I hope you’ll let me share something on a more personal note today. A topic that’s been simmering on my brain for a couple weeks now. I didn’t start skiing until I was 12. At the time, my family was poor and getting five days on the mountain was a big deal. After all, I only knew of three free skiing days in Utah, which meant I had to pay for two. Just as I started high school the American Skiing Company landed in Park City, revamping the old Wolf Mountain ski area and renaming it The Canyons. Among their new marketing initiatives was a season pass available to Honor Roll students in Utah. If you, as a 10-12 grader in Utah, would bring in your 3.5 GPA or higher report card to The Canyons you could get a season pass for not $400, not $200, and not even $100, but free. Absolutely, totally, 100%, no-strings-attached free.
At the time, I was dropping 4.0’s like they were going out of style and so, just like that, gone were the 5 days of skiing each winter, and, with a little help from friends with cars, in were the 30-45ers. I even had a chart on my bedroom wall to keep count.
The Bigger Picture
I heard a stat that around 10,000 kids got season passes that year through the program. Those weren’t just any kids either. These were kids that get good grades in High School. Kids that get good grades in high school tend to get good grades in college. Kids that get good grades in college tend to get better jobs and make more money, on average, than the “C’s get degrees” crowd.
We all know skiing is an expensive sport. It takes quite a bit of money to ski with any regularity on anything better than thrift-store equipment. So can we all agree that if you are planning a marketing campaign and the only demographic you could go off of was college GPA, you’d prefer to target adults where were dean’s list crowd over the drop out, “interdisciplinary studies”, “retook English 1010 six times” gang? Cue the, “What about Steve Jobs?”argument.
Canyons May Have Had it Right
Many ski lesson/rental packages for resorts are simply loss leaders, getting people hooked so they’ll spend more down the road. This is great, but you will inevitably end up with a long list of newbies that can only afford the super-discounted lessons and, once they “graduate”, simply can’t fit regularly priced skiing in the budget, no matter how much they love the sport.
When Canyons gave away season passes, they were not only getting tons of press, encouraging parents to pay for lift tickets in order to ski with their children, and getting people hooked on the sport, they were getting the right people hooked, the ones that, in 10 years, would have a higher chance of working in high-paying jobs than anyone else. These are the ones, once hooked, that most likely can afford skiing. If you are going to entice beginners through deep discounts, is that not close to the ideal crowd to target?
True, this was a gamble to place their bets on a group that wouldn’t mature financially for a decade and maybe if we crunch the industry-wide numbers over 30 years this campaign wouldn’t come out on top, but the more I think about it, the more it seems they got a lot of parts right.
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