Jackson Hole does it again with their new video: On Edge.

September 29, 2023
Jackson Hole has been telling some phenomenal stories lately. And I won't say that this one is better than the rest, but man, it beautifully walks the line between promotion and storytelling in ways I rarely see with resort videos. Take a quick watch, then let's break this down.
First, it starts with a person. It doesn't start by talking about Jackson Hole, it starts with a person chasing a dream but the odds are stacked against them. This feels impossible, but she's willing to try. Second, it makes Jackson Hole the sidekick. Just this one line "with the goals that I had, Jackson was really an amazing training ground" sets that up perfectly. It beautifully both supports and provides proof for Jackson's brand without having to Third, it keeps going back to people. Every time they could have done a promo for the Mountain Sports School, they pulled back and focused on people. More people, more people, more dreams, more odds stacked against them. Finally, they only promoted what was relevant to the story. Not only did do their promo through the voice of the stars of the show, they did it in a way that was perfectly aligned with the story. It was an extension of the story, not a pivot away from it. This line is a great example of how they did that:
"Having three people on the national team. I think it really highlights there's something special happening in Jackson..."
It takes the story, the goal, and their triumph over that goal and gives new meaning to their ski school. So that when those same voices explain the joy of helping people, especially advanced skiers, get better? Yes, it's promotional, but it's an beautiful extension of the story. Amazing storytelling alone, but especially amazing marketing storytelling. Great stuff.

Aspen gives skiers a front row seat for a unique aspect of their story.

September 29, 2023
A few months ago my wife and I ended up watching a 3-part video about how Kodak makes film. What can I say, sometimes we get a little crazy. But there's a fascinating lesson without our somewhat boring-sounding movie choices. Because throughout the series there were dozens of moments where a Kodak employee who had been doing the same thing for 20+ years would matter-of-factly state some part of the process and we would be absolutely blown away by the science and design and sophistication of what they were describing. They had been doing it for so long they just had trouble seeing the magic. But for outsiders like us? You couldn't miss it.

Lift Installs

Many of you have spent 10, 15, 25, or more seasons at a resort. You've seen snowmaking fire up, wire rope get spliced, and avalanche mitigation so many times it may have lost it's magic. But you aren't your audience. So the trick for marketers and storytellers in our industry is to find ways to see our experience through the eyes of someone who doesn't spend every day on the mountain - the eyes of someone who does see the magic - and then tell those stories. Aspen's Kyle Bruna did exactly that with a recent Instagram video.
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You've watch the way lift install crews communciate, you know how precarious it can look when those towers are put in place, and you probably how know they release the cable from the load. But for everyone else? It's mind blowing stuff to realize how the lifts someone has ridden hundreds of times were actually pieced together. Just take a few of the comments as examples of that:
"Crazy to see what kind of work goes into this. Amazing!" "That looks insane!!!" "So that’s how they do it! Cool!!"
Were there a few people in the comments who already knew (roughly) how this worked? Sure, but for every one of them there were many who couldn't believe what they were seeing.


This is also a perfect illustration of my definition of stories:
"Stories give moments meaning."
As some point in the coming season just about every person who saw this video will look up at a tower, see the bolts connecting everything together that they've seen a hundred times, and have a simple moment of "Whoa" which will give that ride - and their relationship to the resort - a new layer of meaning. Great work, Kyle.

Building Slopes, a Million Dollar Ski Tracking App

March 10, 2022
Over the last decade or so I’ve followed the journeys of many ski tracking apps. AlpineReplay had a ton of momentum but eventually pivoted once they started exploring the hardware side. SnoCru generated another swell of momentum but wasn’t able to find a long-term path and was eventually shuttered.  There’s one, however, that seemed to have cracked the code; Slopes. I’ve been tracking the app for a while, but only recently followed the app’s creator, Curtis Herbert, on Twitter. And when he tweeted that he hit the $1M ARR mark for revenue, I couldn’t contain my curiosity any longer and reached out to see if we could get more of his and Slopes’ story. – Gregg: Curtis, give us a little bit of your story. Where are you from, what's your skiing background, etc.? Curtis: Grew up in the Philly suburbs, so the Poconos were my home mountains for a long time. I started skiing, two or three times a year, when I was a kid but switched to snowboarding about a decade ago and haven’t looked back! Snowboarding really upped my love for the sport; I started taking trips up to Vermont (Killington and Stowe, usually) a few times a year and started heading out west, too. Thankfully in 2021 we decided to move to Boulder, which has been a nice upgrade to my options. Gregg: Give us a bit of your career and dev background. How did you get started in mobile app dev? Curtis: I’ve been programming since middle school, when my math teacher gave me a TI-82 calculator to entertain myself and I taught myself TI-BASIC. From there my dev journey has been all over the place — earlier years were on the web (backend and frontend) through high school and college. Out of college I got a job at Lockheed Martin, where I did … stuff … for 6 years. During my time there the iPhone was announced and I started playing around with iPhone development instantly. I’d always wanted to get into Mac software development and this seemed like an exciting new time and frontier to jump in. Lockheed really wasn’t for me, so I left them in 2011 to start my own consulting company as I had been doing web freelancing on the side all those years. Consulting started off as mostly web development, but I was able to slowly transition it to mobile dev to let me get into that more full-time instead of just a hobby. Gregg: So you've fallen in love with skiing, you're getting better at dev...when did you decide to combine these two things and build Slopes? Curtis: April of 2013 is when I started Slopes. I actually had the idea a bit earlier, but I probably stopped myself for a good six months questioning if I’d be able to build something worthwhile. I was using another app at the time to track my journey into snowboarding, but while the app worked reliably, the UX was pretty rough. I remember sitting at Denny’s with friends after a night of riding trying to figure out where I hit my top speed, and I had to cross-reference like 2 or 3 screens memorizing timestamps to figure it out. That was when I got the itch to build Slopes, it just took a big push to actually start working on it.  “I can do better than this, I should just build an app myself!” is such a dangerous thing to say out loud. I didn’t realize at the time that statement at Denny’s would lead to running an app business. collection of screenshots from the app Gregg: Over the years we've seen apps have their moment of fame when it comes to being the app skiers use on the slopes. When you built slopes, did you see shortcomings in the market? Did you think you could just do it better? What was the angle you took? Curtis: Oh man, this could be a whole podcast episode of chatting on this topic alone. The initial shortcoming I wanted to address was just that I wanted to make a product I’d love to use myself. I’ve been a big fan of how Apple approaches software and UX since I was a kid, and I wanted to bring that same polish and high bar to a winter sports app. That’s been a north star for the entire life of Slopes. Another angle that took root for me a little later, in 2015, was to not be one of those apps playing the VC / Silicon Valley game. You know, the ones that 1) come into the market with a big splash and do all the tricks to get a bunch of users hoping to become The App so they can sell the company or IPO for a lot down the road 2) fail to get big enough in ~3 years and become “not worth the investment” with the promise of a big exit no longer likely 3) then get abandoned and linger on the store for years without updates. Gregg: What are some examples of this? Curtis: SnoCru was a sad example of this (based on what we saw them do from the outside, I have no inside knowledge). Early on they were super cheap, more focused on getting users than a sustainable business model it seemed. Then in their last 1.5 or so years of existence they used a bunch of what are called “dark UX patterns” to try to get as much revenue from users and ads as possible so the company would look tasty to buyers. I saw their App Store reviews took a sharp dive, now filled with people complaining about being “tricked" into paying $60/yr or having to watch an ad on their phone to start recording on the Apple Watch app. A bunch of stuff that wasn’t healthy for the business and would only help in the shot-term, not build long-term users. And sure enough, looking for that exit, SnoCru approached me last March floating a 1-2 million sale price. When I declined at that price they closed shop days later, giving only 2 week’s notice to their users and no way for users to get all their recorded data out. I reached out offering to build whatever was needed to let their users migrate their data to Slopes so they wouldn’t lose it, and never heard back.  Gregg: What did seeing another app struggle like that do for your strategy and plans? Curtis: We all get frustrated seeing the apps we come to rely on disappear (or worse get sold and then change into something we hate to use) and so I became determined to build Slopes in a way that could sustain itself as a great product for decades. No fancy “sell to a resort for $10mil” exit plan, no “sell my users’ data to the resorts and make the app free” creepiness. Just simple fair pricing that could let me grow Slopes into a business, focus all my efforts into the app as a full-time job, and eventually hire a small team to help me build out all my crazy ambitious ideas. graphs from early version of slopes Slopes 1.0 from 2013. Gregg: You're almost 10 years into Slopes, then. Has it been a pretty steady rise or did you have any tipping point type moments where your pace accelerated?  Curtis: I think the biggest inflection point was 2015 when I decided to turn it from a hobby app into a business. After the first two seasons of only being able to work on Slopes during nights and weekends I had a few thousand people who really loved the app and I thought there might be a business here. For the first two years though it was a paid up front app ($3.99) and that really held it back — it is very hard to persuade people to pay for software without being able to try it first. So I got serious that summer about turning it into a long-term business. I remember my a-ha moment was realizing that “season passes” at resorts are just yearly subscriptions, so I could totally pull off moving to free w/ a yearly sub, even though subscriptions weren’t much of a thing in apps yet. And it worked, after one season I was able to focus on the app full-time.  From there the growth has been steady, growing by a rate of ~2x every year. There have been lots of little steps along the way that have helped Slopes continue to grow at that pace, but that’s been more of a healthy long game of continual improvement than any one or two major spikes. Took lots of experimenting, fine-tuning, and learning along the way but that’s what you can do when you’re dedicated to building a great product. Gregg: Over those years you've processed a ton of data. When you look at all of that, does anything stand out in terms of skier behavior that really stands out or has surprised you? Curtis: I know for users, one surprising thing is how much of their day they end up standing in line or on lifts vs actually riding downhill.  For me though it hasn’t been skier behavior at the run-by-run micro level but more of a macro level thing. Specifically: weather and how that affects skiing. I’ll tell you, when I got into this I didn’t expect that climate change would be the biggest threat to my business. I remember Epic/Vail announced a big drop (8%?) in early-to-mid season traffic a few years back and I saw all that coming well ahead of time. It was all in the regions that were having really bad starts to the season (Whistler reported its worst early season snowfall on record in 30 years that year). It’s scary to see some resorts in Europe never opened that season because they don’t have snowmaking and rely on natural snow. With the data I have I can see all these trends at over 3,500 resorts world-wide, which really gives me a big-picture view of it (which got me to quickly start donating 2% of all the money Slopes earns every year to Protect Our Winters). slopes new interactive maps Slopes’ new interactive trail maps. Gregg: Resorts and apps have always been a bit of a love/hate relationship.From your perspective, how all of those things intersect and how will that evolve going forward? Curtis: Resorts are in a tough spot because apps are hard, and expensive, to do right. So much of resorts’ expertise is in the physical experience, they'd need a lot of new blood coming in that really get tech to nail the digital experience. But honestly I don’t think it is their job to knock an app out of the park. Do I really want all my past data locked into an Ikon app when I’m debating getting the Epic pass this year or visa versa? (Of course to the resorts that might sound great, lock-in is always a good thing to deter you from leaving). But your skis don’t work at only one set of resorts, and the resorts aren’t out here trying to push their own skis on you to “enhance the customer experience." I think the digital stuff / apps should be resort-agnostic too. I’d love to see resorts just partner with Slopes and offer a Slopes season pass as part of their season passes, but I may be just a bit biased that dream, ha. Let them focus on the best on-mountain physical experience possible, let me focus on the best digital experience possible. We did something kinda like that with the Indy Pass this year where their passes come with 2 days of Slopes Premium, but we’ve never had a resort itself be interested in anything more than Slopes being a rebranded tab in their own apps. Gregg: How do you view the relationship between your app (and technology in general) and an experience that's largely about unplugging and being away?  Curtis: You’re 100% right that we can’t let tech take over the ski experience. It is an easy trap to fall into: getting excited about what we can do, not if we should build it. Tech needs to support this sport we use to disconnect, not try to wedge its way into our lives and demand our “engagement” with it (see: digital addiction, etc).  Tech isn’t bad when done right though: text messages for coordinating on the mountain instead of everyone having to buy radios. GoPros for taking our own photos vs the resort’s on-mountain photographers. I try really hard to take a back seat to the ski experience with Slopes, only being helpful when wanted, and that’s the path I want to keep taking.  Gregg: What does the future of that relationship look like from your perspective? Curtis: Where do I see that going? Resorts are starting to push trail maps to the phones, which is a rushed and imperfect solution at the moment, but what can that look like when mapping is done hands-free via AR in our goggles? Just like Google Maps / GPS dramatically changed how we drive and minimized the fear of getting lost back in the 2000s, that kind of tech for skiing will dramatically lower the barrier for a lot of people getting into the sport worried about accidentally ending up on a double black diamond their first time at Big Sky.  You better believe I’ve been building towards that.

Showing local ski shops some much-deserved love.

November 5, 2020
Yesterday, Seven Springs concluded their first week of one of my favorite traditions in the ski industry: their annual shop tour. Four years ago I sat down with Seven Springs' marketing magician, Alex Moser, to get the deets. Reposting this today because it's still as insightful and interesting as it was the day I originally published. -- Gregg: Alex, give us the quick, 30-second version on who you are and how you ended up at Seven Springs. Alex: I ran an in-house advertising agency for our sister company, The Pittsburgh Pirates. There was an opportunity to grow my skills and re-brand a storied ski resort, so I jumped on it. I am going into my 10th winter. Anecdotally, I live in Pittsburgh and spend over 2 hours a day commuting; I did the math and have been in a car the equivalent of 1.5 years during my time here! Gregg: I've been really impressed by a lot of stuff that Seven Springs has rolled out lately. From the Tom Wallisch world record to your work with the Highland Pass and 3,3,3 campaign. Give us a quick update on the team and how things are going for the mountain? Alex: Thank you, that is very kind. Tom was such a natural fit as he grew up in the area and spent a lot of time on our mountain. As I have said before, as great as a skier as he is, he is an even better human. As we are starting to draw from further out markets and with the addition of Laurel Mountain to our portfolio, the Highlands Pass and Highlands Package were great opportunities for our guests and passholders to experience 3 distinctly different mountains whenever they chose to. Nothing earth shattering here as many groups have done something similar.
My team here is the best it has ever been in my 10 winters here. My goal every year is to work with them and make each and every one of them have the skills to ultimately take my job. I strongly feel that if I do not prepare them to do so, I have not done my job...So, I guess, since I am still here, that I have some improving to do. ;) In all seriousness, we have a passionate team here, so I merely guide them in the right directions. Gregg: What I wanted to pick your brain about today was something with a slightly different twist on marketing: your annual shop tour. What's the backstory on that and how long has it been around? Alex: We have been going to shops around the area since 2012. 2 pieces of evolution occurred. First, it evolved from trying to improve previously fractured relationships with them by simply visiting the stores and doing lift ticket promotions to what it has become today. It also evolved as we wanted to do more targeted marketing; and customers going to ski shops is ultra targeted! Willi's in Pittsburgh actually put welcome signs for us yesterday and bought us cake to welcome us. Our social media manager, Abbey is a freakin rockstar too; she has the ability to create videos on her own that bring everything to life. On air talent makes great social media people! Gregg: That's awesome. Talk a bit more about what it means to these shops and why they appreciate it to the point they'd celebrate this time of year? Alex: These shops work their behinds off to capture as much business as they can in the short winters that we have. I think they appreciate getting recognized by one of the larger resorts in the region; but really it is us who appreciate them. They are the ones in the trenches promoting snowsports in all of the communities that we want to market to. https://twitter.com/7SpringsPA/status/923945012043362304 https://twitter.com/7SpringsPA/status/923648145858363392 https://twitter.com/7SpringsPA/status/923347893955817473 https://twitter.com/7SpringsPA/status/923303053704429574 Gregg: What's the plan at each one? How much of the value is facetime and how much is the stuff you actually do while you're there? Alex: I think it is the face time and the connection. So far this week, we have had people see us on social and met us at stores; I am sure that has some value. I know our social media channels probably have a larger audience than they do, so again, value in us highlighting their store. Gregg: How many total shops do you hit and how do you choose which ones? How long does it take you to check off all the locations on your list? Alex: We hit around 75 over 2 weeks. We have a guy in a very dark room in the depths of the resort help us formulate a driving route. Gregg: I bet. Might have to ping UPS for some help on that. Speaking of team, I've seen Abbey on content and "Intern Nick" designing the wrap for the vehicle, who all gets involved? Alex: Sponsorship opp! The wrap was a collaborative effort. That design probably got Intern Nick a full time job...with us!

Coming soon to a Ski Shop near YOU! 🚨 Head over to our Facebook Page to make sure your local ski shop is on our list for the #SkiShopTour 🏂⛷ #7Springs #WinterIsComing New Wrap Designed by #InternNick 🏆

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Gregg: I love this, I really do. I think the combination of getting out of the office, facetime, and showing love to an often underappreciate part of the ski community is great. Any last words about the effort? Alex: Honestly, it gives us a chance to meet people outside of the resort on their turf. Skiing and Riding isn't a sport, it is indeed a community and we want to remind people that it is a very welcoming community. My last advice for everyone is something I preach to the team here especially in today's world: BE NICE, BE KIND, BE POSITIVE AND BE HELPFUL. You asked for any last words! ;)

The resort marketing mind born in a body shop.

