On a powder day, the bus is packed, but only a few people get off at Solitude while the majority (i’d say upwards of 80-85% at times) continue on to Brighton. It’s clear: less people at Solitude means more fresh tracks and when it comes to terrain, while I love Millicent a Brighton, Honeycomb Canyon at Solitude is no slouch.

It’s almost like it’s uncool to go to Solitude because no one else is skiing there and the herd is continuing on to Brighton. Next time you’re in Utah, jump on the bus and you’ll see what I mean.

Further Application?
is there a way to actually use lift lines to your advantage? I don’t know. Regular lift lines aren’t something I’d want to highlight, but the occasional crowd queuing up for chairs just might have some hidden marketing potential.

What do you think?

  • Catch for restaurants vs. mountains is that even if the restaurant looks busy (and therefore a 'popular' place to be because it's 'good') generally it's safe to assume they have enough food, even if you wait. On a pow day it's never safe to assume that even if you wait in line for an hour you'll still get 'fed'. That is… unless you like bombed out, beat-down and hagged out tram laps after 11am. People don't race to the front of a restaurant line because they know there isn't enough of the best food to go around (you hope that the restaurant order enough food for popular entres), rather every pow fiend in a 15 mile radius will get up at 4am because they know that the best 'food' is in limited quantity, and even if there's plenty to go around the quality of that 'food' degrades quickly over a single day. Bottom line: the restaurant can order more food for the popular dishes tomorrow and you can come back tomorrow, the mountains have a bit of a tougher time just ordering up another 20-incher the next day. I'll keep looking for the shorter lines ;)

    • Interesting take, Austin and I bet there are many, many skiers in your same boat (I'm one of them), but even with long lines, skiers still choose busy resorts of less-busy alternatives. It's likely all not a matter of this principle, but interesting to think about. Thanks for the feedback!

  • Powdermonk

    Love me some Brighton. Truth is. The Solitude choice, may be for a certain guest style. Brighton markets "cool." How long does being cool in life, really matter in the end? Start young & kinda' dumb. Grow into a mountain descent strategist. Cool & mountain smart. IT's all part of the cycle. As our good friend Steve Romeo, stated consistently. "Live to Ski," or ride:) We all grow into the resort approach, at our own pace.

    "In Turns We Trust"

  • propDAVE

    I think there is something to what Gregg is auguring into here, but my take-away is that its a fine line. Seems Whistler tapped it just right and applied the right medium to articulate the message – and they know this is only for a very select audience – the hardcore powderhounds. Whistler is a hard-care mountain so even the average customers identify with that audience (even if they're out of that league).

    I don't know Chicopee but I have to wonder whether their choice was strategic or random.

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