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Why Sundance’s 1996 Promotion Was the Greatest Resort Marketing in History

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I come from a family and upbringing that often reflects on our ancestors and how one choice – good or bad – can affect generations. “So and so broke the chain of being an alcoholic and beating his kids a century ago like every man in his family had done for 100 years, and look how many people have benefited from that choice.”

When we think about marketing, we often think in terms of the short term. The VERY short term. We think, “if we can get one new person to start skiing, that’s awesome.” But what if we could get one person so incredibly addicted to the sport and ingrained in the culture, they pass it on to their kids, and their kids pass it on to their kids for generations.

That’s what happened with a promotion Sundance launched about 17 years ago.

Half Bond, Half Amazing
At a certain time on a certain day each winter, a local radio station would break from their usual programming and make an announcement. The message included only the name of a location in the Orem/Provo area that was well known and easy to get to. The rules were simple, the first 25 people there snagged a free day pass (for that same day) to Sundance.

In 1996 the spot they chose was, if I remember correctly, the parking lot of Cascade Golf Course. The next year, it was under the giant University Mall sign. Skiers would risk life, limb, and, ironically, speeding tickets for the chance to ski for free at Sundance at a time when passes were still only about $40.

Every year, people would flock to the location, breaking as many traffic laws as necessary, to snag a pass. It was awesome. Rather than click “enter” and wait a week, they became characters in Gumball Rally.

The Rest of the Story
The reason I know so much about the promotion is because I was always one of those 25 to show up.

The reason I think it’s the greatest promotion ever is because this is how I started skiing.

In the space of a week, I went from being mesmerized by Saturday afternoon broadcasts of the Ski Utah TV show and always believing that my family’s income would prevent me from ever riding a lift, to being on that lift and believing it was possible. We found some skis to borrow, got up early, made it to the secret location fast enough to receive a pass, and never looked back.

Your Next Move
So, why did I get hooked? I’ve often asked myself that same question. Maybe it was the fact that skiing seemed so impossible for so long that made it so special. Maybe it was the fact my brother was with me and, like all little brothers, I was driven to try to be as good at him in whatever we did (which is partly why I switched to snowboarding when I realized how much better than me he was at skiing).

Do you think my kids will ski? Well, that will be their choice, but let’s just say it won’t be for lack of encouragement from their pops. Will their kids ski? Probably. And theirs? Why not.

One random promotion in Utah County gave this poor kid the chance to start skiing and hooked him to the industry for life. Since then, he’s nearly frozen his fingers off trying to recreate the snowmaking machines in his backyard, turned his first car into a portable rope tow, destroyed snowboards impatiently trying to ski on the first 3″ of snow at Alta each October, wasted two scholarships because he was helpless against powder days, started a blog about resort marketing, and now has focused his career on contributing to the sport he can’t live without.

So, who will your next promotion reach?

P.S.- I love stories about how people got into skiing, so if you feel like sharing yours, I’d probably think you are awesome.

P.P.S – If anyone knows who the Marketing Director of Sundance was in 1996, let me know, I’d love to track him/her down to say thank you.

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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