September 10, 2019
Gregg: Let's start off with the basics, Tony. Where are you from originally and, because I know the answer, what did you study in college? Tony: I was born in Pocatello, ID but grew up in Bozeman, MT and went Kindergarten-College there. I have a BA in Philosophy and a BS in Economics from Montana State University. I also have an AST in autobody repair and management from WyoTech in Laramie, WY. Gregg: So, how exactly did you end up in Washington? Tony: My fiance at the time, my amazing wife now, received word of a job offer in Wenatchee, WA in 2012. We happened to be traveling abroad celebrating our graduations from university and I will never forget the following moment. We were sitting in a hostel when we found out about the potential job. The first thing I did was grab the tablet we were traveling with and Googled, "Ski areas near Wenatchee, WA". I mean, a marketing director couldn't make this stuff up. When the results came up and we saw that Mission Ridge was just 12 miles away and there was another place to ski an hour and a half away we were sold. That was even better than the 16 miles to Bridger and similar to the distance to Big Sky that we grew up with. The potential job checked off one of the most important questions on the test. Eventually, there was an interview, an offer, and a Uhaul trip to Wenatchee. Gregg: And how did you end up at Mission Ridge? Tony: When we moved to town for my wife's job, I had no ski industry or marketing specific experience. I was simply looking for a good job while I "figured things out". Super cliche right? I started at Mission Ridge as a Lift Operator for the 2012/13 season to stay off the couch while making a little money and hopefully also some turns. November and December stacked up to be one of the best starts to the season on the books at Mission Ridge! Needless to say, as a Lifty, there was a lot more work than play with all the snow. But I was stoked. It was so much fun interacting with all the guests and the rest of the MR team. Especially coming from a fairly socially isolated atmosphere working in autobody shops. Gregg: Crazy, so what was the path to Marketing Director? Tony: Just after the new year, the Marketing Director at that time came up to me while I was setting up the maze for Chair 1 prior to opening and asked if I "wanted to come in a couple of hours early each day". I had no idea why but I said yes. Saying yes to work was a conditioned response for me. Always take work and then figure out how to make it work later is how I operate. Turns out I was offered the snow reporter gig for the remainder of the season. After one of the best starts to a season ever in November and December of that year, I reported just 38" more over the next three and a half months. Luckily, Mission Ridge's amazing snow quality and ridiculous number of sunny days annually kept us smiling and closing with all chairs and 100% of our terrain open (2,000 acres) in mid-April. Let's just say I got really good finding ways to say that we were looking forward to "great groomed conditions, sunny skies, and comfy temps" over those 3 and a half months. Over the next three seasons, I transitioned from the Snow Reporter and Marketing Assistant to the Administrative Manager to the Marketing Manager, and eventually to the Marketing Director role. Gregg: That's awesome. With such a unique background - both economics and automotive admin are pretty rare in marketing teams - what did the industry look like when you made your way into the marketing director's chair? Tony: I'm heading into my 5th season as Marketing Dir. Four years ago a couple of things stand out in my mind. 1) It was becoming clear that tech, especially in the eComm and associated spheres, was changing at a faster and faster clip. 2) Resorts were (and still are) gobbling up reciprocal partnerships like crazy (the resorts that is, that weren't gobbling up other resorts). And 3) many resorts, especially across the West and Northwest in particular, were coming off one of the worst seasons ever. Looking back, it was kind of like investing at the bottom of the market just as things were starting to look up. The situation was ripe for change and new ideas. Gregg: Did anything strike you as odd? Tony: Antiquated POS systems and what seems to be the industry's general inertia and resistance to change. Technology is always changing, but it seems that in a couple of areas in particular, there has been tremendous growth in the last four or five years. I think we are starting to see a lot of folks breaking out of the old mindset and really striving to catch up to guests expectations when it comes to things like the eComm experience. Gregg: What about opportunities? Tony: There has been a ton of opportunity to not do things the way they have always been done...to not simply check traditional marketing boxes if they weren't the right fit for Mission Ridge. We stopped doing some things to shift resources in other directions. Essentially we cut out a lot of traditional tactics, especially print, and focused on technology and relationships. For example, right off the bat we stopped having brochures printed and distributed. We didn't want to spend money to have pieces of paper floating around the Puget Sound on ferry ships. Gregg: When we talked for the first time, you mentioned the way you approached the balance between season passes and day tickets was one of those things that stood out. Any thoughts on what you saw there or how it impacted strategy? Tony: Coming out of the 14/15 season we had a really tough pass sale due to the extremely low snow season. Mission Ridge was the only resort in the state of Washington to operate every weekend of the season (though we were closed midweek for a lot of it from February on) but that season had a major effect on some passholders. We had a really low number going into 15/16 relative to historical averages. The next year was a great snow year. We sold a lot of tickets. For a long time, Mission had been looking for a way to move the needle on passes. Historically pass sales are an awesome example of supply and demand. If you lower the price units sold go up. If you raise the price units sold go down. But at the end of the day, revenue stays pretty much the same unless you are able to tap into a new market. Gregg: How did that change after the 15/16 season? Tony: After the 15/16 season, we decided to really focus on making sure we were helping guests experience The Ridge through the best product for them. We also wanted change when passes were being sold. In order to offer better guest service, set the business up to be more successful during the summer months (we have no summer operations, just expenses), and to be able to focus on ticket products going into the fall, we changed our pass sale strategy going into the 16/17 season. A shift to a quantity-based, rather than a date-driven deadline system has been one of the most important decisions for Mission Ridge. It has helped us move the needle and be able to re-invest more back into our infrastructure to make sure we are around for the next 50 years (we celebrated our 50th anniversary in 16/17). Gregg: So interesting. How did your market respond? Tony: We didn't change people's behavior with respect to what they were buying, just when they were doing it. The biggest group of passholders are still getting their passes for the next season at the lowest prices. The thing that has changed is they are locking that value in on the first day, or first couple days, of the sale instead of waiting until the final 24-48 hours before a standard date deadline. They are geared up for the next season in March when we have our full complement of season pass and ticketing staff instead of May or June. Gregg: With all of these things, how confident were you? Tony: "If the challenge we face doesn't scare us, then it's probably not that important." Great timing for this quote to show up in my inbox last week from Simon Sinek's daily inspiration email series. On more than one occasion I've been called very analytical. Even though I've had the opportunity to express a far goofier side through videos like the one below during my time at Mission, I am generally considered to be a pretty serious person. When we come to a decision we are confident because we have analyzed it extensively. But when you step into the void you would be foolish to assume that just because you think it is the best path, that it is truly the right decision. There is always a healthy amount of concern. There is always a chance that we just can’t see why doing things like everyone else is the right path. And let's not forget that little thing called snow. Snowfall has the ability to make any decision look great if it is deep and frequent.
Gregg: Did the fact you were one of the only ones doing this ever nag at you a bit? Tony: The way everyone else does things can be the right decision for them and Mission Ridge not doing it that way can be the right decision for us at the same time. Between resorts of all sizes, there are so many similarities. So many challenges we all face are the same. But my take is that each resorts individual response and solutions to those challenges have to be catered to them specifically even if it runs counter to the trend. In a time of increasing conformity in the ski industry, our guests are seeking out unique experiences...unique solutions to changes they are seeing in their experience. Maybe we should be following their lead.

Appreciating luck, making the most of life.

October 30, 2018
Gregg: Joe, take me back to that moment seven years ago on Oct 30, 2010. Where were you and what happened? Joe: Seven years ago today I woke up in the ICU at Intermountain Medical Center. My head and part of my face were wrapped and swollen. My arm was wrapped in a half cast and secured to my chest. I was hooked up to too many machines to count and I had a catheter in. Man, those things are the worst! At that moment, I had no idea what had happened. Thirty six hours earlier I had been rock climbing on a beautiful fall day in Big Cottonwood Canyon when I took a 30-foot fall to flat. I was life flighted out of Big Cottonwood Canyon and immediately taken into two emergency surgeries. The first was to fix my face, the right side of which had taken serious impact. The surgeons conducted a facial peel, cutting me from ear to ear and peeling my face down to insert 10 small plates to fix the broken bones. Think John Travolta in the movie “Face Off” and you’re not that far from what happened! They then pieced my right elbow back together using three screws and a wire. Gregg: What was going through your mind? Joe: I don’t remember my first thought. But as my mind cleared and I started to be able to piece things together the thoughts came rapid fire. How am I going to pay for this? Will I ever look the same? Will there be serious side effects from my injuries? Will this affect my ability to do my job? And then at some point in that first day when talking with the Dr. I asked what now seems like a stupid question – will I be able to ski this winter?

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Gregg: Do you remember what the doctor said in reply? What was the general prognosis overall in terms of doing what you'd always loved to do? Joe: While I don’t remember the Dr. exact response I do remember him laughing and saying something along the lines of, “That’s the last thing you should be thinking about.” When it came to my prognosis, it was surprisingly positive. Long story, short – I’m one lucky son of a bitch. I had taken a big fall and somehow came out of it without any of the “major” injuries - broken leg(s), broken back, broken neck, brain trauma – that often accompany a fall of that magnitude. And while I had a long road to recovery ahead of me including 9 months of swelling in my face and plenty of physical therapy, the Dr. assured me that I’d have no problems getting back to doing the things that I love. Gregg: Talk a bit more about those things you love. What did that mean to you to know you'd have no problem getting back to a healthy, active lifestyle? Joe: I’m still not sure how I did it, but I managed to grow up in the country, with an older brother, playing more sports than you can shake a stick at without ever having a serious injury. I mean I didn’t even have a broken bone until I broke a bone in my hand during a basketball game my junior year of high school. So to hear that I would have no problem returning to my healthy, active lifestyle was quite the relief. I count myself lucky to have been raised by parents who fostered and encouraged my love for the outdoors and being outside. But I do have a confession to make – I didn’t start alpine skiing until I was 10. My parents started me off on Nordic skis. From the time I could dribble, basketball consumed my life. During the winter you were more likely to find me shoveling off the court behind our house to do shooting drills than you were to find me skiing. I’ve never raced. I’ve never competed. I’ve never worked in a ski shop. I think I took two “lessons” from a family friend so I’m not even sure if that counts? Hell, before I moved to Utah I think the most days I’d ever skied in a season was 20 . . . maybe. Compared to most people I’m lucky enough to work with in the ski industry I’m a full on newbie. Gregg: Crazy, I didn’t realize you started so late. When did the love of skiing really kick in? Joe: I’ve always liked skiing, but skiing hasn’t always been a big part of my life. And when I look back, the transition didn’t really start happening until after college. Sure, I got a trip in here or there and a few days in at the local resorts but when I was pinching pennies in college it was hard to justify forking over money for gear and lift tickets. My first job out of college was in the marketing/pr department of the Spokane Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau. Working in tourism marketing allowed me to work with Ski the Inland Northwest, the local resort marketing organization (think Ski Utah). And that’s when it really clicked for me. These people were truly doing it right. They got to pair their passions – skiing and marketing. They got to go skiing and call it work – it blew my mind! From that point on it’s been all downhill, literally and figuratively. And it all really started when I packed up and moved to Utah. Joe’s skills have improved...slightly. Photo: Weston Shirey Gregg: What year was this that you moved to Utah? Did you you already have a gig lined up or did you know that's where you wanted to be and just go for it? Joe: During the summer of 2009, the economy was starting to rebound from the great recession but was by no means in an ideal position. So, like any smart person, I quit my stable job with benefits and went on a month long backpacking trip through Europe with some friends. Before I left I e-mailed two resorts in Utah and two resorts in Colorado. I talked about the experience I had and said that I was looking to get my foot in the door of the ski industry. Then I hopped on plane. The next time I checked my e-mail I was in Florence, Italy and I remember having responses from both resorts in Utah and one in Colorado. There were more e-mails and phone interviews as the communication continued after I returned to the U.S. When it all shook out Solitude Mountain Resort’s director of marketing, Nick Como, offered me a season marketing gig without ever meeting me in person. I took the offer and moved to Utah the fall of 2009. Gregg: How’d that go? Was your gig at Solitude all you'd hoped for back when you wrote those emails? Were you pretty sure ski was where you wanted to be long term? Joe: That first winter at Solitude was a winter full of learning. Being in a two person marketing department with my boss, director of marketing, Nick Como, allowed me to have my hands in pretty much everything. From taking the reigns of Solitude's social media to e-newsletters, media events, advertising, marketing plan development - you name it, and chances are I got the chance to be a part of it. I learned that a Kia Spectra is not a mountain worthy vehicle (duh) which in turn led to me learning that hitchhiking is one of the best ways to get to work in Big Cottonwood Canyon. I learned that one cannot eat too many breakfast burritos, particularly when they're free and you have no money. I learned how to use a camera and more importantly how to take ski photos. I learned that I did not know how to ski compared to everyone else and then did everything I could to change that. But most importantly I learned that despite the highs and lows of the winter that I was 100% sure the ski industry was where I wanted to be. Gregg: We’re getting close to the timeline of the accident, right? Within about a year? Where were you when it happened? Joe: I finished off that winter at Solitude. And after completely depleting my bank account in an effort to make it home, you know, since I didn’t have a job, I got a call from Canyons Resort director of public relations, Libby Dowd, saying I should apply for an open marketing role. Next thing I know I was moving back down to Utah and starting my new job at the marketing coordinator with Canyons Resort. But yes, within the year I had my climbing accident. https://twitter.com/Saltlakelocal/status/29234477270 Gregg: You alluded to concern over being able to do your job once you woke up in the hospital. How did Canyons respond to your accident? Joe: At the time of my accident I hadn’t been working for Canyons for that long. Hell, I think my insurance had only kicked in a few months prior so I was definitely worried about what was going to happen and how it might affect my job. My boss at the time was Jim Powell, the director of marketing for Canyons Resort. He came and visited me in the hospital and assured myself and my mom that everything was going to be ok. He then went the next step and set me up in the Silverado Lodge for my first week out of the hospital. At the time I was living in a pretty dingy basement apartment with some sketchy steps that would have been tough to navigate. From that first visit in the hospital to the lodging and helping me navigate days off, vacation, etc. over the following weeks, Jim and the Canyons Resort team was amazing. Gregg: Did anything in your outlook on life or work change after your accident? Joe: Honestly, I don’t think my accident changed my outlook on life, work or the balance between the two. In fact, I think it reinforced the career decisions and lifestyle decisions that I’d made up to that point. The mountains and the outdoors have always been my escape for recreation, fun, excitement and challenge. And by working in the ski industry and the greater outdoor industry, they’ve also become my place of work. I think that by happening in the mountains my accident served more as a reminder, increasing my awe and respect for the mountains and the skills required to recreate in them. Gregg: While you stayed in the mountain and ski industry, you've since moved away from the resort side to retail/gear with Salomon. Why the change and how did that play into your career goals and direction? Joe: Moving away from resort side of the ski industry was one of the harder professional decisions I’ve ever had to make. In addition to working with clients like Tordrillo Mountain Lodge and Salomon, I’d had the privilege of managing the marketing for Alta Ski Area for the previous four years. If you know Alta and the people who people who call that place home, you know why it was such a hard decision. And while there were a few things outside my control that impacted my decision, the biggest reason for the change was looking for a new challenge. When the opportunity to manage the freeski and outdoor marketing for one of the top outdoor companies in the world presents itself, you don’t say no. In the end, the marketing plan development, budget management and global collaboration at a high level is exactly the experience that I’ll need to continue to progress in my career. Gregg; Speaking of Alta, talk about your time there working for a brand with that kind of history and value. Joe: After four years, I’m a proud graduate of the University of Alta. But seriously, I couldn’t have asked for a more fun and professionally rewarding four years. Forget that I had an office in the legendary Buckhorn building at the base of the Wildcat Chair. Note: Mike Rogge (of Powder Magazine fame) once said I had the “best office in the industry.” The best, and most rewarding part of that job, was having the opportunity to tell the story of Alta and the people who call that place home. From fun content projects like the “On The Lift With” series to marketing campaigns like the “Un-Campaign” and “Snow and . . “, it was a dream to be able to work with the team to help promote one of the most iconic ski destinations in the world. Much love to Connie Marshall and Onno Wieringa for welcoming me to the team, giving me the opportunity to learn, grow and create and for being an example of grace and professionalism.
Joe’s involvement with On the Lift With came full circle when he was featured. Gregg: As you look at the resort side with new eyes, what do you see? Anything you would do differently if you were back at a mountain again? Joe: When I look at the resort side I see an industry and consumers that are changing rapidly, much more rapidly than most resorts are, or are willing to do. There are very few resorts that are adapting at the rate needed, but those that have been able to are capitalizing. From infrastructure and facilities to technology and marketing, I feel like the resorts that are winning are those ones that are making changes not because “it’s about time” or “because we need to keep up with the other resorts”, but because they know their consumer and their research and data is driving their decision making. Gregg: Reversed, is there anything from the resort side you learned that you think has served you well from your time with Salomon? Joe: I think working on the resort side of things gave me a great look and great insight into the different types of skiers, their buying/purchasing habits and what they’re looking for in gear. Naturally, this knowledge and first-hand experience comes into play when creating marketing plans around different products and initiatives. Example – our marketing mix for our XDR line of skis is going to be vastly different than the marketing mix for our MTN line of products. Just like the marketing mix for an Alta or Bridger Bowl is going to be different than for a Vail or Deer Valley. Gregg: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Is climbing the ladder your goal? Is lifestyle more important? Joe: Of course climbing the ladder is my goal. I think if anyone in my situation tells you it’s not then they’re probably in the wrong line of work. That being said, I think the difference is WHAT ladder you’re climbing. I always want to be climbing the learning ladder. I never want to be that person, or get to that point, where I feel it’s ok to stop learning or depend on others to do the learning for me. There are already too many of those people in the workforce. The more you learn, the more you’re able to lead. And when I look five years down the road I think that’s the ladder I really want to climb – the leading ladder. From strategy to departments to teams, the idea of developing as a leader is something that keeps me going. https://twitter.com/WestonShirey/status/843297585725034496 Gregg: Where does lifestyle play into that? Joe: If you’ve learned anything about me from this Q&A it’s obvious that lifestyle is vitally important. That will never change. When I left my first job at the Spokane Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau, I swore to myself that I’d never work somewhere again that required me to wear slacks and a collared shirt every day. Trivial – maybe? And this is obviously a small piece of the “lifestyle” puzzle, but I think it rings true. Along those same lines, I never want to make a job decision based solely on dollar bills. Doing something I love for a company that I’m passionate about in a place that allows me the opportunity to do the things that I love will always be at the forefront when making future employment decisions. Gregg: What's next? Joe: As for what’s next – I honestly don’t see myself wanting to leave the ski/outdoor industry. It’s creative, it’s fun, it’s challenging, it’s competitive. But if I was forced to think of a different industry that would be appealing I’d probably pinpoint the beer industry, particularly the craft brew side of things. Gregg: When I look at your life and follow your adventures, I get the feeling that you truly appreciate how lucky you are to have a great job, a great lifestyle, and, of course, a life to be living. Joe: My hope is that it’s not just you seeing that, Gregg. My hope is that everybody I interact with sees that. Because I do truly appreciate everything that I have. And while I have been lucky along the way, you can bet your ass I’m going to keep working hard to ensure that I get stay where I’m at, continue to grow and when the opportunity comes, help others get to where they want to be. Gregg: Seven years on, how often do you think about that day? And how much does it influence your attitude? Joe: Honestly, I think about that day a lot. And as weird as it sounds, I think about it most when I’m doing the things that I love – skiing, trail running, mountain biking, etc. If you break it down to its most simple form - It’s something that’s a constant reminder to be grateful and thankful.

“The internet and gaming are our biggest threats.”

May 7, 2018
Gregg: What do you think is the biggest challenge for the ski industry in the next 10 years? Mike: Keeping people involved. Thirty or forty years ago there was nothing else to do on winter weekends. You either went outside and embraced winter or you sat around your house bored. Nowadays, there are a hundred different ways to entertain yourself on the weekends and most of them don't involve going outside in the cold. The internet and gaming is our biggest threat. I even find myself forcing my own kids to get out on the mountain on the weekends. They love it when they get out there, but getting them off the couch isn't easy. I told my son the other day - nobody on their deathbed ever says, 'I wish I'd spent more time on the internet.' The good news is that Facebook, Twitter, and especially Instagram, are places people often go to boast about what they're doing. It's hard to get a good Instagram photo from your couch. Gregg: What do you think is the biggest opportunity for the ski industry in the next 10 years? Mike: It's similar to our biggest challenge. Now that people are staying inside more, going skiing is becoming a bigger deal and a more special and unique experience. The ski industry needs to embrace social media and figure ways to use it to enhance the ski experience for their users. In this day and age you should be able to stay connected while you are on the mountain - or at least have the choice. Everyone in the ski industry should be helping to showcase what this sport is. Not just for their own small piece of the pie, but for the sport as a whole. Let's try to make the pie bigger. Does your content help the sport as a whole? I think the most successful ski & resort brands are doing this. There have never been more ways to spend leisure time. We need to work together to ensure skiing stays in the front of people's minds. Gregg: What will need to happen for skiing to gain momentum and start growing significantly? Mike: I think I partially answered this in the last question, but the other half of the equation is access. Skiing is becoming very expensive. It's in everyone's best interest that the small local hills stay in business. Not every ski area needs to be Whistler Blackcomb or Aspen Snowmass - those are the dream destinations and they are pricey because they have absolutely everything and offer a world-class product. A lot have 'Mom and Pop' hills have closed over the past couple of decades and that's a disturbing trend. We need those type of ski areas and it's very important that the '$30 lift ticket' still exists in this sport. We actually look at the changing landscape of ski areas in an upcoming episode of Salomon Freeski TV called, 'The Architect'. The good news is that with the advent of the urban freestyle scene and the rise of ski touring, you can learn to ski without going to a ski area, and the beauty of the mountains will continue to draw us in whether the economy is strong or not. . Gregg: What can marketers do now to start getting that ball rolling? Mike:They can start by doing some of the things I said in answer 2, but we also have to find better ways to market 'Learn to Ski' programs. In my opinion, the current marketing efforts being made to get school kids into skiing are laughable. The grade 5 learn to ski program is great, but the way it's marketed is so out of touch. It'd be great to see each resort take a serious look at the 'learn to ski' program in their area and figure out how they can make it better.

