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Inside Okemo Mountain’s “Learn to Ski Free” Program

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From a marketing perspective, teaching folks to ski for free seems to becoming a more and more popular way to not only introduce people to the sport, but create life-long, loyal skiers if done correctly. The old “law of reciprocity”, if you give something free to me, I am that much more likely to give something to you: my business.  One such program that popped up recently was Okemo Mountain Resort’s program.  It struck me because not only is the lesson free, but so is the rental and a lower-mountain lift ticket. Bonnie MacPherson, Okemo’s Director of PR, gave me a few more details.

SlopeFillers: Tell me a little about the new learn how to ski for free program and how the idea came about.
Bonnie: A few years back, the National Ski Areas Association reported some disturbing news regarding the state of the snowsports industry. The sport was not growing in participation and the retention and conversion percentages of new skiers and snowboarders were very low. Okemo decided to take a proactive approach to addressing this situation and created a program that has been very successful in achieving several major goals:

  • To attract and engage new participants in skiing or snowboarding
  • To excite the new learner early and retain them for additional visits later in the season
  • To generate publicity and skier visits early season
  • To get the Ski + Ride School staff out on the snow teaching, as a ramp-up, prior to the busy holiday period.

As a bonus, this program also builds brand loyalty. I don’t know about you, but I hold dear the memory of my first days on snow. Skiing at Sugarbush, where I made my first runs, is always nostalgic – and fun.

SlopeFillers: I’d agree, I’ll never forget my first day at Sundance in central Utah. Did you have something like this in place before or have you tried something similar in the past?
Bonnie: We have offered an attractive “First Tracks” learn to ski/ride program for many years and we have very popular children’s programs that win us accolades on a regular basis. This year marks the third season of this Learn to Ski Free program at Okemo.

Okemo Ski + Ride School Director Dan Bergeron said, “About 1,500 people learn how to ski or snowboard through this program every year, and we’re expecting to introduce more beginners to snowsports this year. There’s no time like early season, to try skiing or snowboarding for the first time.”

SlopeFillers: Going back to my first question, what mechanisms do you have in place to convert the skiers/boarders that participate into long-term Okemo customers?
Bonnie: We have experimented with some retention programs as part of our Learn to Ski Free program and this year we have refined the program further. This year we are implementing a new program called Passport to the Summit. The basics:

  • Approximately a week after they take their first lesson Okemo will be mailing a branded card, (similar to a season pass) inside a folder with information describing benefits
  • We will be inviting them to let us help them “Reach the Summit” with our special offers.
  • They will have two days of highly discounted packages
  • Day 1 they can get another lower mountain lift ticket and lesson for $20. They can also add on rentals for an additional $20.
  • Day 2 they can get a full-mountain lift ticket and lesson for $50 with the option of rentals for an additional $20.
  • After completing these two days they can then purchase a Passport Plus card for the balance of the season with ticket discount benefits similar to an Okemo flex card.

The premise is to work on true conversions and  focusing on the summit and the views from the top etc, to really play up the rewards of lifelong participation in snowsports and the lifestyle of skiing rather than simply learning to ski.

SlopeFillers: What are your main methods or promoting this program and which have you found to be the most effective?
Bonnie: Our marketing efforts for this focus on non-traditional means. We do very little print advertising and our radio and TV spots are focused more on branding messages rather than specific programs or events.

For something like the Learn to Ski Free program, we turn to direct marketing (e-mail newsletter), website and snow report messaging, social media, pr and some online advertising and SEO. Unfortunately, we do not have any mechanisms in place to measure specific results but the program is successful.

About Gregg & SlopeFillers
I've had more first-time visitors lately, so adding a quick "about" section. I started SlopeFillers in 2010 with the simple goal of sharing great resort marketing strategies. Today I run marketing for resort ecommerce and CRM provider Inntopia, my home mountain is the lovely Nordic Valley, and my favorite marketing campaign remains the Ski Utah TV show that sold me on skiing as a kid in the 90s.

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