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My Next “Big Thing” – How I Plan to (Hopefully) Help Small Ski Areas Compete

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Today I want to do two things. First, I want to announce something. Second, once announced, I want to ask for your help in making it happen because, quite honestly, I need it.

But before I tell you what I hope to do, let me first tell you why I’m going to do it.

A Story: My First Eastern Skiing
Last year I had the opportunity to join NASJA for their annual meeting at Killington.

The snow was awesome, the views were awesome, the terrain was expansive. My introduction to East Coast skiing had gone perfectly on all accounts.

But those days at Killington and Pico, no matter how great, paled in comparison to an afternoon of skiing I had en route that, at least on paper, should have been a minor, overlooked footnote in this story.

The Song
I used to live in Syracuse, NY. Not having been back in a half-decade, I flew into Albany a day early to visit friends and, yes, sample some of the skiing.

And sample I did. On Saturday afternoon I pulled up to Song Mountain’s 700′ of vert, grabbed a $30 ticket, skated into the wind across extremely sticky snow toward their only open chairlift…

…and proceeded to have one the most fun days I have ever had in my 20 years of sliding on snow.

As I giddily (and reluctantly) drove away, I said to myself:

“How can ski areas like this be in trouble if it’s possible to have days like that? Why are millions of skiers bemoaning ticket prices when $30 buys me a bigger smile than I’ve ever had at Vail or Snowbird or Heavenly?”

I think it was somewhere between there and the outskirts of Syracuse that I knew I was going to do something about this.

The Strength of Smaller
As those memories have mixed with lessons learned from 5 years of SlopeFillers, I’ve begun to see the strength in the marketing messages behind these hills. Namely:

  • They’re incredibly affordable – often 1/3 the price of large mountains.
  • They’re close – sometimes right in town as I discovered when I visited McIntyre or recently lapped the double chair at Howelson.
  • They have great skiing – quite honestly the BEST skiing I’ve ever had.

But if they have such a strong message, why is there a fear of so many such areas closing?

No matter how big the mountain is we represent, we all know the value of these hills and what could happen if they disappear.

I can’t speak for the financial and operational challenges which I’m glad are being addressed, but there’s one I am sure of: their marketing voices simply aren’t strong enough to be heard. Even in their own communities.

My Plan
So my plan is simple: get skiers to convert their love of small ski areas into action by using their reach to magnify the reach of these ski areas. And, along the way, remind/teach those same skiers how good small skiing can be.

I’m calling my initiative Ski Smaller (#skismaller) and here’s the logo – a mix of old styles and colors with classic “Ski ___” vernacular in a simple brand.


How big will this thing become? I have no idea. Maybe it will remain as simple as a small mailing list, maybe it will be something more, maybe the idea is a deadend and it won’t be a thing at all.

But like I often say, there’s only way to find out.

My Plea
I don’t plan to make any sort of push for a while, so right now I simply need smart marketers like yourself to bounce ideas off of and get priceless feedback on how to use the limited evening and weekend time I’ll have to devote to this project.

If any of this resonates, if you have any interest in helping or just being a sounding board, please either email me directly or just let me know in the comments below.

Huge thanks in advance. Maybe that renaissance is coming after all ;)

  • AK

    A noble quest and one you are uniquely positioned and skilled to lead.

    We shall follow.

  • Awesome idea. Would hate to see places like the one I grew up skiing, here, go under.

    • Totally agree, Bill. Lots of skiers have similar memories. The goal becomes two-fold: 1) get us all to go back to our roots a little more often and 2) convert those memories and love into other forms of action (besides just skiing there) that gets other people to do the same.

  • Shawn Cassell

    This could be huge for most of our areas in NC, VA, and WV. I would love to be a part of this, count me in!

    I’m thinking local search optimization, SEO-friendly content, social media and some personalized email campaigns, maybe even some direct mail stuff one day, the possibilities are endless.

    We are definitely going to need some sweet bumper stickers as well. Local shops would likely love to be a part of this. Needless to say my gears are turning! Renaissance engage!

    • Love the enthusiasm. Thanks, Shawn! Responding to your email now :)

  • Todd @ Calabogie Peaks

    Count us in! There are a lot of benefits to frequenting smaller resorts and it’s something we hear from our customers all the time. While they love the advantages, they’re also concerned about smaller mountains become big players, but there’s a fine line in between there somewhere.

    • Glad to hear it, Todd! There is a fine line and it’s one I think about a lot. Will appreciate your perspective on that as this gets going.

  • Peter Zotalis

    Great idea, Welch Village in MN will help in any way we can! After all, Vail is just 20 minutes up the road from us. We’re in!

  • This is definitely something Red Lodge Mountain in MT could get on board with. I see social media as a huge opportunity for us smaller players to join forces and have a larger voice.

    • Awesome, Jeff. Glad to hear it. Will definitely need your perspective on defining “smaller” for markets like yours. Will be in touch soon!

  • Jamie Schectman

    Great idea and worthy goal. Please count me and my organization in to help with the ski smaller campaign!

    • Thanks, Jamie! Hopefully will complement success that MRA sees.

      • Jamie Schectman

        Its a great concept to bring more awareness to the joys of smaller ski areas. I think most people simple don’t know that size doesn’t always matter.

        Let’s do this!

  • If anyone would like to view all of Bill’s slides, I have them in a shared Google Doc along with the article from Curbed Ski –

  • passion4wine

    Well, the destination resorts have to have the smaller resorts in the mix, and they should be assisting them whenever possible- in the way of donations…like used uniforms etc.. it is how the pipeline of future destination skiers are made…the cost is too high for your average beginner to learn to ski at a destination area. Its really about community support and community use as well, helping out any clubs that utilize your small area and catering to them and beginner/intermediate users. I started my ski biz career at a small community ski hill and Iloved it so much I continued my 25 year career with the ski industry working eventually at many top 10 resorts… so my story is very similar to the average beginner skiers. Honestly, expert skier do not really make you money anyhow- they brown-bag it, do not do lesson or rentals… small ski areas definitely have a very important place and should be able to survive and thrive with the right business plan.

  • WisSkier

    Some years ago (thinking around 2000) Glen Plake missioned to visit every ski resort in the USA regardless of the size. I am guessing he was successful in that endeavour. I met him at the Windy City Ski Show last fall (Fall of ’14) and he asked my wife and I were we (I) ski and my wife responded for me — Ski Brule. Ski Brule has 150 acres and 500′ of vertical so it is definitely a small resort. Immediately Glen launched into the tale of his visit to Ski Brule (the poster they have, has his signature along the signature and photo of Daron Ralves IIRC, might be Schlopy). He visited on New Years day of 2000 and immediately talked about arriving around the midnight hour and told the story of walking into the barroom which was full of families and children dancing on the tables. He wasn’t down on the resort, he was genuinely excited about it! One of my most popular pieces on my website is about such a resort:

    As I recently noted on another posting, even if I could travel multiple times out year to destination snow, I still have weekends where the choice is to stay inside or get out and ski, skiing wins easily.

    One last comment, Warren Witherell in his book “How the Racers Ski” talks about a ski racing dynasty family. He noted they have their own little ski hill with only enough skiing for one or maybe two turns. He went onto preach that all you need to do is to make ONE perfect turn and repeat and that dinky ski hill was enough to crank out winners.

  • Robin May

    I like it. Let’s put an moratorium on and all other regional smalls. The Ma and Pa ski areas that grew us.

  • Brittany

    How is this coming along? Would love to hear about any updates!

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