Perspectives on ski from a new life in pro sports.

April 5, 2018
Gregg: Dwight, let's cut to the chase and ask the big question: with all the lifestyle and perks and your experience, why did you end up leaving the ski industry? Dwight: There were a few reasons why I decided to leave the ski industry. The first would be continuing to follow my passions. Now in my career I’ve worked in the video game industry, ski industry and professional sports industry. If you asked me when I was 12 what I wanted to do when I grow up, 2 of those would have been on the list (I didn’t find snowboarding until my early 20’s). To be able to use what I’ve learned in the ski industry and take it to something else I’m passionate about was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. In addition, the location being Detroit made it all that easier to make the decision. Gregg: How so? Dwight: While I had never lived in Detroit, both of my parents grew up here and I have family here. When I left Copper we had a 6 month old daughter and it becomes readily apparent how much you are on an island when you are far away from family. Gregg: Any other reasons? Dwight: The last reason was about culture. We loved living in ski towns, but started to feel that our children might miss out on the diversity that comes with a more metropolitan area. Now we have quick access to the zoo, museums, multitudes of dining options and entertainment that we hope will help us to raise more well-rounded children. In essence my move was not about a dissatisfaction with the ski industry, it was about chasing down a few more of my dreams and hopefully opening a few more doors up for our children. Gregg: So talk a little bit more about your role now and what your day looks like? Dwight: I manage a team of six. We support both the Detroit Red Wings and 313 Presents, the entertainment side of the business. We’re responsible for all of the outbound email communications, paid digital and social advertising and the CRM platform that supports Season Tickets, Group Sales and Partnerships. In addition we manage the Red Wings portion of the NHL app, the new District Detroit App and are slowly working our way into the reporting, analytics and pricing side of the business by building a data warehouse with connections to all of our various point of sale systems.

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Gregg: What does your daily grind look like? Dwight: I personally do less of the actual day to day execution than I did in the past and focus more on managing my staff, helping them to prioritize and getting the systems and software in place to be able to execute our ideas. Gregg: Looking back, any specific experiences in ski that you've leaned on in professional sports? Dwight: Two years later and I still bring up what we did at Copper all the time. I’ve been able to take insights from all different areas of what we did at Copper and relate it to this new job. There is a lot of overlap between the businesses, so whether it’s Guest Services, F&B, Parking or Tickets there is always a past experience I can pull from. I don’t think the ski industry gets as much credit as it should on having the business side dialed. Granted I only worked at two resorts but we understood our guests and our markets and were close enough to the numbers to be able to adjust on weather of all things. Talk about being nimble. Not many industries are that reliant on something they have no control over. Gregg: Let's flip the script. Looking back, what does the ski industry look like? What do you see now - good or bad - you didn't see then? Dwight: I think the biggest difference I’ve seen between the industries is Professional Sports is a sales first industry where the ski industry is marketing first. Where that really plays out is in the relationship building that is done on the ticket sales side. The sports industry spends a lot of time cultivating one on one relationships with Season Ticket Holders and Suite Holders. Gregg: Anything we should be doing better in that regard? Dwight: I think the ski industry could be better at making their high value guests feel more appreciated. It doesn’t have to be much, especially when at the volume that may be required in the ski industry but I think there is opportunity to reduce the Season Pass churn that is seen year over year by having a more intimate relationship with that guest. Gregg: Anything specific or noteworthy or generally applicable that sports teams are doing to build those relationships? Dwight: Tech-wise most sports teams are using a CRM platform to manage touchpoints for each guest. These touch points can range from simple phone calls to in-seat visits during the games or even meet and greets with players or team executives. I think the more we can allow for two way communication between you and your guest, the more ownership and loyalty they will feel for your brand. I know that becomes exponentially harder when you go from 3 or 5 k season ticket holders to 50 to 100k pass holders, but you could certainly build automated campaigns to communicate about things other than deadlines or sales offers, in addition use those to elicit feedback and allow your guest an easy opportunity to start that communication. With RFID passes there could also be ways to create surprise and delight experiences for guests at your resort. Also, with the launch of new products such as the Ikon Pass I would make sure to have a retention plan that is not just focused on the sales cycle but looks at engaging the guest throughout their journey through the winter and at each of the participating resorts. https://twitter.com/DetroitRedWings/status/980130018692161536 Gregg: Speaking of technology, between your work on Sherpa and others, you were always working at that intersection of technology and skiing. Where's your head at these days in terms of the role technology plays in guest experience - sports, ski, or other? Dwight: I think technology plays a very important role. There is so much we can do with technology to make our guest’s experience safer and more enjoyable. We should always be looking forward to new opportunities to do that. I will always suggest to push the boundaries to create cool products, but man is it hard to change guest behavior that has been ritualized after so many years. It takes so much work to drive adoption, educate guests and build promoters for your product. I think sometimes that is lost on those of us who are behind the scenes. We get wrapped up in creating the tech and forget that this isn’t Field of Dreams. They are not coming unless we give them ample benefits that drives their change in behavior. Sometimes it also just comes down to us making the hard decision to force the new behavior on the guest by removing the option to do it the old way. Gregg: What does that mean for us? Dwight: We as marketers need to be prepared in advance to support the adoption process with financial and staffing resources and be prepared to justify those resources going forward. If you don’t have buy in from everyone in your company, top-down, your investment in technology will be a waste. Plan, understand what your goals are, how it affects your guest and what triggers you are prepared to pull to get the result you want. But don’t stop innovating.

Ski marketing strategy through a startup/SaaS lens.

March 29, 2018
Gregg: Justin, for those in SaaS/maker/marketing circles you're pretty well known, but for the resort marketing crowd reading this, give us a quick paragraph about who Justin Jackson is and what you do. Justin: Hi, I run MegaMaker.co (where I help indie entrepreneurs improve their product + marketing) and I've just founded a new podcasting startup called Transistor.fm. I’ve been working with SaaS companies since 2008. I was the Product Manager at Sprintly and Mailout, and have consulted on marketing & growth for startups in London, San Francisco, Boulder, and Portland. In 2015, I wrote a book called Marketing for Developers. Since then it sold 6,000+ copies, and was really the reason I was able to quit my job. Gregg: But, based on your Twitter feed, you also have some ski ties? Justin: Yeah, incidentally, my first internship out of college was with Olive Snowboards, and I owned a skateboard + snowboard shop in Alberta called The Real Deal from April 2003 - September 2006. Gregg: Let's fill out the snowboarding side of this story a bit, What took you toward SaaS and away from snow? Justin: When I was running The Real Deal we got caught in a recession. Retail spending in Alberta went way down. This was also when big brands, like Quicksilver, were opening their own retail outlets. Plus, big retailers like West49 were moving into town. We just couldn't compete. A lot of independent shops closed around that time. Gregg: A tough stretch for sure. What came next? Justin: After the shop closed, I kept running events and snowboard camps for teenagers. Every winter, we would do a handful of trips to Jasper, and then one big trip somewhere in BC. We'd pick a mountain, Kicking Horse, Silver Star, Kimberly, Fernie, Big White, and we'd go for 3-5 days. Those were fun trips. In 2008, I decided to get "a real job." I had my degree in business, and I'd always been into computers, so I started working for a tech startup called Mailout. That's where I got really involved in Software as a Service (SaaS). Gregg: What did that move mean for your relationship with the snow? Justin: After I had the office job, it was harder and harder to make it to the mountains. We had young kids, and so I'd take them to the local hill, but it just wasn't the same. I started dreaming of living in the mountains; close to a resort. It took years of finagling, but in 2012 I finally convinced my boss to let me move to Vernon, BC and work remotely. We've lived here ever since. We live in town, but it's 20 minutes to the chairlift. As a prairie boy, it feels like I'm living in a dream. Gregg: That’s awesome. You've done an incredible job of branding yourself (seems everywhere I turn I see your face; MicroConf, Indiehackers, etc.) and Tiny Marketing Wins focuses on the small and simple, is there a common thread there that guides your marketing approach? Justin: For sure. I'd say there's a few common threads: Gregg: So, given that lens, when you look at the ski resort marketing through that lens, what do you see? Justin: You need to ask: "Who are you targeting?" I think Silver Star has done a great job marketing itself as a "family mountain." If you want to have a really nice family ski vacation, what are you going to search? Probably something like this: But you're going to get a bunch of different options. Gregg: So how could resorts improve, then? Any ideas floating around in your head? Justin: Give folks an interactive checklist that helps them see if your resort is right for them. You want to help the person searching for answers make progress. Remember, there's a lot of anxiety when you're booking a family vacation. Lots is riding on that decision. All of your marketing should be catered towards: Gregg: Talk a bit more about that. How do those pieces intersect? Justin: Folks should check out the Jobs to be Done framework (Clayton Christensen's book, Competing Against Luck and Alan Klement's book, When Coffee and Kale Compete are places to start). Essentially, people have jobs in their lives. For example, a mom wants to give her family a big treat because she's just gotten a big raise. Now, there are a number of things she could "hire" to accomplish that. For example, she could: Ski resorts might think that their competition is "other ski resorts," but it's actually anything else a family might spend their money on. https://twitter.com/mijustin/status/975105014728294401 Gregg: I'd imagine your business and off-snow life puts you touch with a lot of non-skiers. Any thoughts on how that applies to growing skiing? Justin: The same goes with whether non-skiers become skiers. You have to ask: what are they looking to accomplish in their lives? How do they want their life to be better? A few observations: Gregg: Good stuff, Justin, and very well said. Any final thoughts? Justin: I've been thinking a lot about what makes marketing good, and what makes it bad. Good marketing: reduces friction and anxiety, and helps move the customer towards a good experience. Also: Product is marketing. Onboarding is marketing. Customer support is marketing. Anyplace you can stand out is marketing. You might have a stellar mountain with the most snow, best lifts, etc., but how you onboard the customer and support them before, during, and after the sale is where you really stand out.

Meet the man behind the magic of Mt Bohemia TV.

March 22, 2018
Gregg: Joey, let's start with a quick background on you. Joey: I grew up in Dubuque, Iowa. I was a wannabe ski racer as a kid but once I saw my first Greg Stump film "Blizzard of Aahhh's things changed. I must of watched that film a thousand times tingling and bubbling inside from all the great action but really what sucked me in was the happy faces of all the skiers, they found their bliss and it showed! After skiing abroad (“study abroad”) in NZ and finishing up college I did two seasons in B.C. and one in Vail before I found myself living in Las Vegas wondering how I got there. But, lucky enough, I ended up assisting the embedded AP photographer. I was honing my photography skills, but still always wanting to be doing video storytelling. Gregg: And that’s where you got your start with video? Joey: Back then video was not as easily available as today so photography was my outlet. Then in 2009, as a photographer I rode the coattails of this incredible skier named Eben Mond to the Scufoneda telemark festival in the Dolomites of Italy. While there I miraculously won the European Telemark Freeride Championships. On the podium the second place finisher, JT Robinson, who happened to be a Midwestern rooted tele skier based out of Utah, looked to me and said "we need to go to Mount Bohemia together next year!" I was game! So in 2010 J.T. and I flew into the closest airport to Mount Bohemia for a story for Telemark Mag. about the Midwest Tele Fest and Mount Bohemia. Conditions were not ideal on my first visit and I have to say I was very humbled by the rowdy terrain. We managed to find some goods and produce some amazing photos of the place. That summer I sold some of the images to Mount Bohemia and a relationship was born. Gregg: So how did you go from one-off still images to doing video for the mountain? Joey: In 2014 I called up Lonie, the president of Bohemia, and told him he needed a great video out there to let the world know how amazing the place is. I said "if we let them know, they will come from all over this country." The Keweenaw peninsula is a special place, a micro climate of lake effect snow but it also has vertical. I love to tell people who never been there "if someone sawed off the top 900 vert of Crested Butte and dropped it into the U.P of Mich you would have Bohemia." Lonnie agreed to having me make a video for him, which was amazing for I had zero experience at this just a ton of faith and desire. I was trying to convince my connections in the industry to back me on a video project for years before this but no one believed in me. That year I made the short action video "Midwest Powder Mecca" and it was a great success. Winning the Warren Miller Hometown Hill contest and getting premiered at the beginning of all the major showing of their theater screenings. While filming Midwest Powder Mecca, Lonie approached me about getting some raw footage of the characters of the hill, for a production company out of NY (Peacock Productions) that was interested in possibly doing a reality show on the place. Gregg: And that’s where the original concept came from? Joey: Yeah, they wanted to see if there was enough there for it to stick to the wall. I was game, it only sounded like a possible doorway from wedding photography and portrait work I was doing back in Dubuque in the off season to maintain. The NY production company didn't bite and I pursued another buyer in LA via a friend, but no cigar, close I was told. I wasn't satisfied and rubbed Lonie to let me make the show for him. I submitted a proposal the next season but Lonie had a ton on his plate with the business. Then the next season came around and Lonie approached me a few weeks before the season started and we struck a deal to make Mount Bohemia TV. No serious plan, nothing story boarded, just a freestyle connect the dots project. The rest is history. Gregg: In my experience with storytelling you're always balancing what the characters give to you and what you can draw out of them. These videos have so many moments, how many of these are just happening and how many do you have to do some sort of setup? Joey: I would have to say the majority of the moments are natural organic moments. This show is more documentary than formulated. It's way more to the truth than your typical network reality programs. I miss so many moments by not having the record button on all the time and when it slips by me and I ask them to say it again, it never compares to the real deal. The employees here are used to me shoving a camera to their face which helps. And with the right personality or charisma you can usually make customers be willing and feel comfortable when filming. It's a team event but at times I'm battling the edit around my voice. You have to bring some energy to the room at times. We will have candid moment and then I may pursue some reactions from customers and employees that correlate.
Gregg: What’s Lonie’s role in things? Joey: Lonie is the president of the company so he sends me in a direction to pursue (for example "let's get more ski patrol footage or Kitchen footage") but the sprinkles, the goodies are organic. You can't make this weird stuff up. The truth is stranger than fiction! Most of the characters on the hill you can see a mile away. This is my fourth season doing something like this and usually I hone in on the characters right away, they let you know their around. Bohemia is a small scene, it's like throwing back a koolaid packet. Also, Bohemia has a strong repeat business and I have gotten to know most of them, I know their personalities and it helps in angling for the story. Gregg: Speaking of moments, any favorites stand out? Joey: Anything with Stevey the Chair Lift Philosopher is just golden. The guy is amazing and interacts with every customer that rides the lift. From the nunchucks to the random comments or just weird behavior, you can't beat the entertainment. I love the random quirky non major incidents that the patrol come across, i.e. lost items from the customers that think they will find for them on the 500 acres of powder? The lost skier that walks into the conversation about sending out a search party for him. (episode 1), the client that I ask about their reaction to the ABBA bus looking for neg. tones and he mentions he sang one of their songs in the local school talent show! Love the synchronicity. Wendall, Lac La belle mayor and the county road worker talking about the $99 season and how you can go aluminum can collecting on the county roads to pay for it (much 10 cent redemption - episode 8) It's hard to say, there's so many! I would have to dive into a marathon screening to figure my favorites. Gregg: I watch a lot of resort videos, but there's never been one like Mt Bohemia TV that I honestly can't wait to hear about and watch every time it drops. What were your expectations when you started to release episodes? Joey: Honestly, we didn't know what people's response was going to be. Lonie and I were hoping a network would swoop in and be interested in taking it to the next level on TV. After we aired the first episode I was bombarded by complaints and what needed to be and changed. I'm hearing from one corner "too much skiing!" and another, "Get rid of the drama, more skiing!", "it's way too long"! Certain employees were not happy and this seems to be a revolving door per episode. We are trying to create a comedy/drama here and sometimes you've got to crack a few eggs to make an omelette. To me this is art, this is the epitome of what skiing is to 99% of the market. Gregg: Explain that a bit. Joey: Well, it's not the rock star ski/snowboard pro who's jet setting to all the rad pow palaces of the world rubbing shoulders with other sponsored jet setting athletes. Don't get me wrong I would love to live that life of the sponsored skier, who wouldn't. I just kinda feel disconnected to that story, "I won't be able to afford that helicopter hook up, there is no way I can hit that cliff or do that trick or afford that exotic location" but I can relate to the dynamics of the ski area. I can relate to this trivial scene and these people, we all see these people running to and fro while we casually enjoy the day on the mountain. We show the less perfect side of skiing/snowboarding and the comedy is rewarding to all. Gregg: So when did it start to gain some traction? Joey: After we published a few episodes the first season I wasn't sure where this was going. We had our fans but that was mostly made up of Mount Bohemia die hards. I wasn't sure if I was too close to the scene and to an outsider it wouldn't make sense. to be honest it wasn't until Slopefillers published an article about us did I realize this was working outside our little north woods Yooper bubble. Gregg: Has ski media caught on to that yet? Joey: Unofficial Network has become a fan and carries most of our releases. One published article said “Mount Bohemia’s ABBA Backcountry Bus Is One Of The Funniest Things In Skiing.”. Mount Bohemia has always been an anomaly in the ski industry so it only makes sense for Mount Bohemia TV to be the same. Our format is unlike anything else out there so I understand we are going to have our dislikers. I myself can barely watch a straight up action video anymore, they all look the same to me, so obviously it’s hard to please everyone. Overall, People tell me daily on the hill that Bohemia TV is what got them to come. I also know some original patrons might not like the show for Mount Bohemia has increased season pass sales like no other since we started publishing, but I'm ecstatic about the show and this amazing opportunity I have been given to document the life of a ski area and to have it be located in the area I'm from and to change perspectives makes it even more magical. Do yourself a favor and set aside an evening to binge-watch the series on Mt Bohemia's YouTube Channel episodes 1-3 are here).

“Alexa, what is today’s snow report?”

