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Snowbasin’s Sticky Situation: Ski Industry PR Weighs In

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When all the worlds your brand’s stage, massive potential for both the good and the bad come to light. On the one side, everyone could talk about how awesome your resort is. On the other, the masses might find some cause that hurts your brand, and ride it until they’re satisfied. Such is the case with Snowbasin this last week. On Tuesday night, two snowboarders posted a video of an encounter with a patrolman where, for one reason or another, he lost his composure for a few minutes and dropped the f-bomb.

Watching the video reminded me of an incident I had with ski patrol at Brighton. To this day I have no idea why he stopped me and had so much to yell about. Knowing others had been in my boots, I figured there with be some sort of reaction from the ski community. The response, however, blew me away. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised though. To this day, every time I mention Sunshine Village on this blog, I get hate email from those that sided with the ski patrol in their incident earlier this year.

The one thing I will say is that this could have happened to any resort. So, as you read these ideas, imagine if this video were filmed at your resort. Are you ready?

With a suggestion from Jon Slaughter at Boreal, I thought it might be wise to consult a couple other voices who had more experience in this sort of thing and see what they had to say. Both make interesting points, and I’m not sure I agree with all of them, but that’s the beauty of various points of view: seeing how others with different experience see thing.

First up is Skip King from and former VP of Communications at Sunday River. Skip is not only a PR expert, but a former partolman and I think you’ll find he has an interesting take on the situation:
“The Snowbasin video is an examplar of online scandal nowadays: we get to see outrageous behavior inflicted by people in authority upon hapless “victims,” but we don’t get to see what led up to it (recent memorable example: the UC Davis pepper spray incident). In the extended version of the video (conveniently posted by the same sprats who posted the first one), it’s clear that he came close enough to a stopped skier (an instructor, not far uphill of another instructor with a young student) that I sure would’ve stopped him and had a word. And I’m an ex-patroller.

“The problem is this: control of video edits is the province of the people who post them, and most viewers won’t assume that what they’re seeing is incomplete. So lesson one is this: make sure your staff fully understands that today’s technology means that everyone who sets foot on your premises is a (poorly trained) reporter, and that just about anything they say and do as employees can show up online.

“Snowbasin’s response was far from the worst I’ve seen, but I do think it was, for lack of a better term, tepid. Yes, they owned up – but they could have done more. For starters: while it’s important to acknowledge that the patroller’s language was unprofessional and unacceptable, it would not have been inappropriate to disclose that the kids had, in the judgment of Snowbasin staff, jeopardized the safety of another guest – and that slope safety is a huge part of the job of patrollers and instructors. Let’s remember that it’s not just highly-charged younger participants who see this stuff; moms and dads do, too.

“Additionally, Snowbasin might have been more forthcoming. They said they’ve “taken measures to prevent this type of incident occurring in the future.” Well, fine – how about some specifics? Are they measures that a reasonable public can agree will be effective? As it is, an unreasonable public – and there appears to be a fair amount of it among the chattering online masses – could be left with the impression that Snowbasin is merely applying a PR band-aid and trying to move on.

“Personalizing can help, too. If the post had been directly attributed to the resort’s general manager, that would have been stronger. Stronger still would have been a personal apology from the patroller for his language and demeanor – and particularly for blowing off the opportunity to educate and explain and helping this kid become a more responsible part of the mountain community, rather than coming off as the heavy.

“Like I said, this wasn’t the worst response I’ve seen – far from it – but I think it could have been stronger. And we can all expect more of this type of video in the future. The best defense is staff awareness, but when embarrassing things occur (and they wil) candor and openness are the keys to defusing the situation. The public will forgive mistakes, as long as it knows you take the mistake seriously and are engaged in logical, concrete steps to fix the problem. ”

When the shenanigans began, Alex Kaufman (find him at posted some advice on their wall. Offering him a chance to expound on his thoughts, here’s what he said:
“There is no tool in the PR toolbox that is going to keep that from blowing up other than sniffing out the video before it gets posted (very difficult). Once that video is out, and especially once it’s been tweeted by a few top pro athletes, there’s no stopping it. Few messages resonate more than young people being accosted for their youthful exuberance by people of authority. It’s a theme of life, not just skiing. It’s rarely caught on tape. Regardless of the details of the on-hill exchange, or the fact that the patroller did apologize on video, that video tossed a match on the smoldering angst of youth vs authority in a way that is rarely captured.

“Granting that, when I first saw that video, which was very early on Wednesday, my first move would be an email to the TOP of my organization, aimed to get their full attention immediately. Something like: “We are about to face the largest staff related negative PR since Sunshine Village. We will not be able to stop it. We can only try to address it and reduce the impacts. The longer we wait to address it, the worse it will be for our business levels for years to come, our staff morale and the relationships we have with our partners. I have some scenarios for you to choose from. I would like to meet immediately to brief you.”

“Hopefully that would get the head honchos attention and allow you to get the team up to speed on what’s unfolding, a few options to address it, and roll that out as soon as possible. In reality, they’ve done well to not give the mob new content to dissect. The prepared statement could have surely been more “human” and without a doubt half a day faster, which is very significant. The extent of sharing of the video grows the longer there is no Snowbasin reply as public frustration adds fuel until it’s quenched by a response. The sooner your resort can “turn the corner” by acknowledging, the smaller and more reasoned the situation will be overall. Sugarloaf kicked butt at this last year. Granted their situation was more obvious, but their speed and candor allowed them to remain the most trusted source in a situation when there were many sources. A 2 hour delay would have been unrecoverable. Speed saves.

“But in general, it’s stayed a SLC and ski/snowboard story rather than national news and people are realizing that it’s more of a dust up than a real tragedy. Hopefully Snowbasin will use this as an opportunity to improve as an operation. Whether an isolated incident or not, one would think this will lead to a greater focus on guest service and staff training. Addressing the public reputation issue is also not rocket science. A series of humanizing web videos highlighting the front-line people that make Snowbasin great should be in order. Not too staged or scripted, just being themselves.

“I do envision a time when Snowbasin could actually capitalize on this in some way. Much like Alec Baldwin did after the airline dust up. For instance, a comedic patrol video that showed how to not drop bombs, or when to call for backup due to excited people, something like that. Maybe next year when they want to make a splash pre-season. Self deprecation can get folks to forgive.”

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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