skip to main content

MTS Recap: Does the “Freemium” Model Have a Place in Skiing?

divider image for this post

A couple weeks ago I cruised over to Aspen for a quick, 36 hour Mountain Travel Symposium whirlwind. Now that the lessons have sunk in a bit more, here are my thoughts on what was shared.

Oh, freemium. Loved by the startup community, misunderstood by others, this business model can be incredibly successful or incredibly frustrating. Give away too much of your service and they don’t need premium. Give away too little and there’s no user group to push toward upgrading.

But does it have a place in skiing? Can it be used to grow the sport?

The Models
Seeing “freemium” as a hot topics discussed at MTS was a little surprising. It popped up between the cracks of other coversations like a weed in the sidewalk, but the more I heard it, the more I wondered if it could work. There were three basic models hinted at.

Free Skiing Areas
This concept was very similar to what Klaus Obermeyer predicted, “in 25 years…resorts will have dedicated more of their beginner-level terrain to be open free of charge.” Beginner areas that wouldn’t canabalize sales from intermediate or advanced skiers who would quickly get bored on these easier slopes.

Free Skiing Times (or Days)
Alta used to have free skiing on the Sunnyside lift after 3pm every day (they closed at 4:30) and I think this is what a couple people who mentioned it might be suggesting. At the end of the day you don’t risk giving away untracked pow for free, and 1:30 of skiing usually only gets you ready for more. As far as I can tell, Alta now charges $5 for the same pass because it was so popular they had issues with staffing and traffic.

Free Skiing for Beginners
The Aspen Times recapped this one very well from Erik Blachford’s time on stage. He said to load up a first timer’s pass with freebies. When questioned about making sure only first timers use it, Erik responded, “It doesn’t matter. Give away the pass, build good will, and entice people to spend money on other items at your resorts, like hamburgers at the on-mountain restaurants.”

Could it Work
I’m not totally sure it could work, but I think the idea is worth some exploration. Alta has proved that free will in fact draw skiers, but can we convert them to paying customers of an increasingly expensive sport down the road? Freemium works when the upgrade cost is $20/mo. Can it work when the upgrade is $2,000/season? I don’t know.

If a resort offered free skiing for a couple hours a day, I’d be all over it in the wrong way. I usually only ski 2-3 hours on any given day anyway. However, if they offered beginner terrain, I’d be less inclined to use it but see myself introducing more people to the sport like I did at Alta (I don’t ski, but did take three different people skiing for the first time with the free pass).

With beginner terrain only, maybe during a specific time of day like Alta, I could see it working with the right funnel (grab at least an email of participant) to work toward getting them proficient, stoked on the sport, and closer to buying products. That’s my survey sample of one. What do you think?

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.

Get the weekly digest.

New stories, ideas, and jobs delivered to your inbox every Friday morning.