March 15, 2018
Gregg: Let's start with a little backstory. Where did you grow up? Were you always into skiing? Steven: I grew up on Long Island, New York. I started skiing when I was 12 when our school offered a ski trip up to Camelback. I remember getting to the mountain, getting my rental and having to wait an hour or so for the lesson to begin. That was way too long to wait and I was stoked to be on skis, so I just went up the chairlift anyway, having never skied before and somehow made it all the way down without falling. At the bottom I didn’t know how to stop, so I just bailed sideways and ending up taking out three ski instructors. I’m sure they were mad, but I had a lot of fun and from then on I fell in love with winter sports. I am sure they have no idea that kid is still skiing and working in the industry, 23 years later. Gregg: Were you always into tech? Steven: I was always into tech. At first it was for gaming. My neighbor and I would dial up each other's 2400 bps modem to play multiplayer Doom for hours. Around the same time I got really into IRC (Online chat) and Shoutcast audio streaming. I ended up setting up a cluster network of servers and hosting an online radio show mainly focusing on Drum and Bass music. It was a lot of fun and I had no idea what I was doing, but I loved it. Gregg:How exactly does someone go from Doom with their neighbor over dial-up to resort marketing at Intrawest? Steven:I got to Intrawest in a very roundabout way. I came from interactive advertising and most recently worked at an agency called Mondo Robot in Boulder that worked with Steamboat (an Intrawest resort). As an avid skier I really loved the work and creating web experiences for a brand I personally love and for a place where I am happy to spend my own money. I ended up having lunch with an Intrawest employee and I let him know I’d love to be able to work at Intrawest if there was ever to be a suitable position for me. Given my unique background there wasn’t really a specific job title already in place for me, but he was able to get me hired and together we were able to create a job for me that blended advertising, marketing, and tech. Gregg: Would you consider yourself an early adopter? And, given your title's combination of marketing and technology, how much of that is baked into who you are and how much of that is about keeping up professionally with trends? Steven:I would call myself an early-experimenter. There is so much stuff out there these days and so many failed Kickstarters that I would be broke if I invested in every new thing that came out. There is so much interesting going on that no matter what field I worked in I would be keeping up with tech. I read Hacker News and Ars Technica daily, and read and contribute to a number of tech-oriented Slack groups. I’m currently obsessed with the https://jamstack.org/ and the possibilities it opens up for modern flexible web development with smaller in-house teams. Gregg: On that note, what first drew you to things technology like Amazon Alexa. And at what point did you realize Alexa could be a platform for resorts? Steven:The Alexa idea came from an article I read right after Thanksgiving that estimated over 8 million devices were sold in the US. The friends and co-workers I asked that I knew had Alexas LOVED them, so it was a no-brainer to take a look at what would take to get skiers to add to their flash briefings and integrate the app into their morning routines. alexa2 I didn’t have an Alexa at the time, so I downloaded a simulator and got to creating a very basic “hello world” app and shared it with some people. I learned a lot about the usage patterns “voice vs clicks” and what is the right balance of information to communicate via voice. Based on feedback from co-workers and friends the text we wanted to speak was modified maybe a dozen times before we landed on what we ending up liking and ultimately releasing. Once we decided upon the ways in which Alexa would speak, we created Alexa specific JSON feeds using data from our custom snow/weather/lift/trail/activity reporting tool QuickTrax Alerts. From there it was pretty easy to link those feeds to specific Alexa apps and submit to the app store, very similar to the iOS app submission process. Gregg: The app was built internally, then? Was it just you or who else got involved? Steven:The Alexa aspects were created here, but the Alexa specific JSON data feeds were created by a contractor that we often use for smaller scale development needs. I created the app, but I involved as many people as I could to get feedback on the content. Gregg: From downloading the simulator and submitting to their app store, about how long did it take? Steven:About 4 weeks of off-again, on-again work. Gregg: You mentioned finding the right balance of information to communicate and finding the right text to speak, can you walk through that process a bit and talk about what you ultimately ended up going with and why? Steven:The process was pretty organic. We use Slack to communicate across our many resorts so I would take a stab at what Alexa would say, put it in Slack, get feedback. Adjust, Get feedback, adjust, and so on. I leaned heavily on the feedback from those co-workers who own and use their Alexas to help determine what is natural. We ultimately ended up with the following statement:
"New snow in the last 24 hours totals 10 inches. High of 32 degrees today with Cloudy skies. Current Surface Conditions are Spring. 127 trails open.”
We landed on this statement by focusing on a statement that read naturally and provided what a skier would need in order to decide whether or not to head up to the mountain that day.
Gregg: It works with all Intrawest resorts then? Give me an example of the commands you can say to Alexa. Steven:Yep, all 6. It’s considered a “Flash Briefing,” so there is no interaction other than Alexa’s standard: “What’s my Flash Briefing.” We wanted it to be part of the Alexa user’s morning routine. Get the news from NPR, Local Weather, Mountain Information, Stocks etc… We wanted the user to be able to add it once and be able to hear it every day, instead of having to remember custom interactions. Usage would be much lower if users had to ask: “Alexa open Winter Park Snow Report”, then “Alexa Trails Open,” or “Alexa Weather at Winter Park Resort.” Gregg: Any initial results you'd be okay sharing or initial feedback now that it's out in the wild? How has it paired with your goals or expectations going in? Steven:We haven’t really advertised the feature this season, so pickup amongst Alexa users was mainly organic. Given the time invested we are quite happy with the results so far. Gregg: Let's wrap up with a final question I think you're as well-suited to answer as anyone and that is the advantages of being a marketer who can write code. Would this app exist if you weren't both a marketer (to see the opportunity) and a developer (to act on that opportunity) without having to pitch it as just an idea, get budget, find a developer, go back and forth with them (instead of someone internal), etc.? Steven:The app might still exist, it might just have taken a bit longer to get buy-in on a budget. Intrawest is very open to new ideas like this and has really adapted a fail fast approach to efforts like these. However, given the fact this fell within my ability and interest levels, it was a no-brainer to hack on this during periods of downtime to see what we could come up with. With tech changing so quickly if you can’t dive in and experiment you are going to miss opportunities. Intrawest realizes this and gives us great leeway in experimenting with new tech to understand how they might benefit our customers.

The origins of Origin.

March 1, 2018
Gregg: MJ, Danielle, let's start at the beginning before Origin was a thing. Where were each of you and what were you doing? Danielle: I came to Whistler in 1991, shortly after graduating from university to “ski for a season” and take a job in the marketing department of Tourism Whistler. I was a designer, writer, marketing coordinator…I did a bit of everything…just like most marketing people in DMOs do. The contacts that I met working for a large member-based organization like that made it easy for me when I decided to go out on my own three years later. I started Origin in my spare bedroom doing pretty much what I’d been doing at TW. MJ: I did my degree in marketing at Concordia University in Montreal and was lucky enough to get picked by my marketing professor to do an internship in his agency when I was just 18 years old. That lead to a full time job working in that agency and going to school at night to finish my degree. It was an amazing experience to be working and studying for those 4 years and having that experience upon graduation. Gregg: So when did MJ and Danielle become MJ and Danielle? Danielle: Within a couple years I had four or five staff, but we were still very much a Whistler-based business, then a feisty Quebecer rolled into town in a beater car with her snowboarder boyfriend, weaseled her way into an interview through a friend, lied to me about her age because she thought I’d take her more seriously if I didn’t know she was only like 16…or something like that. ;) Anyway, I hired her. After she’d worked at Origin for about 20 minutes I knew she’d likely own my business some day. MJ: When that ski bum boyfriend of mine convinced me to move to Vancouver, I found Danielle fairly quickly upon arriving. It was exactly my dream - to live and work in Whistler and apply my marketing background to an agency that was focused on the outdoors. I did lie about my age, and I kinda still do. Gregg: Love it. What year are we talkin' here? MJ: I started working with Danielle in 1998 or 1999. Gregg: Who is Origin working with at this point and what kind of work were you doing for them? Danielle: We were working for several local activity operators, real estate developers, etc (it was the 90’s in Whistler after all), and we were working for Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. The eventual merger of those two companies under Intrawest, and their flurry of resort acquisitions and other businesses like real estate development, golf course management, retail and rental operations in resorts around North America opened some incredible doors for us. Gregg: MJ, what was your role back then? MJ: My first official role I think was "production manager", coordinating, negotiating printing and helping Danielle to run the studio as she was still doing art direction and design back then. We realized very quickly that there were opportunities beyond the graphic design and studio demands for more marketing planning, brand creative and helping clients with various marketing problems. Gregg: How did Origin and those skills and Whistler fit into all that was happening? Danielle: Whistler was seen as a destination that had a magic formula, and we were seen as the agency that understood that, so our credibility was really high. Artificially high probably. But we’re smart, ;) and we learned fast and took a fake-it-til-you-make it approach. It was a few years before I realized that we actually did have real experience and expertise to offer. MJ: We also realized within a year or two that there was some wow factor with a Whistler-based firm. That, by virtue of Origin's location and our connection to the mountains, other resorts and other non-Whistler clients were interested in us. One of our first bigger contracts came with the (then) Intrawest Retail Group based in Golden Colorado. That lead to work with Colorado Ski Country which lead to work with other non-Whistler based resort and mountain-sport accounts.
Gregg: You're making this sound entirely too easy. MJ: Well, we had a lot of hurdles. But, I think they're the same hurdles any young business would have. We needed to understand not just how to manage a business and try to be profitable, but how to build a culture that would attract and retain the best creative and strategic talent in difficult locations, how to manage budgets and cash flow, how to stay on top of marketing trends and innovation. One hurdle for us was technology. We have an office in Whistler and one in Montreal, our team is separated by 5,000km's (that's a lot of miles) and our clients are all over the map, so in the early days, that sucked. We weren't exactly faxing briefs across the country but almost. We’ve come a long way. We invested a lot, and I think today we probably have one of the most sophisticated dispersed team technology systems out there. It works for our staff, but also for our clients. Danielle: We also have children. Are there any bigger hurdles. ;-) Mine came first, and MJ’s later, but it occurs to me that we don’t often talk about being mothers of babies and young children in the early days of our business. That, frankly, might have been some of our biggest struggles—trying to be good moms and good business owners AND good outdoor adventurers. The mountain version of supermom syndrome means you also have to keep up your skiing/snowboarding/mountain biking/travelling quota. As if just getting dinner on the table isn’t enough. Gregg: Did the fact you were women ever play a role in other ways? MJ: One thing we didn't face was discrimination. I never felt at a disadvantage as a women in a (then) male-dominated industry. We felt at times a bit lonely, looking around the room at NSAA or SIA back then cause we didn't see a ton of women around us in leadership positions. And, at times, I felt I had to speak louder and take a stand but that was fairly easy. It wasn't a "if only I was a man, this would be so much easier" kind of thing. Danielle: I guess this question is apropos for the day, and all of the attention on the #metoo campaign. Interestingly, I don’t ever recall feeling discriminated against. With that said it hasn’t been easy. I think we’d be naive to think that our gender never came into play in this industry. I’m grateful, however, that if it did we were green enough or ambitious enough or optimistic enough to not have been impacted by it. Gregg: You’ve mentioned Whistler a few times. You were based in Whistler, but that’s a big name. How did you end up working with them? Danielle: Oh this is our “Rocky” story! The one where the struggling small town agency takes it to the heavyweight champion and makes it to the big time. OK, that’s maybe a bit dramatic, but I will always remember the celebration in the office the day we secured the Whistler Blackcomb and Tourism Whistler accounts. In the nineties and early 2000s, pre-WB merger, we had been working for both mountains in support of the big-city agencies they used. We were doing production and smaller design jobs here and there, but both resorts were in the big agency stranglehold. We were, at the same time, working in a similar capacity for Tourism Whistler and their agency. In 2004, post WB merger, Tourism Whistler opened up a review for their agency account, and we were invited to pitch.
Gregg: Let me guess...you crushed it? Danielle: In prepping for our pitch, we began thinking about all of the marketing inefficiencies associated with Tourism Whistler, Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain all marketing the destination individually. We developed a creative and strategy pitch that would unite the resort under one brand campaign. Tourism Whistler loved it. They fired their big-city agency, and took our pitch over to Whistler Blackcomb. The heads of both marketing departments agreed it was great work, and WB left their big-city agency for Origin soon after. While the “one Whistler” campaign only endured for a year, the notion of creative continuity and collaboration between Whistler’s DMO and the resort has really endured since. The benefit to us working for both parties has really served us all well. Gregg: That's awesome. Whistler has been through a lot of changes over the years, how has Origin ebbed and flowed along the way? Danielle: The great thing about having a client like Whistler Blackcomb, with a marketing focus like they have, is that it really pushes us to be on the leading edge of marketing trends in the industry. They’ve always been really receptive of the ideas and strategies we’ve brought to them over the years, and many times they were pushing us as well. This culture of theirs has been consistent with them, regardless of their ownership. I think Whistler Blackcomb is a really desirable place for marketers to make a career, so they have consistently had savvy people in those roles which have made the ownership irrelevant to us. It’s early days with the Vail ownership, so it’s hard to tell how that will impact the work we do with Whistler Blackcomb, but certainly, the marketing and branding leadership at that resort continues to be extremely strong and progressive. I’m confident they’ll continue to be leaders in the industry as they have to date. Gregg: Has Origin’s model or business or culture changed as well? MJ: We've had moments when our team looked quite different from what it does today. That had to do with client shifts and economic realities, but mostly with the marketing landscape shifting and our desire to be at the forefront of content from the early stage. We went from having no video capabilities in house to having a full team of 4 to 5 full-time experts. We went from having many traditional graphic designers to a smaller team of digital-first designers. From having one strategist to having a team of account strategists as we realized that's what our clients needed and craved. We didn't have a perfect number for our size (and we still don't) but we do have the desire to make sure we can be nimble and react yet still have the team in-house to do great work and have impact in our clients' businesses. Gregg: Speaking of size, why is Origin the size it is? Why is it still focused on outdoors/ski when your talents clearly could fit elsewhere? MJ: It's because we take it seriously. It's not just the idea that we want to merge our passions with our profession, but the idea that our business is about "inspiring people to play outside". As business owners, we take that seriously, we've committed to our staff, we've committed to ourselves that this is what Origin is going to be really good at. We're spending all day everyday understanding what makes outdoor enthusiasts click, what they care about, what they respond to. The size of the clients is less relevant than the ability to answer "does working with this client allow us to fulfil our vision?" If the answer is yes, we're going to consider it. If the answer is "not really", we're going to pass. One of my biggest learnings in my career (and it happened early on) was the power of saying no. Saying no to clients that did not fit with our vision, saying no to working with assholes, saying no to work that we couldn't be proud of. It sounds counter-intuitive when you're starting a new business but I credit those "no's" as how we've been able to stay in this niche and continue to love it. Gregg: When you started to land big clients like Whistler, were you ever tempted to go even bigger? Did you ever try? MJ: It really depends on how you see it. For me, when I started the Montreal office, I had a list of my dream clients on the wall and worked my ass off to try to get anywhere near those. We got super lucky in getting to work with Jay Peak early on (who was on the top of that list). Then we started working with The North Face, Salomon and more recently, Lululemon and Mountain Equipment Co-op (The Canadian REI). For us, those are "big" wins. But, outside the niche, we never pitched Audi or tried to work with Pepsi, no. Gregg: So when you look at all the areas you work in, what's next? For example, what do you see as the future of the outdoor experience? MJ: There are a few key things that most of your readers are already likely aware very of. This includes the notion that story and cause are as important in a customer's choice of a vacation destination or a new jacket. The fact that our biggest opportunities are with urban-dwelling outdoor consumers who weren't raised on traditional outdoor activities and don't consider themselves "outdoorsy" yet they enjoy activities that take them outside. And these new motivators (Socialization, competition, fitness) drive these consumers more than a connection with nature or a passion for the outdoors. And, finally, let’s face it; the outdoor industry has historically been about white guys, and a lot of outdoor marketing doesn’t reflect the make-up of modern society. This has resulted in an industry that can feel elitist and un-inclusive to those that don’t look like the “typical” outdoor athlete. Traditional ethnic, gender and body-image norms in the outdoor industry alienate a massive number of potential customers, and wise brands are working to make the outdoors more inviting and inclusive to all.
Gregg: What does that mean for marketing? Danielle: We’ve also spent quite a bit of time thinking about what's next for marketing, and last spring we did presentations on the topic at MTS and NSAA. From very early on, we positioned ourselves at the intersection of strategy and storytelling, and that is squarely about brand building. For us, that means helping our clients tell their best stories in ways that create measurable impact. Over the years we’ve told those stories through a lot of different channels. It started out being about advertising, then it became about our clients’ websites, then it became about social, and then it became about content. Our presentation last spring was called “What Happens After the Content Bubble Bursts”. We’re keeping a really careful eye on that, and we pride ourselves in being nimble enough over the years to always be one step ahead of a trend so we’re giving our clients the best opportunity to not be behind a wave when it crests. With that said, content has a stronghold in the marketing landscape. How content is being used, is what’s changing. We’re seeing content marketing coming back to some of its earliest applications—pre-native advertising. Creating stories for our clients with partners who can amplify reach and build on brand relevance is a place where we see lots of interesting opportunities emerging. Gregg: And, finally, what’s does the future hold for Origin? Danielle: We’ve built Origin to be uniquely well-suited for this newest trend. The difference between us and a video production house, or between us and content developers, or us and web agencies is the strategy we apply. Our marketing and distribution strategists make sure that the stories we’re telling are making it to the consumer in the most rewarding and innovative way possible. For us, it’s the perfect application for our longtime strategy and storytelling position to come to life.

Turning challenges into marketing opportunities.

February 15, 2018
Gregg: Troy, a few years ago you were running point on many things at NSAA. Today, you're approaching 2.5 years at Sunlight. Give it to us straight: how have these first couple seasons gone? Troy: Straight up, I feel very fortunate that things have fallen into place as well as they have. There's a list of friends to thank for their help in making some good things happen in these past couple of years. Not everything you work on in your career is going to blossom as you hope it might, so when things come together, even a little bit, you feel pretty lucky. I took the job in October, so I was squarely behind the eightball most of that first season. The to-do list is a long one, and I'm only now starting to feel like I'm getting more comfortably ahead of it. Gregg: Harder than you expected? Troy: It's funny because things I thought would be easy to get done took longer than expected yet some other efforts fell into place in just a few phone calls and emails. Coming into the job one of the top items on the to-do list was to update the snow stake. It's ski marketing 101 stuff, right? I saw this as something we could get done in three weeks but it's actually taken more like three seasons. In one of our first manager's meetings, I put it out to the group that the marketing department would pay a decent wage to anyone willing to design and build a new snow stake. I'm “the new guy” and only the crickets outside responded to that offer. Finally last season our Assistant GM, also a very skilled cabinet builder, built us a new snow stake. We made a few modifications this year. It's not as fancy as Loveland's or Telluride's, but it's functional and better represents the brand. Gregg: Anything come together easier? Troy: Take something like the Sunny 700 or Mini-Mayor, and those are campaigns that fell together pretty easily. It doesn't always happen that way but it's what I love about working on this scale. You can get things done in under six emails and a phone call, and no meetings. The job at NSAA was a tremendous opportunity for me, I draw from that experience every day. But by their nature, industry organizations navigate more like ocean liners, whereas here at Sunlight we can steer around more like a jet ski. It's super fun. https://twitter.com/Troy_Hawks/status/808708144889270272 Gregg: Talk more about your experience at NSAA and what role that played? Troy: NSAA was a high-functioning place. A lot of big things got done without a lot of staff or resources, so that's a key skill that carries over to the task of marketing a small ski area. Also as you know Gregg, some of the colleagues that we work with in this industry are so focused, massively productive, and good at what they do, that it naturally causes us to raise the bar on our own work product. That inspiration stays with me. It makes you work hard on what you're putting out there, but it can also cause some sleepless nights and even mild embarrassment when you know the snow stake is looking crappy, or when something comes out looking a little clunky. Gregg: What specifically about that time served you well once you were at a resort? Troy: I continue to work with friends that I met through NSAA some 13 years ago. In addition to value of networking, there's the education. At rough estimate I'd say I sat in 120-140 marketing related sessions during my time at NSAA, so there are many takeaways from those sessions that I continue to draw from. Sometimes it's specific tools or resources that I learned of, or just little reminders on facts like mom's (or kids) are most often the decision-makers of the family, and that hardcore powderhounds actually only makeup a small percentage of the people on the slopes. We're facing a less-than-average snow year so far this year, but for the many beginner and intermediate skiers and riders that visited us over the Christmas Holiday, our conditions were just fine and they walked away happy customers. So while we as a staff were bummed that we didn't have more powder days, we're reminded that our out-of-state guests didn't necessarily notice or care, so you focus on celebrating what you do have. Gregg: That perspective definitely shows including some of your recent efforts. Walk me through. Troy: Mini-Mayor would not be if it weren’t for a local dad that posted a 20 second video of his four-year old son asking Sunlight to open early for the season. I saw the post around 7 that night, and I remember waking up at 3:30 a.m. the next morning saying, “That’s it, Mini-Mayor!” https://twitter.com/Josh_j_Mattson/status/665558036212150272 One reason why I think it worked particularly well for Sunlight is that our GM is also a County Commissioner. He keeps it on the down-low – at as much as you can keep something like that on the down-low - and our guests are pretty courteous not to pester him on the issues when they see him at the ski area. But there was already this loose connection to government and politics so when we announced that we had appointed our first Mini-Mayor, our fans really got it. At least locally, I think it sort of came off as a hybrid “mini me.” Gregg: What about the Sunny 700? Troy: The Sunny 700 was a longer evolution. Originally I wanted to call it Todd’s Pass, named after one of Sunlight’s primary owners who is in his 50s and retired. As you can imagine, the World is pretty much Todd’s oyster at Sunlight. He has his own bar stool and he’s not afraid to ask guests to vacate it when he comes around. I guess you’d call it a lingering legacy issue. Anyway, Todd lives large at the resort, and that’s what really got me contemplating a day pass that offered more than just skiing. That idea was further validated at the 2016 NSAA Convention when a speaker mentioned that the Ritz Carlton often promoted package offerings that weren’t necessarily intended to drive tremendous sales, but rather they were put together more for PR purposes, highlighting the possibilities at the resort. Gregg: How much did the unique nature and location of Sunlight play into the success of both? Troy: Clearly being located in the beautiful Colorado Rockies in between Vail and Aspen helped folks connect with the story behind the World’s most expensive lift ticket. Some folks really identify with underdog-type storylines. Gregg: Any key takeaways? Troy: Key to the whole thing was hiring a very good and accomplished PR person who had a keen sense of timing. I think that if we had rolled it one month sooner, or one month later, it may not have gotten picked to the extent that it did. We actually enjoyed even more exposure this season when we unveiled the new graphics for the Sunny 700s. It’s been so much fun seeing this campaign come together. We proudly display the skis and newspaper clippings in the bar not far from where Todd sits. https://twitter.com/skisunlight/status/958851388133404673 Gregg: Let's wrap up with a quick open mic for any ideas or feedback from these first two years we haven't hit yet. Troy: Well I'd definitely extend an open invitation to marketers at other small ski areas to sit down and compare notes on third-party ticket sellers. You really have to keep a close eye on these guys. Collective bargaining might serve small ski areas well in this regard. Finding an updated and affordable POS system is also a challenge we're facing, as are other small ski areas in our state. The annual "support fee" alone adds up to a heck of a lot of lift ticket sales that you're giving up year-after-year just to keep the thing running. Yet at the same time, I know an updated POS would enable us to do better business overall with our guests. Small ski areas doing better business from a technological standpoint is in the interest of the industry as a whole, it helps us all provide a great experience to our skiers and riders and stay better connected with them. Gregg: Great points, any others? Troy: I think NSAA's Sustainable Slopes Grant Program is a great campaign that has helped small ski areas update snowmaking infrastructure and create greater energy efficiencies throughout the resort. I continue to think there may be opportunity to expand this type of campaign to assist small ski areas in tackling investments in other areas such as POS, lifts, maybe even rental equipment and so on. Pay-to-play ski and outdoor media is also a challenge, and a particular aggravation given that I came to this position with a journalism background. Small ski areas don't win at this exploitation simply because we can not afford to pay to have our story shared. We're very thankful for the remaining "free media" that exists including our local newspapers and their support, independent bloggers, as well as the blog that our state ski association maintains, and also our local DMO's for the support they provide in helping us share our story.

From the Appalachian Trail to Sugarloaf’s Slopes

January 30, 2018
Enjoy. This interview was part of a series called Roots I ran over the course of 2-3 years.

Great design helps Cannonsburg rise above.

January 11, 2018
Gregg: Marc, in a short paragraph, tell me a little bit about your history with design, video, etc. and the ski industry. In other words, how did you get to where you are today? Marc: Yikes! It's a long story, but I'll try and keep it as brief as possible... My passion for both design and snowsports began early on and by high school I had a solid idea that I would eventually combine the two into a career one day. I attended summer and fall semester classes at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, MI where I studied Visual Communication / Graphic Design. I took winter semester off to snowboard instruct at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont. A chairlift ride at Stowe eventually led to me getting a foot in the door with what at the time was a small local snowboard company, Rome SDS. When I wasn't packing boxes in a warehouse I did as much design work as I possibly could. One of the designs I submitted to Rome actually ended up becoming the theme of the brand's ad campaign the following year. That pro-bono creative work I did along with one of the key relationships I had created with a guy by the name of Chris Harris at Stowe, got me a call the next year asking if I would be interested in helping to get a new freestyle focused area in Colorado called Echo Mountain off the ground. Since that point on I've been in it pretty deep! I began at Echo Mountain overseeing their ski & ride school and creative and by the end of my five years with the company was involved at some level in their marketing, creative, photography, design, video, photography, terrain parks, events and sponsorships. Having expanded my skill set with Echo I began consulting for my home ski area Cannonsburg back in Michigan, which had just come under new ownership in 2010. After a season of flying back and forth and getting to know the owner, I decided to take a full-time position with them and that's how I ended up where I am today. Gregg: You've done some pretty innovative things, among them are your CAD drawings of terrain park features for contents and events. Talk a little bit about why you take the time to create, and more importantly, share those with Cannonsburg's social followers? Marc: The terrain park CAD drawings starting out as more of a way for me to visualize the things I wanted to create on the snow and communicate them with the rest of the staff as opposed to being a marketing tool. Based on the social media response to the first full course drawing I did, it was obvious that it was going to have to continue from that point forward. Now it has gotten to the point where weeks prior the events at Cannonsburg competitors are asking us to see the course design. It really works on a number of levels. Gregg: You've done similar things with T-shirt design. All the designs are shared on social media and "voted" on. Talk a little about your goals with that initiative? Marc: One of the most valuable things Cannonsburg has going for it now is that the new ownership and management truly values their guest's input. People want to feel like they are part of something and they definitely are here. Being able to share images of our apparel and even our terrain park designs through social media, not only allows us to get our guests input on what they like, but be smarter in how we invest our time and resources. Gregg: I haven't seen many resorts of Cannonsburg's size produce the level of design that you do. As a designer you may be biased, but do you feel that design can help give the ski area some sort of advantage over other hills? Marc: That's a huge compliment, so thanks! The Cannonsburg rebrand was an exciting project for me having so much history with the area and I'm really happy with the way it came out. Design is a lot of what creates a brand's identity and having a solid identity can only be of benefit to any company, especially in snowsports industry where image seems to play such a huge role. By maintaining an identity that your guests can relate to, you're only going to increase brand loyalty and a loyal customer is the best form of advertising there is. Gregg: The move from Colorado to Michigan isn't one you see every day. What marketing challenges does a Michigan ski area face that a Colorado mountain doesn't? And visa-versa? Marc: I'm not sure I ever saw myself coming back either, but I'm happy I did. Surprisingly in my situation working for smaller areas with the same types of goals in both states, the marketing challenges I've faced haven't actually differed that much. Both experiences have sort of been that David and Goliath type scenario though, just trying to take a piece of the business from the mega-resorts. In Michigan, the biggest challenge I've found has been making the most of such a short season. You have to have a solid plan going in and pack as much as you can into those three or four months as possible to make it work. There really isn't much time to adjust mid-season. Gregg: Okay, Marc, time for some prognostication. What do you see the biggest change being in skiing during the next 5-10 years? Marc: I think the biggest change we are going to see in skiing over the next 5-10 years is a generational one. More and more of our guest are growing up with the X-Games and internet. This has made them tech savvy, aware of industry trends and expecting a lot more of their resort experience when they arrive. In ten years this will most likely be the vast majority of snowsports participants. For small areas like Cannonsburg to survive in that environment, they are going to have to be extremely creative and do everything they can to stay on the edge of the curve.

Filling rooms with backcountry skiers…in Vermont.

January 4, 2018
Gregg: Josh, give me a little background on Bolton's location, topography, and why it's such a perfect fit for a backcountry product like this? Josh Arneson: Backcountry skiing goes back to the roots of Bolton Valley. Edward Bryant started skiing this land in 1922, well before the first lifts opened in 1966. As the name implies, resort is actually in a valley. The resort grew with lift served skiing on one side of the valley, while the opposite side remained untouched backcountry offering over 1200 acres of terrain. The mountain is just 30 minutes to Burlington making the backcountry easily accessible to locals. In addition, all the lodging at the resort is walking distance to the lifts and to the backcountry trailhead. With the new programs we aim to open accessibility to the backcountry.
Gregg: And the people? What’s the clientele like? Josh Arneson: Many people have never tried backcountry skiing, but would like to, and others have dabbled but know they need more pointers. Our Saturday educational programs are geared toward these skiers. Sunday will be a longer tour open to anyone and should be attractive to folks who are experienced in the backcountry but who would like a guided introduction to the land. We have already seen people booking vacations with us because they can have a convenient and educational backcountry experience while still being able to spend some time riding lifts, all while sleeping in a hotel that is walking distance to both. Gregg: Adam, talk a little more about this. You've been skiing Bolton for a long time. What’s your perspective on Bolton’s backcountry scene? Adam DesLauriers: I've definitely been skiing Bolton for a long time. Though I have to confess that during my twenties, when I was personally discovering backcountry skiing, I was actually living in Lake Tahoe, California. So the growing interest in it that I was witnessing at first, was basically in line with my own motives - in that there was clearly so much more beautiful terrain to be explored and skied beyond alpine ski area boundaries. As it became possible to travel in the backcountry with equipment that didn't substantially affect downhill performance, it was a no-brainer for me that's where I wanted to go. So when I moved back to Vermont full time and started having kids around 2003/2004, I had the equipment and I knew the area, so I jumped into it here at Bolton Valley to then discover that there were a surprising number of passionate backcountry skiers and riders all over the place in Vermont too. And it's for pretty much all the same reasons I got interested in the backcountry as well. The skiing was great! https://twitter.com/BoltonValley/status/943497571682738177 Gregg: What makes now the right time to start this? Adam DesLauriers: There was always a passion around Bolton for cutting and maintaining great backcountry terrain when Gardiner Lane and his crew were forging through the wilderness in the late '60's into the early '90's - a legacy that still totally thrives among the "Friends of Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry" organization. But in my opinion, the growth in popularity has come with technological advancements in touring equipment during the past 20 years especially. It's appealing to a different and larger market that is more experienced alpine skiers and snowboarders looking to get to different terrain in exciting locations. As that interest has grown, so has the visibility of the sport and therefore the appeal to less experienced alpine skiers and riders. The equipment I just ordered literally day before yesterday for our Dynafit demo and rental center is lighter, more stable and supportive, and with pivoting toe-pieces and proper DIN settings, safer than anything up to this point. Gregg: Gear opportunities aside, Adam, does the lack of avalanche danger and other concerns create more opportunities for safe backcountry skiing than in the west? Adam DesLauriers: Here at Bolton though, we have zero avalanche danger because all our backcountry is heavily forested. If just the right conditions exist, there could be some sluffing or settling in some of the steeper chutes, but there’s just not enough open area or sustained pitch for any real amount of snow to build enough mass or momentum to be dangerous. So in that sense, yes, it’s definitely safer to go in the backcountry in many parts of the east. However, there are other dangers unique to forested areas. Especially in less managed backcountry areas, there could be the possibility of downed trees lying across what would otherwise be a nice open glade. Lodging a ski underneath one of those can and has resulted in boot-top fractures or even busted femurs in worse cases. And that’s when you run into probably the biggest concern for us in Vermont and the Northeast especially, which is the cold. Gregg: What do you do to address that aspect? Adam DesLauriers: Clothing and other preparations for cold weather are definitely a big part of what we try to account for safety-wise. Personally, I just keep my gore-tex bivy and an extra down jacket in my pack always. The temperatures can drop fast and dramatically in Vermont and it’s surprisingly easy to get lost. Cell coverage is never a sure thing, it’s usually difficult to see the lay of the land because you’re mostly in the trees, and the Green Mountains are made up of lots of steep narrow valleys that make them tricky to navigate. Many times, between the cloud coverage and the trees, it’s hard to even tell where the sun is in the sky. Gregg: Adam, talk a little bit more about the difference between East and West. You fell in love with backcountry in Tahoe even though you'd grown up at Bolton. Adam DesLauriers: One thing I can say with absolute certainty is that East Coast backcountry skiers are as psyched about it as West Coasters are. There’s certainly no denying that east coast terrain and west coast terrain are different. We don’t have open faces and big high peaks backed up one after the other. So obviously some folks will point that out when comparing the two. But we have plenty of steeps and drops and technical terrain that can challenge anyone. And in the backcountry especially, we have beautiful snow and lots of it. As the backcountry movement keeps growing in the East, and more people are committed to making it available, we’ve also got more terrain to choose from every year. So while it isn’t the same as summiting a 14000’ peak and getting a 6000’ descent, it’s definitely strikingly beautiful and it’s great skiing and it’s right here in our back yard. Gregg: Josh, talk a bit more about rentals. Does that perception impact how many people have or buy their own gear? How big of a role are rentals in getting people in the backcountry? Josh Arneson: There is a core set of people that have their own backcountry touring gear. But, there is also a population of people who would like to try backcountry skiing before they commit to purchasing equipment. Until this season our on-site backcountry rental fleet was pretty limited. The addition of new equipment from Dynafit will allow the alpine skier to more easily transition to backcountry equipment, right on site. Our goal is to reduce the friction and increase trial of the sport of backcountry skiing, providing quality rental equipment that is available onsite, coupled with introductory classes will help us achieve that goal. Gregg: When you look at this program, what kind of opportunities do you see for actually driving revenue for the resort? Josh Arneson: Skiers looking to access our terrain need either a Nordic season pass or a Nordic day ticket, and we have a core base of folks who have been accessing our terrain this way for years. The addition of educational programs, tours, and rental equipment opens the experience up to more people. The tours are great for established backcountry skiers who just want to become more familiar with the land. The educational programs and rental equipment allow novice backcountry skiers to try it out. We'll see direct revenue from all of these programs. We have already booked some vacations where access to these programs was the motivating factor. In addition to people solely motivated by these programs we expect to see an increased trial rate from both locals and overnight guests. We view the access that we provide to backcountry terrain coupled with the programs, tours, and rentals as a unique selling point for Bolton Valley. Because this is an experience that is not offered by any of our competitors in quite the same way, we feel we have a great opportunity to set Bolton apart.

The resort photographer with a license to drone.

December 14, 2017
Gregg: Kaela, tell us a little bit about you, your background, and how you ended up at Angel Fire. Kaela: Well, I grew up in Minnesota, went to school for cinema production, and started my career as a photojournalist for a local news station. Eventually I moved to Albuquerque, NM for a photojournalist gig, discovered Angel Fire while participating in the 2015 Shovel Races, and here I am! Gregg: Talk a little bit about more your role as photographer/ videographer. What does a typical day look like and how much time do you spend on photo vs video? Kaela: It really depends on the project, but at the end of the day it’s pretty even between photo and video projects. A typical day starts early to take advantage of the prime conditions: golden hour, fresh pow and corduroy in the winter, and hero dirt in the summer. Then it’s taking the shots back to the office to create a coherent, interesting story out of the mishmash! Then it's right into planning the next shoot. Gregg: Talk about the drone side of capture. How often do you use a drone to get shots and did you have any experience flying drones before starting at Angel Fire? Kaela: The drone is a really cool tool to have in my arsenal. I had only flown a drone a couple of times before Angel Fire, just recreationally, but now that I’m licensed, I try to use it at least once during every shoot. It adds a completely different perspective to all the action. Gregg: Speaking of license, what was the process to do so and why did you decide to take that step? Kaela: I had to be licensed for the resort to even consider letting me fly a drone on the property - the resort is a no-fly zone and doesn’t allow drones unless the pilot is properly certified. The certification process involved passing the FAA’s Airman Knowledge Test, which includes everything from recognizing weather patterns to understanding how to read aeronautical charts. So for someone with little to no previous aeronautical knowledge (like me), it meant a lot of studying!

A post shared by Kaela Jordan Media (@kaelajordanmedia) on

Gregg: That's awesome. It sounds like some of the content may have not have been quite as useful for your situation, but overall did you feel the training helped once you got behind the controls? Kaela: Definitely! I feel that I’m a more capable and safe pilot now that I understand the rules and regulations involved with using a drone in airspace. Gregg: Have a few favorite stills or videos you've captured since then you're most proud of? Kaela: Yes! The snowmaking shots (that got your attention) were pretty amazing to me, since I’ve never seen Angel Fire Resort’s (or any) snowmaking from that view. https://twitter.com/AngelFireResort/status/932673829507293190 Gregg: Any advice for resort marketers or photographers/videographers thinking of adding a drone to their arsenal? Kaela: For any visual media person considering getting a drone: It adds such a powerful and unique perspective to any project,and your audience will be instantly wow’ed. Just please know your stuff - one dumb move affects all of us!

On the power of paint over pixels.

December 7, 2017
SlopeFillers: Let's just start with some background on you and the maps your create. James: The use of the trail map is first and foremost to get skiers and riders around the Mountain - as clearly as possible. Now, that being said, then a simple line diagram with trail names and difficulty should be adequate. And in some cases that is exactly what is used. But this image is seen by most every skier on the mountain and it is pulled out by many after the day over a beer and the day's skiing is retraced with enthusiastic descriptions, both good and bad. It is what is pulled up on a resort's site to dream about the next ski trip, and become a factor in deciding which resort is the next vacation. It's getting away for a day on the Mountain, enjoying not only the sport of skiing or riding but the scenery, which deliver the exhilaration that comes with the great outdoors and a run down the mountain. Therefore it is beneficial to highlight these attributes with the trail map, which is getting the most impressions of any promotional image the resort may put out. The more attractive the image the more good feelings are touched upon and provide a "tug". I have used a phrase that I believe is very true. "A quality trail map image reflects a quality ski resort experience." Yes, I use the computer, but only to reproduce the image and make some color adjustments once the hand painted image is rendered. Why not use the computer to render the image? One very important reason - Nature is very intricate and diverse, best represented in the free rendering of the brush. The computer image is limited and repetitive delivering not only a less than effective interpretation of nature but is most connected with the work place and office, the place that one is getting away from. Well, maybe that is two reasons - along with other creative and productive factors that I will not get into here. SlopeFillers: James, it's hard to ski anywhere in the country without seeing your signature in the corner of a map. How and when did you get started doing resort maps and what was your first one? James: My first full trail map was Boreal, California, a small ski area on Donner Pass, in 1988. I had made contact with Bill Brown and produced the inset image of The Back Side of Mary Jane for Winter Park, Colorado. I made slides of this image and mailed them out to all the West's Resorts, from which Boreal was the first response. I had a full time job and would get up at 3 AM to paint before going to work at 8AM. I was so excited about it I couldn't wait to get up, sometimes waking at 2 AM! SlopeFillers: Since you started producing maps, what would you say has been the biggest change in the ski industry that you have witnessed from your unique perspective? James: Changes in the Ski Industry? Well, my unique service doesn't put me in touch with the total workings of the resort so I'm not inclined to venture an opinion. But, in the print industry great changes have affected the way I work and deliver the product to the client. During my first years a 4 piece film separation was make with filters through the graphic camera lens They were Magenta, Yellow, Cyan and Black. Each film was burned onto a metal plate and put on a print press where it was registered to the other colors by hand in most cases. There was limited color correction and a person would need to put each film on a light box to opaque out dust images with a brush. To make it more feasible for the client, who usually worked with a local printer, I would send them the 8x10inch transparency and the printer would have the films pulled. A graphic artist would actually have the trail names typeset and would paste them up on a mylar layer over the image. If the words needed to be curved a cut would be made between each letter and the glued or waxed letters would be bent and pressed into position. Each line was drawn with a technical ink pen and if you wanted dashes an exacto knife would scrape the ink off. Register marks were a must to align the various layers. Today the software like Adobe Illustrator in the hands of a good graphic artist does all of this in minutes as compared to hours. Then there is the transmission of files. I used mail and Fed-X, now I use the internet, cutting time and expense. Yes, the computer has made the biggest change in the last twenty years but it still isn't the best way to paint scenery....at least not in my opinion! SlopeFillers: I've got to ask, what was your job previous to do maps and why did painting trail maps pique your interest? James: I was a partner of a two man advertising agency in Grand Junction Colorado. My forte was the graphics side. Prior to that I set up and oversaw an inhouse print shop for an after-market auto instrument manufacturer SlopeFillers: From your point about technology, do you ever worry that technology will replace talent? Types of photographs that took hours to produce can now be achieved with an iPhone and a simple app and suddenly it seems those types of pictures aren't quite as cool anymore. Do you ever worry that the intricacies of hand painted trail maps will be lost when computers can begin to render something that appears "hand painted"? James: The short answer....YES. I may very well be the last artist to paint trail maps by hand, but I certainly hope not. A lot will be lost, the mind is still more adaptable and creative in presentation. I can stretch, bend, turn or twist parts of the mountain individually without affecting other elements...and it is almost instantaneous in my mind....just practice. It is yes because the computer imagery is more and more "accepted" by the general public, especally since GoogleEarth (which is far from the ultimate representation of terrain)...and not all that accurate. But people looking at it believe it is. GoogleEarth has lowered the bar by making cartography seem easy. But one of the marks of great cartography is to quickly educate the viewer to a full understanding of the terrain, which I think I do better! SlopeFillers: I think millions of skiers would agree with you, James.

From behind-the-scenes to in-the-spotlight.

November 30, 2017
Gregg: Kelsey, give us your quick story. What's your background and how did you end up at Mount Snow? Kelsey: I always loved being involved in the media world, whether it was directing, writing, or editing. My passion got started from doing the middle school morning announcements, before later going on to study Television-Radio in college with the intention of working behind the scenes. Just over a year ago, I was working Philadelphia as a video editor, but was dying to move somewhere new with bigger mountains and better skiing. I was a snowboard instructor during the previous winter and really wanted to combine these two worlds. Lucky for me, I was set on Vermont and Mount Snow had a job opening for the Snow Reporter, the perfect job for me to be involved in both of my passions. Gregg: That's awesome, but also interesting that you hadn't really planned on being in front of the camera. Has that been harder or different than you expected? Kelsey: I definitely didn’t plan on it, but I had a little bit of experience just from trying out every part of the field. I was nervous about being on camera at first, but it came very natural to me after a short time, mainly because I’m talking about a subject that I get so excited about. I love talking about snow, and skiing, and Mount Snow so that definitely helped with the nerves I experience at first.
Gregg: Any tips or advice for snow reports who don't have your background but end up on camera this winter? Kelsey: Let your passion for the sport show. It’s my greatest advantage on camera because when people see how excited I am to ski or ride on the mountain, they get excited as well. At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing...getting people stoked to be out here! Gregg: So true. Talk a bit more about your process, Kelsey. With your background, what are you involved with for each video behind the scenes? Kelsey: Last year, I was essentially doing everything solo, from writing the script, to filming myself using a tripod, to then editing the Mount Snow Minute complete with B roll I shot throughout the week. This year, I have another set of hands helping, Aurora Hooper, who is our new snow reporter for the written reports and has a photography background. It’s obviously made it a lot easier! I still get to write the script and be on camera, but she is there to help me film, in addition to her collecting B roll during the week and then editing the final video.
Gregg: Wow, that's full Casey Neistat level work. Impressive! How frequently were you creating videos last year? Are you planning to up the volume this year given the help from Aurora? Kelsey: Last year we did one weekly, and so far that’s the plan for this year. It does help having two people because it’s only made our production quality even better, but I think our videos highlight what’s going on during that week really well, and we wouldn’t want to decrease quality for more content. I image when there’s a powder day or something extra special going on, then we would cover that as well. Gregg: Speaking of production value, that's something I think you've done really well at even with challenges like snowmaking behind you or bright sun reflecting off the snow. Was there a tough learning curve with not just shooting/editing video and capturing audio, but doing so on snow? Kelsey: Thank you! I’ve definitely faced a lot of different challenges filming outside, and I won’t lie…I’ve had to reshoot things because of that learning curve. But now that I have the experience, I know how to prep for those conditions. Snowmaking guns are a challenge, but if you stand at a distance with good microphones, it can be done fairly easily. The element that causes the most trouble is the wind, there’s no escape from it!
Gregg: How much of your videos is planned far in advance around events, etc. and how much is whatever that week gives you? For example, I noticed you used tips from Paul Pabst last year. How did you weave those tips into the rest of your content calendar and strategy? Kelsey: About 50% is planned for events and set things happening around the resort, the other 50% is for the weather and what the snow conditions are. The Paul Pabst tips were a lot of fun because we just asked him to talk about his secrets for taking advantage of all that Mount Snow has to offer, like where to apres, the best place to park, how to avoid lift lines, etc. Some of the tips we saved because we knew they would fit later in the season for something specific (like "spring days are best spent over on Sunbrook", so we saved that for a spring video report), and other’s just naturally went along with what we happened to be covering that week. Gregg: How do you measure the success of any one Mount Snow Minute episode? How important is the view count of any one video? Kelsey: The weather plays a huge part in the success of the videos. We have a number that we usually reach as far as view counts go, but if the weather is awesome, that definitely reflects in how many people will watch. Skiers and riders get excited about the updates, but everyone goes nuts over a powder day. This year’s opening day video was one of our most successful, since we opened earlier than most resorts and offered a lot of terrain immediately. The stoke was definitely high on that one. Gregg: Last question, any specific video from your time at Mount Snow stand out as your favorite? And why? Kelsey: As much as I love some of the powder day videos I made, my blooper reel is my favorite! I saved clips all season long of skiers and riders falling, myself included (while I was trying to film other skiers!) and it was really funny to put them all together at the end of the season. I love to laugh and it still cracks me up every time I watch it.

Building skiing’s greatest web cams.

October 24, 2017
Gregg: I've seen a lot of webcam systems over the last half-decade, but Prism/Violet stands out for good reason. Every web cam is made up of hardware and software, but clearly the Prism's photos are head and shoulders above the rest. Let's start with the hardware. What did you guys do differently that other cams didn't? Brandon: Although Prism is relatively new as a company (incorporated in June 2013). We have actually been in the hardware game quite long. Our first hardware camera was engineered over 8 years ago, 4 prototypes later we built our production unit we call Violet. Violet was always about superior image quality and over the years we have really pushed that envelope. When we built Violet we decided that mass market security cameras would never yield the image results that we desired or were necessary to fulfill our business model, so our hardware mirrors professional photography sensors and glass. Violet is a completely proprietary system and our engineers will not stop until we have images that are in an art gallery. Gregg: Talk more about the software and the use of what appears to be some subtle HDR to enhance images. What is going on behind the scenes to make the most of the images the hardware side is capturing? Brandon: We take a very custom approach to each client and ultimately what the image lighting conditions are. The goal is to have the highest quality image while maintaining trust and transparency for the end viewer. There is a lot we can do to an image to make it perfect, but we focus on ensuring it looks as if you were there. Each camera has custom profile settings that are developed for each field of view and we continue to make refinements and adjustments to manage harsh or perfect lighting conditions. We have made leaps and bounds in the last year with our post production settings and we will continue to make further subtle refinements, the rest is up to mother nature and she has produced some awe-inspiring moments, thus far. (all of these were taken automatically by the same camera in the same location) Gregg: I'm not an expert in photography, but most HDR images seem to work best when they include colors, especially in the lights and darks. Tahoe is blessed with amazing sunrises and a beautiful blue lake, so what can Violet do for a resort that has more overcast days than bluebird? Or a resort that doesn't overlook that kind of vista? Brandon: We have come to a realization early on in the game that we are not for everyone. Prism's entire business model is to inspire travel and help premium brands share the beauty of their experience with the world. We call it dynamic "Place Branding". Every travel experience has a signature shot that over time will tell an incredible content story. We do a significant amount of research and spent a lot of time ensuring we get that shot. Most webcams go up where it is logistically easy to accommodate and to be honest the quality never necessitated a need for the workflow to be image driven. We help our clients use content from Violet for all marketing efforts (i.e Social, digital, print) if we can not find a shot that our clients are not be proud of we are the first to tell them we are probably not the right fit. Gregg: Talk more about this "Signature Shot" you work for. Maybe give me an example from a Tahoe resort and walk me through some of the conversations that were had as you made that decision. Brandon: The majority of our clients are not in the ski industry and never thought about a webcam or considered it apart of their marketing arsenal. This forced us to think like marketers and learn/understand the value of content. The beauty of travel is there is never a lack of inspiration and most good marketeers have already done the work and know what shot best represents their product. We then have a process were we validate their thinking or add to it by developing a storyboard using social and digital insight and understanding how the lighting conditions will change throughout the day and over seasons. We then usually have a list of 2-4 shots we like, from here we work with IT teams and figure out how to make it happen. The Ski Industry is pretty talented at making things happen in difficult logistical conditions so we are excited to see the end result of every camera that gets installed. (more impressive - automated - photos from Diamond Peak) Gregg: Let me jump back a bit to something you said about social integration. I see a lot of photos from Violet's show up in my feeds. With such high quality imagery readily accessible, what have you done to facilitate that sharing - particularly from the brand itself but also from followers? Brandon: Our company tagline is Share Your Place™ so sharing content is a very important element of our business. The consumer can share imagery directly to Facebook or Twitter right from the interface on the clients website. Our back-end web-based system allows our clients and any strategic partners (news media, travel resources etc.) to pull real-time images or images from up to two weeks past. We also take a very pro-active effort to help clients find the best images possible. Prism is a Software as a Service business we continue to put significant development in to this area of our business to make it easier for everyone to find the best content possible and at the most relevant times. Also as we continue to scale we add strategic partners that our clients may not have had the chance without Violet to have sharing imagery through. Our Lake Tahoe clients see imagery shared at local (Tahoe South), regional (Reno Tahoe) and State (Visit California/Travel Nevada) levels. Our clients own the content and have unlimited license use of it and we support and encourage sharing. Gregg: What have the results/feedback been from your ski clients so far? Any metrics or stats you can share? Brandon: We just launched a client-installable model 3 months ago, so prior to that we did all the installations ourselves, which put our focus on California over the last 2 years. As an annual lease model, we have never lost a client and continue to add ski resorts in California. We take a lot of pride in this as we have worked hard to develop new ways to leverage content that is not dictated solely by whether it snows or not. When it is snowing or there is a blue-bird day it is easy to create buzz and engagement. New creative ways all the other times to keep the brand in front of customers is what we strive to accomplish. We are seeing images performing upwards of 200% better then the average content posts and clickthroughs to the camera page as low as .05 cent. Every client is different and we measure and track everything. -- To quickly wrap this up I want to clarify one thing. When Brandon says clickthroughs cost .05 cent, he really does mean 1/20th of a cent. That number is "(camera cost / camera views)" and is not only an incredibly impressive number on it's own, but a very telling stat that they measure to such a granular level and can prove their model so clearly. Definitely worth a look.

An (opening) day in the life at Arapahoe Basin.

October 12, 2017
Adrienne, it's opening day at Arapahoe Basin. Loveland's a few days behind, so it's just you. First in the nation. What time are you waking up and what's the first thing you do? I’ve often compared Opening Day to Christmas – you can barely sleep the night before because you’re so focused on the excitement that the next day brings. I generally get up between 3:00-4:00 a.m., depending on the projected media turnout, and arrive at the Basin around 4:30 a.m. (sometimes earlier, sometimes later but I’m always among the first to arrive – one time I beat Alan by 20 seconds. I was proud of that, he laughed at me J). I shower and lay my clothes out the night before. I even slept in my longs once because I am a chronic “snoozer” and, as such, am rather paranoid about oversleeping. Straighten hair, put on makeup – whatever makes me look most awake! – and immediately get some green tea. My dog usually comes with me to work on Opening Day because it’s a long one. She generally gets out of bed 20 minutes after I do! You finally stop hitting snooze and arrive at the resort. What’s next and about what time is it by now? I like to be on-scene to help our media set up and to troubleshoot any technical issues. If the local affiliates join us, they’re often broadcasting for the morning show, so I take the very early interviews in the 4 and 5 o’clock hours. I also usually let the 6th Alley Mug Club line into the A-Frame building to get warm (yes, Mug Club die-hards routinely beat me to Opening Day! That is dedication, folks). It sounds this opening day timeline starts long before opening day. What’s leading up to this early morning? Opening Day really begins 24-48 hours ahead of time. We don’t have an opening date picked in advance; I’ve had anywhere from three days to exactly 24 hours notice prior to opening. One time, I traveled to Dallas for a media outreach trip, spent the night, and received a call at 9:00 a.m. the next morning telling me to send out a press release then fly back because the Basin was going to open the next day. That was hard work, but working under pressure like that gets me amped. The feeling surrounding Opening Day is simply electric and prepping for it is a rush. Once Mountain Operations make the decision to open, the Marketing team starts spreading the good news. As soon as Alan says “Go,” I’m sending out press releases, coordinating media interviews, setting up media access, updating the website, composing and sending our email newsletter and coordinating/posting about it on our social media. The phone seems to ring the moment I hit “send” (sending a shout out to KOA Radio – they are ON IT!). Our team and Colorado Ski Country also coordinate any video or photography needs. It can be difficult to find professionals to cover opening when the date is up in the air (thankfully, A-Basin’s photographer, Dave Camara, is the absolute best and plans for the “unplan-able” in October). Does practice make perfect with all these moving pieces? When you’ve been doing this for a few seasons, you start to get a pretty good handle on the tasks you need to accomplish. It’s helpful to have draft versions of your messaging as well as your creative collateral all organized in advance. That takes away some of the pressure of the time crunch. And it’s good to get some talking points in your brain, because the first thing you are quoted as saying ultimately ends up being the quote that’s going to be used in every opening day piece nationwide. [Note: yes, I have a story about that.] Story? Let’s hear it. Oh man, it’s embarrassing. I was such an excited puppy my first season, and I went a little overboard on a quote that got picked up in an Associated Press story about Opening Day. I was trying to give credit to our snowmakers, who work incredibly hard but are in general a pretty low-key crew, and in doing so I made a boasting statement that didn’t really fit with who we are at the Basin. While the statement itself was innocuous (I said something like, “We have the best snowmakers in the state, maybe even in the nation”), it totally came off the wrong way. And, of course, it ended up everywhere. It was a humbling experience in learning to balance my genuine enthusiasm for A-Basin and what we do, and understanding how we speak about our operation. So you're at the mountain wrapping up your first interviews. Have you eaten anything yet or are you running solely on green tea? I eat a toasted bagel with cream cheese in my car on the way to the mountain. It’s still dark, so I’m usually blasting some rock music (Tool, Pink Floyd, my ski playlist) on the way to continue the wake-up process. I also bring fruit – a banana or clementines – that I can stuff in a pocket and carry around with me. What else happens before the lifts start spinning? How does the timeline play out? 6:00 a.m.-8:55 a.m. I post on our social media around sunrise to get things rolling. Since I already took the early morning television interviews, Alan takes most of the 7:00-9:00 a.m. slots. I run around coordinating those to make sure everyone gets the time with him that they need. Once the live shots are done, I’ll talk with the newspaper and magazine reporters, and do some live social with them as well. There’s also usually some IT troubleshooting to be done; connectivity can be an issue at 11,000 feet. Before the lift opens, I make sure to take time to swing through both the lift line and the Mug Club line to say hi to some familiar faces. It’s like the Basin comes alive again when those characters are back at the mountain. The crew from Loveland usually stops over for a visit (we’ll go say hi on their opening day, too), and it’s always fun to catch up with those guys. This is also the time when I’ll sneak more food – thankfully, Colorado Ski Country always brings donuts to Opening Day! 8:58 a.m. Most media know the drill, and set up across from where the chair loads to get their shots. Our leadership, lift ops and marketing teams are all there too. 9:00 a.m. (on weekends, 8:30 a.m.) There’s a countdown from 10 and then the lift starts turning. The first chair is always whoever gets there first once we announce – we don’t get involved with any of that. Once we get people on the hill, it’s kind of a relief – it’s this whoosh, this exhale, because the build-up is over and we’re back to doing what we’re good at and what we love – skiing and riding. Between lift opening and 10:30 There are still a few more interviews to coordinate or participate in. I make sure all of our journalists have everything they need – quotes, video/photos, lift tickets. Then, I usually go just sit down in my office for a minute and breathe. 10:00-noon-ish Our photographers usually have their selects edited around this time period and ready to go out. We work closely with Colorado Ski Country to send out photos and press releases about the day. We post on social media again (e.g. the photo of the “COLORADO IS OPEN!” banner and first chair). Around 1pm/2pm I boot up and pick up my skis from the tune shop (nothing like getting them waxed at the last minute!). It’s a tradition to take at least one run on Opening Day every season (I only missed one when I was injured and not cleared to ski). The marketing team will go out and take a couple laps to kick off the season. We try to do this every Closing Day, too. Then we get lunch (the importance of food is really a trend here, huh?) in the 6th Alley. By that time and you calling it a day or are there still loose ends to tie up? There are always some loose ends to take care of – making sure everyone got the interviews they needed, checking that I’ve answered all the emails about the day, and posting again to social media. I could sit at my desk and tinker for hours, so I really have to stop myself after 4:00 p.m. At the end of the day, our staff convenes in the 6th Alley for a celebratory beverage. We’re a close-knit circus here at the Basin, and we appreciate hanging out and decompressing with our friends at the end of the day. How important is it to Arapahoe Basin's season and marketing/PR strategy to be the first in the nation to open? It’s wildly important, but it’s also something that’s almost entirely out of our hands as marketing professionals. We can sell the stoke, but we can’t control the weather. So while it’s important to be prepared for Opening Day, I’ve learned that you can’t get bent about when it’s going to happen. We’re also going to make sure we have the snow surface to accommodate the early-season traffic, and a forecast that will allow us to stay open. How about first in the west or even just Colorado? If someone opens out east, what impact does that have on the value of your opening day? Being the first of the seasonal resorts to open, whether it’s in the nation or in the state of Colorado, is significant in terms of the amount of positive media attention we receive. It’s huge. Additionally, once we’re back to turning the lifts, our employees are back to work and we are generating revenue. So it makes sense for brand recognition, for our business, and for our local community and economy to kick off the season as soon as we can. In terms of the media exposure, a ski area opening out east doesn’t seem to have as much impact as another Colorado resort opening before we do. The thing about the Basin and many of the Colorado ski areas is that once we open, we aim to stay open seven days a week to the public, and that makes a big difference in how opening day out here is perceived. And when you are situated in a winter sports mecca like Colorado, the story translates well nationally. More importantly, Opening Day matters to our guests. We wouldn’t dedicate the resources to opening as early as we do if there weren’t a demand for skiing. There are guests who travel across the country annually for opening day. Sure, there may be only one run open, but Opening Day is about so much more than acreage. It’s so fun, and the vibe is so electric – you all get to experience that “first day of school” feeling where everyone is excited to see each other and catch up (except there’s definitely no homework at the end of the day here). And you get to enjoy lift-served skiing on the Continental Divide, which does not suck. Any opening day tips for anyone who will handle their first this fall? Be prepared. Have your facts and area info ready to go well in advance so you’re not scrambling. Know your historical dates, especially if you’re going outside the general Thanksgiving to Easter operating calendar. Get as much done in advance as possible to make sure you can actually breathe and enjoy the day. That’s the most important thing – don’t forget to have fun. It’s really easy to lose perspective when you’re sleep-deprived and running around like crazy. Our COO, Alan, the entire team here at the Basin and my friends in the ski industry are fantastic for helping to keep things in perspective. Let yourself be excited – to be blunt, Opening Day anywhere is a freaking cool thing to be a part of. The stress of the season hasn’t struck yet, and you have tons of people stoked to be at their home mountain. Whether you open with one trail or 100% of your terrain, it’s all good because it’s all skiing.

The antithesis of vanilla marketing.

October 5, 2017
Gregg: Christian, when you tweeted about your latest campaign for Aspen (which we'll get to in a minute) you said that you've never been more excited to roll something like this out. But let's give that some context by starting with your history. You're from Vermont, but have been out west for a while. How did you find your way to Colorado and how long have you been there? Christian: Like most Colorado transplants, the lure of big mountains and lifestyle drew me to the state in 1998 after a few years in Oregon working for Mt. Bachelor. Timing is everything and I was fortunate to land a marketing/events coordinator job at Breckenridge before moving to town, which clearly wasn’t the norm. With snowboarding in my DNA from growing up in Vermont and being around the early days of the sport, working on Vans Triple Crowns and U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix’s was a dream come true. We did some really progressive things back in those days from edgy youth-focused print creative (Google ‘Town will be your bitch’ ad campaign) to hosting the first ever Snowboarder Magazine Superpark Cutter’s Cup. Five years of experience at Breckenridge translated to marketing roles with greater responsibility at Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek, and eventually as the brand director for Keystone before leaving Vail Resorts for Aspen Skiing Company in 2011. To this day, I’m still in awe of just how good Colorado has been to me and feel extremely fortunate to be raising my family in Aspen and stewarding such a storied brand. Gregg: I'm googling that campaign now, while I do, what's a ballpark on how many of these campaigns you've been part of over the years? Any others (good or bad) stand out on that list? Christian: A handful of campaigns through the years have been truly memorable, most notably the controversial Breckenridge campaign that had to pulled but in the end was award-winning. It’s hard to fathom what the reach would have been like today if social media had existed! Another favorite was ‘Not Exactly Roughing It’ at Beaver Creek which nailed the brand promise with a tongue-in-cheek approach and some of the most amazing images captured for a resort by the great Stephen Wilkes. Beyond advertising, creating Friday Night Lights at Keystone headlined by Girl Talk was so insane we pivoted to Kidtopia the following season and launched the world’s largest snow fort which is still a hit today. In the last few years, Mountain Collective, as both an innovative alliance and a challenger brand, has gotten a lot of attention and we’ve piloted some really cool influencer activations and direct-response digital advertising. Gregg: Let's move onto this latest campaign; The Aspen Way. Maybe we can start by deconstructing it a bit. In one of Aspen's recent campaigns you focused on sets of words/values - mind, body, spirit - and have done so again in this effort. Talk a bit about the words used in this campaign and why that approach is what you've build this on? Christian: When we set out last winter to create The Aspen Way it was a direct response to our CEO Mike Kaplan’s op-ed, ‘We’re Still Here.’ The timing was right to take a stand and get more political with our brand communications but we honestly had no clue how much it would resonate in these crazy times we’re living in. Building a campaign around the tenants of – Love, Respect, Unity, and Commit – was a natural in that we’ve always been a values-driven company focused on climate activism and social justice. Installing the words on the mountain in iconic locations allowed us to literally proclaim from the mountaintops what we stand for and create some amazing visuals in the process. What we do behind the scenes to express our values and do the right thing as a company is where the campaign really comes to life. Ultimately, we want everyone to know they’re welcome in Aspen no matter who they are or which side of the political fence they sit on. Gregg: Talk a bit more about Aspen's willingness to take firm stances based on their beliefs and value, especially on political things. I think Mike recently wrote another about mexican tourists avoiding aspen because of trump. Is that idea of standing up for what you believe in something you see in Aspen's demographic that actually becomes part of the message you hope will resonate or more about be true to yourself? Christian: The recent Wall Street Journal op-ed was submitted to raise awareness that President Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric is having a backlash on tourism, particularly from Mexico, which constitutes an important demographic for many ski resorts in Colorado. The Aspen community has always been about inclusiveness and that notion stands true today and is reflected in who we are as a company. There is a longstanding culture of acceptance here dating back to the first Gay Ski Week in the 70’s and being the acknowledged leader in climate activism long before it reached critical mass. Gregg: Going back to the genesis, Mike wrote that original in December last year if my googling is accurate, how soon after did the ideas start to click? I saw the word "commit" was spelled out in physical letters in the spread you tweeted, did you already have much of the concept in place by then? Walk us through the timeline a bit from Mike's op-ed to now. Christian: We were several concepts into campaign planning with our agency Karsh Hagen before Mike’s op-ed and didn’t feel like they nailed it. They were inspired by the op-ed over the Christmas holiday and came back to us with the vision for the world installations. It resonated immediately and the response from ‘We’re Still Here’ confirmed we were on the right track. We then worked with The Public Works to build and install the 3D letters followed by shoots last spring. We kept the project mysterious even though a lot of locals saw the installations and shared them socially. It was my honor to carry the ‘C’ during the RESPECT shoot on Highland Bowl which was super cool.
Gregg: So given all the incredible, successful work you've done over the years, what was it that make this campaign stand out in your career? The timing with society and issues? The quality of execution? Something else? Christian: The timing of the campaign couldn’t be more perfect, it’s almost prescient. Look at what just happened with the NFL, the escalation of natural disasters due to climate change, the DACA and anti-immigration stance of the administration, etc. We wanted to do a campaign with purpose that reflected our values as a company. Something that would stand out creatively with the high quality execution Aspen Snowmass is known for. We achieved that mission in my estimation. Gregg: When you first shared this campaign publicly I saw a quote in Aspen Times where you said "We know there will be some criticism of this campaign. We know it's not going to appeal to every person. That's OK." We sometimes talk about vanilla marketing, do you think the strength in this campaign lies in the fact it's not for everyone? Christian: The Aspen Way is the antithesis of vanilla marketing. You never want to be all things to everyone and we’ve taken that concept further than ever before. There have been more reactions, good and bad, in the first few weeks since launch than the previous three campaigns combined. When employees and community members send unsolicited emails saying how proud they are to be associated with an ad campaign, that’s enough reinforcement for me. Gregg: Now that it's live and your social audiences have seen and commented on it, how has the response been? Better/worse than you expected? Christian: Overall social engagement and views have exceeded expectations, but not without criticism. Negative comments question why we’re getting political when it’s just skiing, or call us out for being elitist hypocrites. One past guest even said they won’t be returning because their view on marriage is one man, one woman, one lifetime and they’re not aligned with our values. That aside, the vast majority of responses have been extremely positive, emotional even, and the fact that people are having a dialog is a win in my book. None of what we’ve discussed is remotely possible without an incredibly talented team of contributors or leadership willing to take a chance on disruptive ideas. It’s been my fortune to work with both and you can never take that for granted. Thanks so much for everything Slopefillers does to keep ideas churning and highlight marketing efforts in our industry.

How does Eagle Point fill weekdays? They close.

September 28, 2017
Gregg: Shane, give us a 30-second version of your story. Shane: I purchased the land and lodges that you now know as Eagle Point Resort in 2009 while I was living in New York City, where I operated a hedge fund. Most of you will remember the era - the financial crisis which started in 2008 - when banks, home prices and some of the country’s oldest companies were facing devastating declines and government bailouts. As an investor at the time in many condo developments around the country, my investors and I were greatly affected as well. It was a tough time in the markets, and for many Americans. Gregg: Fascinating, what made you decide to leave? Shane: As I spent my days commiserating with investors, colleagues and fellow investment managers about the cratering U.S. economy, my mind often wandered to the grassy meadows, colorful wildflowers and big vistas of the Tushar Mountains and the new, distressed ski property I purchased with a friend. Wouldn’t it be nice to leave the Big Apple and move out west to the mountains? I could trade my suit and tie for jeans and boots and my power lunches with sharks for picnics with family and friends. Instead of explaining complicated derivatives to insurance companies and high net worth investors, I could help families from Utah, Nevada and California escape from their own big city madness that engulfed me, and instead make memories and second homes in the mountains. Could I really leave New York City to go run the resort with my family in Beaver, Utah? Gregg: And that’s exactly what you did? Shane: As it turns out, those day dreams are now my day job as the owner and operator of Eagle Point Resort. For nearly eight years, I have gained valuable experience helping families make memories in the mountains while visiting the resort. Recently, I became a licensed real estate agent in Utah. It was a logical move given all of the time I was spending with incoming families helping them find property and understand the merits of the area. These interactions with families made me realize that my team and I, after seven wonderful winter and summer seasons entertaining guests visiting Eagle Point Resort, had successfully created a place that people wanted not only to visit, but to make a home. Thus, I became an agent and started Aspen Equity Real Estate to provide buyers and sellers of real estate in the Eagle Point area with the highest level of professionalism, decades of valuable experience, great customer service, and of course plentiful local knowledge. Gregg: Talk a little bit about your decision to operate Friday - Monday instead of seven days a week and why that was right for Eagle Point and how the “As You Wish” idea ties into that. Shane: Never manage the opening of a new ski resort from your desk in New York City is one of the most important takeaways in my story. I initially hired several "experts" from the ski industry who, despite my incredulity, insisted that Eagle Point should operate 7 days a week "if it wants to be a destination resort". I went with conventional wisdom my first year, which was a banner snow year, but was too early for seven days at this location. The long weekend did well even in the first year but the resort was scantily populated during midweek. It was obvious to the naked eye that I wouldn't last long in this business operating a seven days a week resort at this stage of its existence. In the summer between winter 1 and winter 2, I remember the moment it "clicked" with me that I had figured out a way to be closed midweek to the public but still have the potential to make more money than on our busy weekends with the "As You Wish" idea. I knew that the marginal cost of operation was still well within the budget that a 100-200 person group would consider a great value to have an entire mountain and its resources privately for a day and night. The "As You Wish Experience" was born around that revelation. Gregg: A few resorts have offered similar whole-mountain rentals before, but I love that you have a brand and some collateral in place for yours. How big of a role will this program play in your overall marketing mix this season? Shane: As You Wish is the fastest growing segment of our business. We have already hosted the prototype As You Wish Experience when the organization, Love Your Melon chose Eagle Point as the venue for their Apex Experience, in which 200 of their brand ambassadors converged on Eagle Point for a mind-blowing, one-of-a-kind event.
Among other amazing attractions, Love Your Melon hired the popular country act, Big & Rich, to play a private concert in the Canyonside Lodge to the delight of an intimate crowd of 250 people. The three day event stretched our imaginations with the potential of private events at Eagle Point Resort. We have had several events since then and there are already multiple reservations this year for As You Wish experiences at Eagle Point. Gregg: That's awesome. How aggressive have you been so far in your sales effort? Is it unique enough or a product/story that some good PR is generating all the interest you need at this point or do you have a sales person or team actively looking and pitching opportunities to brands? Shane: A notable travel writer, Larry Olmsted, wrote a great piece in Forbes which went viral and led to early bookings (here's the link). We don't advertise or have a dedicated team although I really should and will get around to organizing that some day, though I have always been a fan of providing incentives to "finders" for bringing me business whether it was back on Wall Street or here in the mountains. Gregg: You mentioned earlier that some "conventional wisdom" from resort operators wasn't as wise as it seemed. Any other big lessons you've learned from running Eagle Point? Shane: I have learned that a ski resort is like a power tool; if you don't use it correctly, it can really hurt you. I've had to learn every aspect of the business from the ground up in order to be a good manager of the business. It has been a wonderful experience for my family and me and we look forward to making guests smile and laugh while making memories on the slopes for many years to come.

International business in Guam to ski area owner in Minnesota.

September 8, 2017
On a side note, my desire to do this series was greater than my lack of interviewing skills. Please be patient as I (re)learn this skill :) I haven't written transcripts for these yet. If that's something you'd prefer over the audio version, let me know in the comments section below.

Inside MRG’s conditions-based performance model.

September 1, 2017
Gregg: Let's start with your story, Andrew. Where are you from, what was your first ski resort gig, how did you land that, and where have you worked/what have you done since then? Andrew: I grew up in southern NY and started skiing when I was about 7 years old. Taking the train to Manhattan every day for high school was great, but I was always happiest when I was in the mountains. College gave me the chance to be closer to skiing and I moved to Vermont to study economics and Italian at Middlebury College. An internship at Mad River Glen during my senior year turned into my first industry gig as the Minister of Propaganda (or marketing coordinator) there. Over the past 15 years, I’ve also worked in ticketing, budgeting, rentals, retail, lift ops, finance, and more at Killington and Bolton Valley, and I also spent 7 great “summers” in lifts and mountain ops at Mount Hotham in Australia. Those back-to-back winters kicked off a streak of skiing every month, which is currently 143 months strong. I currently live in Richmond, Vermont, less than an hour drive from 6 different ski areas, and I recently started my own independent consulting company, Snowmetrics Consulting. Gregg: At MRG, you worked on something that I first read about a few years ago and that's a weather/conditions based performance model. That's the meat of what I want to discuss so take some time to talk about what that is, how it works, and why it works. Andrew: MRG’s ticket model is basically a database of ticket sales statistics that we use to both forecast revenue and measure performance. What’s cool about this model is that it takes into account the varied impact of the weather. Essentially every single day gets coded based on its weather and snow conditions. Not surprisingly, those weather codes correlate very strongly to ticket sales. With the ticket and weather data from the model, we use weighted averages to create the annual revenue budget. Throughout the season, the model also gives us a great way to measure business performance. It’s easy to say business is good because the snow is good, or vice versa, but the model lets us actually measure how things are going given the actual conditions. MRG 2015 actual vs expected A ten week stretch during the 2014/15 ski season at MRG. For each day, you can take the weather code and see what the model predicts, then compare that prediction to the actual ticket sales. This shows if business is performing better or worse than expected for the conditions. Season after season, I continue to be surprised by how closely the model predicts actual sales. You can even take the model a step further and use it as a planning tool: looking at weather forecasts, managers can use the model to better anticipate what business levels will be a few days out, and can make sure they have the right level of staff. The main reason why the model works is because it’s not complicated, simplifying the weather into a numerical ranking and looking at its direct correlation to ticket sales. Gregg: When we first talked on the phone you mentioned that rain has the biggest impact on this model. Without divulging your secret sauce, talk a little bit about not only how things are weighted, but how you find those weights. Andrew: The rankings or weather codes are all about how desirable a day is for skiing and how likely people are to come buy tickets. Weather, temperature, snow conditions, and open terrain all factor in. You can think of the codes as a scale from least desirable to most desirable. Rain days are probably the easiest since they’ll always get the lowest ranking. A powder day with at least a foot of snow and no wind-hold is the opposite end of the scale and will get the highest ranking. For everything in between, it’s a little subjective. Great snow conditions with 20-below-zero wind chills will rank lower than a day with fair snow conditions but sunshine and temps in the 30s, simply because more people would rather ski on the day with better weather. It’s also important to look at the days in sequence: we know that a snowstorm on Thursday will translate to a busy Saturday. MRG’s general manager, Jamey Wimble, has been the person ranking every ski day for the past 20 years, so there’s good consistency in those rankings. Gregg: One of the ironic things about this model is that in an industry of corporate skiing and bigger and bigger money, MRG was the innovator. Why do you think it was a ski area like Mad River that made this happen? Andrew: MRG is a unique place that attracts a lot of passionate people who really care about seeing the ski area and the cooperative ownership succeed. Everyone from web designers to foresters and accountants to painters have volunteered their expertise, and the ticket model is one such example. Deri Meier, one of the founders of the co-op, a former UVM business professor, and a retired corporate executive, first developed it with his son two decades ago. I think MRG was lucky to have someone with that kind of experience who looked at ticket sales both from an outside business perspective but also as a passionate skier. There are lots of talented business people skiing and snowboarding at every mountain across the country, but MRG’s co-op and its spirit of volunteerism are what made this ticket model happen. Gregg: The reason I wanted to talk to you was, of course, you're recent decision to turn this into a service you could offer other areas. Beyond just the numbers, what are ski areas really getting when they work with you? Is it smarter decisions? Is it a better understanding of actual performance? Something else? Andrew: My goal is to offer ski areas all of those things. I love to dig into numbers and look for trends, identify what business segments are growing or declining, and figure out ways to be more successful. I believe that having good analysis and a strong understanding of a ski area’s business will lead to smarter, data-driven decisions. Using a model like Mad River’s can help ski areas better understand their business’s real performance regardless of the whims of the weather, better equipping them to maximize their success whether the snow cooperates or not. As a consultant I hope to help ski areas of all sizes have the same level of business understanding as the bigger resorts, where they have staff dedicated to budgets, pricing, and analysis. With my varied background in the industry, I can look at the numbers with an understanding of the whole operation, not just skier visits or dollars and cents. Gregg: If a ski area wanted to give this a go, what are they going to need both in terms of data but also operationally on a daily basis and the type of market they serve to really make this work? Andrew: Operationally, all a ski area needs to do is track some statistics each day. Ticket data like number of tickets sold and daily ticket revenue are the most important. It’s helpful to know how many of those tickets are from groups or other sources that might not be as weather-driven. If a ski area tracks season pass visits, those could be included too, but it’s not necessary. And then you’d need some weather and operational data to rank the days. MRG Historic Weather Chart Most of the important information will probably be on the snow report: new snow, temperatures, wind, weather conditions & precipitation, terrain open, lifts open, surface conditions, etc. Any other factors like wind hold, road closures, or special events should also be noted. It’s best to do the weather rankings each day as the season goes along, but looking at snow reports would help ranking older days. I would say 3-4 years of historic data would give me enough to start building a new model for another ski area. I think this model in its current form works better for day trip areas than for big destination resorts. Day trippers are more likely to make their plans based on weather and conditions, while destination visitors might have planned and paid for their trip months earlier and will ski or snowboard regardless of the weather on a particular day. That’s not to say the model couldn’t be adapted for a destination resort; there would be other factors beyond weather and snow that I’m certain impact their visitation, and it would be interesting to dig into some numbers. Gregg: Any final words about the model, your services, or this sport we all love? Andrew: The ticket model has been a great tool for Mad River Glen and I think other ski areas could find it really useful too. I’m also available to help ski areas with a variety of other projects: analyzing ticket yield, building customized reports, budget planning, optimizing point-of-sale systems, tracking specials and promotions, creating databases, generating wage-forecasting schedule templates, providing operational advice, etc. – really anything involving numbers. The ski industry is a tough business and I’ve unfortunately seen several small ski areas close down during my career in the industry. I hope to use my skills to help ski areas of all sizes succeed by giving them the financial tools, data, and analysis to make better strategic decisions. With weather becoming more variable and costs continuing to increase, understanding the numbers behind the business is only going to become more important. Aside from enjoying the challenge of the industry and the analytical work that I do, my love of skiing is as strong as ever. As I wait for the weather to turn colder in Vermont, I’m dreaming about powder days in the woods and skiing slush bumps in the spring sun. And yes, my last name really is Snow! For more info visit Snowmetrics Consulting: snowmetricsconsulting.com

Life, location, marketing; in particular order.

August 23, 2017
Resort marketing teams across the west are filled with transplants. People who fell in love with deep powder and 5-digit peaks on family trips out west. Once they were on their own, they told themselves, that’s where they wanted to end up. And they did. Dan’s story is like that. But instead of Breckenridge, it was Boyne City. Growing up in Metro Detroit, the lakes and hills of Northern Michigan were the destinations toward which his family pointed their station wagon on weekends and holidays. That’s the place he’d fallen in love with and that’s where he wanted to be. So after graduating from Northern Michigan University where he studied Art and Outdoor Recreation, some hustle and luck helped the stars align and he soon accepted a job at Boyne maintaining their then recently launched website. The year was 2001. Growing At the time he was part of the IT department. Among other things, his duties involved taking pictures on the hill, scanning the negatives, and and uploading the resulting photos to the site. He wore a lot of hats and helped build the foundation of Boyne’s digital strategy. Quickly, predictably, Dan got better and better and better at his job. Now, if I were to write the rest of the story based on the typical path, the next chapter would have something to do with using his success at Boyne to land a bigger and better job out west. Perhaps he’d be a Marketing Director now. Or VP. Maybe even CMO. But Dan didn’t leave. He didn’t move up. He stayed. I should be clear that Dan has just as much drive and enthusiasm for marketing as any one of us - maybe more. Talking heads might think he’s not “following his passion” but nothing could be further from the truth. In the sixteen years since he joined Boyne, his role has constantly evolved as his love of what he does has translated into new skills and expertise that have kept Boyne in lock step with quickly changing marketing tactics. In fact, a new title is coming soon because of how good he’s gotten at some of those aspects of his job, putting him in a perfect place to make the most of marketing trends (like email). So Dan’s not complacent or indifferent, he just sees things differently. He sees reasons and benefits and priorities that, quite simply, we don’t. Benefits Let’s start with those benefits. Every resort plays the marketing game by slightly different rules. These rules are written by markets and budgets and constraints and team size and, of course, the mountain itself. And like any set of rules, it takes time to progress from learning to understanding to mastering. What’s typical, however, is that we tend to leave somewhere short of the mastery phase. The learning curve is steep and exciting at first, but a year or two later when things flatten out, so does our interest in what we now think of as a daily grind. But if our potential job effectiveness is a 1-10 scale, this means we’re only peaking at maybe a 7 or 8. And when we arrive at our next career stop, we’re back at a 1. Dan, however, is a 10. He is a master of Boyne’s message, the processes, and, often overlooked, the operational side that always accompanies any new product or pass or promotion. The nuances of execution that often elude a recent hire are second nature to Dan. Deeper But stopping at that level of introspection isn’t worthy of this story, because as great as it sounds to be better at your job, we all know what Dan has given up along the way. In a word; prestige. Go to a marketing conference and it’s not the managers who get the glory, it’s the directors. The VPs. They sit on the panels, they hold the mic, they get nods and handshakes from a standing-room-only crowd. As much as we don’t talk about this, the desire to earn an important, prestigious title is omnipresent. It’s baked into our DNA. Dan felt that same tug on his own pride. But when we feel these tugs, we never stop to truly ask ourselves, “Why?” I think the difference between Dan and most marketers is his ability to honestly, sincerely answer that question. Tradeoffs Let’s back up a bit. In college, Dan had met and fallen in love with the woman who is now his wife. By this time, kids had come along. Family had moved to town - also from downstate. His parents, still in Metro Detroit, had purchased a cottage just downt he road. The stuff we all say “really matters” - the family, the friends, the lakes, the slopes - was right there, just around the corner. Another tradeoff we often fail to measure accurately is the mental weight of responsibility. The higher you climb the ladder, the more you are on the hook for results. Sleepless nights are more common, being in the moment is mentally competing against deadlines and quotas still simmering between your ears, leaving the office at 5pm gets more difficult, and time with those kids and friends and lakes and slopes slowly shrinks. See what I’m getting at? Dan knew where he wanted to be, he knew who he wanted to be there with, and he knew that a glamorous title wouldn’t get him closer to that place. Why? Because he was already there. Conversations When I think about my life and where I want to be, I can’t help but think of a small handful of deeply insightful conversations I’ve had over the years. In every case, our cultural standards would place the jobs these people hold much "lower" than mine. But whether it was that strawberry farmer in central New York or the old cowboy sitting next to me outside a Walmart in Idaho, I found myself walking away knowing, without a doubt, that these people had figured out something I don’t yet understand. That’s how I feel about Dan Tosch. Dan is an incredible marketer, but he doesn’t have a fancy title. No, he has something much, much better.

A beautifully-designed twist on ski trip planning.

August 18, 2017
Gregg: Alright Sarah, let's get a little background on you. Where did you grow up? Where did you start skiing? What's your story between that first day on snow and the day you started Scout? Sarah: I grew up in Sydney, Australia. It's a beach city, but fortunately my parents loved mountains and skiing too. When I was 3 years old we went to a tiny Australian ski resort called Mt Selwyn and they took my older sister into the rental shop to get her kitted out. When she came out I said “What about me?!” and begged to be taken skiing too. From that day on I’ve been hooked. As a family we didn’t ski every year, but we were lucky to do some great trips overseas. However unlike many other Aussie families who were going to Vail, Whistler and Meribel the Plaskitt family went to Wolf Creek Pass, Les Contamines (a tiny resort in France) and Niseko, Japan in 1988 when we were the only Australians there. I love that my parents chose to take us to those places as I think it instilled a sense of exploration in me. RRW_4832 Following college I became a journalist and then worked in advertising agencies as a brand strategist in Sydney and New York. When I came home to Australia in 2013 I felt it was time to do something I loved. It was while sitting at my desk during yet another late night at my old job and on a facebook chat with my ski buddy in Denver, that the concept of Scout was born. Gregg: Imagine we're on the lift and three towers before I ask you, "So, what's Scout exactly?" What's your 30 second response? Sarah: Scout is a cross between an online skiing guidebook, a magazine and a travel agency. We see everything for ourselves and do our own write ups so what you get is detailed, honest and independent information by reading our reviews and/or talking to our booking specialists. We make sure you get exactly the right resort and hotel for your needs, and make the process easy and enjoyable. Gregg: Speaking of books, that's one thing that caught my eye about Scout. At a time when entrepreneurs are scrambling to build apps, you send every guest a physical, printed guide. What's the story behind that strategy? Sarah: I need to work hard to differentiate Scout as it’s a competitive marketplace. And everything I do on Scout I try to think back to what I would want when I was taking ski trips as a regular consumer. There’s something neat about getting a physical (old-school) guidebook in the mail prior to your trip with all the information you need for that resort, plus some insider tips to help you find some local favorites. It gets you excited and helps you plan. Then you can take that book with you and use it throughout the trip. Guides_MG_7503(rounded) small Apps definitely have their place, but I felt that having it printed in a pocket sized book was more unique and useful. My customers love them and I have people begging to buy them, but they’re exclusively a gift for people that book via Scout. It’s turned out to be one of the most loved and most talked about parts of the brand. Gregg: That's awesome, I've seen a similar response to print materials recently. Let me back up a little bit and ask more about the way you visiting every location in person. What's the strategy on those trips? Are they comped, are you interviewing locals, how long do you stay, etc.? What's the game plan to make sure a trip provides everything you need for a physical guidebook and online listing? Sarah: Prior to starting the business and when I was living in New York I skied a lot out west. All my friends knew I had been to a few places and would ask me for advice about where to stay, eat, drink, ski etc. I was sending these long detailed emails back and that was when I realised there was very little independent and trustworthy information out there. I felt that was integral to the business so started travelling around all the resorts and hotels to review them. Some people think I'm a ski bum and I just travel the world skiing. It’s actually bloody hard work! I visit around 5-8 properties each day (my record was 12 in one day) and I’ll work all night. Some of the hotels are comped, some are discounted, some are full price. I never let that affect my reviews (in fact some that have been comped haven’t made it on the site) and I move between resorts quickly so that I can cover more places. I always try to chat to locals, get their tips and next year I’ll be starting a new section for each resort with tips as told by a local. Scout Field Guide 4 Of course, it’s important that I ski the mountain so I can explain it in my own words and usually my ski tickets are comped which is nice. What’s been interesting is that because the Scout model covers editorial and sales, the resort marketing teams can get confused as to who should be looking after me (PR or sales teams or both). I don’t mind that it confuses them… it proves that I’m doing something different. Gregg: Speaking of differentiation, how has that first-hand knowledge helped set yourself apart from competitors? Sarah: It’s my biggest point of differentiation. When I start talking to customers (either on the phone or via email) they’re like “wow, you know your stuff”. I love talking to people about their trips and sometimes I’m the one on the call getting more excited than they are! I went to MTS for the first time this year and saw how most of the other ski travel agents learn about the hotels and resorts… getting sales pitches across a desk in a conference room. It made me proud of what I’ve done and confident about the business model. I’m not saying that all travel agents don’t have first hand experience as a lot of them do Fam trips which is great. I’m also not bagging MTS at all - I think it’s an excellent concept and serves a great purpose, I got a lot out of it. But nothing quite beats having a wealth of first-hand knowledge. I am pretty sure that not one other travel agent out there has seen 525 properties in 75 resorts! Gregg: I think that combination of hard work and personal visits really is unique. That's awesome. So aside from putting out an awesome product with great service, what can a resort do to maximize their visibility through your efforts? Or is the lack of resort influence a key element of your model? Sarah: I’m open to resorts inviting me to visit and helping with the trip, but they can’t do anything to maximize their visibility on the review part of scoutski.com or in Scout newsletters, nor can they affect what I write (though I always work with them to make sure facts are correct and content is up-to-date). I had a well-known resort whose sales contract stipulated that they had to approve all content in any brochure or website. Fortunately they respect what I’m doing and made exception to the rule for Scout. scoutbigsky (1) Aside from the reviews, I’m always looking for new story ideas for the magazine and for social media posts, so it is possible for resorts to get more exposure that way. Gregg: Anything else worth mentioning about your model, what's coming, or resort travel in general? Sarah: The business model will no doubt morph and change in the future. One big advantage of running your own business is that you can be agile and make changes quickly according to what consumers want and need, adopting new technologies and just making the product and service better. I’m looking forward to travelling to some new resorts this season and re-visiting some old ones. I’ll definitely be going back to Japan to continue to expand my offering there, but the rest I haven’t planned yet. I always try to take a few days off from scouting to do some ski touring - I’d love to do that in Norway this season. More info: http://scoutski.com

“We need true skiers in charge of our world”

August 2, 2017
Gregg: Quickly talk a little bit about who you are, your background in the industry with Northstar, TWsnow, DC, etc. Adam: My name is Adam Hawes, and I manage Global Content, Communities and Social Marketing for HTC in Seattle, WA. I'm also currently on an airplane. Briefly, I first began working in the snow industry at the chipper age of thirteen, tuning skis and teaching kids to ride at Pats Peak in Henniker, NH. 14 wonderful, life-altering industry years later, and that path has taken me to every corner of the ski/snow/action sports world, including owning and publishing indie media; an editor of TransWorld SNOWboarding magazine and TWSnow.com; Marketing Manager of DC Shoes; and most recently, Online Marketing Manager and Social Media for the beautiful Northstar California Resort in Lake Tahoe, CA. Yet, after all of this, I still suck at handplants. Gregg: Social media, community, content, web are all often lumped together and often feels a little vague ...what specifically is it that you feel you’re best at? Adam: You're right, and it's an unfortunate misinterpretation of new media, this all-too-often belief that it should all live under one roof. But that's a discussion for another day. Personally, I'm most passionate about the environmental psychological/ sociological elements of social media, particularly in regards to positive community building. We have the opportunity to experiment, succeed, break new ground and fail on a daily basis within these mediums; allowing for and providing the positive environments needed to help evolve users into guests, guests into fans, fans into passholders, passholders into legacies is a powerful, endlessly exciting avenue to focus on and create for. Don't get me wrong; content, direction, marketing, writing, etc. are all very important to the overall health our your social outlets. Yet, none can exist or prosper without the original groundwork laid by the site author, opening up and curating the space needed to provide the most positive, supportive, responsive and rewarding experience possible. Gregg: Looking back at the ski industry, what does the industry tend to do well in that regard? Adam: Generally speaking, the action sports industry has stayed well ahead of the game in terms of its early adoption towards audience-based content development and distribution. Enthusiasts living their passions, creating measures and outlets tailored for the next wave of enthusiasts (this is the storybook ideal, at least) will always be able to best create the avenue for interaction within that audience. The main "product" is authenticity, and that's one of the last remaining products that can actually still sell to the target generation. Gregg: So, what do you think the industry still struggles with? Adam: Like so many industries today, the ski resort industry suffers greatly from a lack of youthful ideas in power positions. Many, many of the world's ski/snow resorts (not excluding the biggest and leading areas, by any means) are still holding board meetings to discuss how best to purchase hundreds of thousands of dollars in web impressions, for example—while their $8/hr photographer is out there in the cold, capturing 100% of the content that their guests and potential visitors actually want. Worse, they continue to hire lowest-cost or even intern workers (this kills me, personally…) to run, manage and community direct their social media accounts and audiences. In this new climate, that person should be among the highest-paid, most involved, powerful and respected positions at the resort, yet are rarely given a say in policy discussion or capital projects. This is a huge, rather embarrassing miss for the industry, as these individuals are now the only direct, home-hitting contact between visitor, guest, potential vacationer and Resort. They alone are the direct portal to millions of dollars in revenue stream, yet are treated (and sadly, at times disrespected) by the industry higher-ups as basic, disposal, hourly and seasonal employment. This is not to say that all Resorts have fallen short here. The social/content investment of Aspen/Snowmass for example, and the work done by Dave Amirault in particular, is cutting edge for the industry. But the overall, widespread failure of the resort industry to universally understand that websites are dead and social outlets and content are the new direct PR and Marketing arms of their business is stunning to me. Gregg: On the bright side, do you see any big opportunities for the industry? Adam: Positions within the ski, snow and resort industries are, above all, desired. This can't be understated, for it invites a never-ending stream of passionate applicants and qualified (often, over-qualified) resumes flooding into every resort office in North America. Skiers and snowboarders live and love to ski and snowboard—how better to do so, than work in the industry? Many will relocate for free, and even take pay cuts for the chance to live out their dream. Myself, I accepted a near 25% drop in salary when I joined Northstar, yet never thought twice about the decline. The powder days, the lifestyle, the friends, the healthy living and more, as we all know, are worth every single penny. The challenge then, is how to keep these passionate folks at your resort, and within the industry. Skiing and snowboarding have such an incredible turn-over rate (jumping job to job is much more accepted here than in other, more "normal" industries, for example), that—coupled with a notorious unwillingness to promote workers, give raises, etc.—it's more difficult than ever for resorts to retain their talent. And other industries know this: poaching workers and looking towards the resort industry for potential hires is commonplace. For one, underpaid hardworkers abound in skiing. Yet above all else, the larger business world wants to attract, sell to and target the 18-26 (18-35, even) marketplace. How better to do so than speaking through the credible, authentic, knowledgeable and passionate members of the youth market itself? Gregg: If you could say one thing to every resort marketer, what would it be? Adam: I'm going to catch some flack for this, but… it really needs to be said: If you work in the ski/snow industry, yet haven't gone skiing or riding this week, do us all a favor and resign. Today. We need true, in-their-blood skiers and snowboarders in charge of our world, making decisions and speaking for us—not suits.

“Mommy…are you my mom?”

July 20, 2017
Not too long ago, after yet another 50,000+ mile month on the road, Krista Parry found herself in the car with her two sons, driving to yet another somewhere. In the back seat her 5 year old was thinking. Thinking about this woman behind the wheel. Thinking about the other woman with whom he’d spent so much time in recent months. He was thinking about nannies and moms, moms and nannies. Wires were getting crossed. Confusion was setting in. He wasn’t as sure as he used to be about something a kindergartner wants to be sure. And so he asked, “Mommy...are you my mom?” For Krista, this moment wasn’t so much a turning point as a final straw. One more argument - albeit a rather compelling one -against the status-quo in a decade-long personal struggle. Today her back had finally broken. Before the day was over she picked up the phone, dialed her sister in California, and said, “You know that business we’ve talked about starting? It’s time.” Promising Beginnings In 2003, Krista was wrapping up her first year as Park City Mountain Resort’s new Communications Manager. She was 23 years old and absolutely loved her job. So much so that when the Marketing Director’s chair was offered, she said no. And why wouldn’t she? At the time, PCMR had been through 6 directors in 8 years; a revolving door that didn’t seem ready to stop for an inexperienced 20-something whose chromosomes didn’t match the vast majority of resort leaders’. But in that challenge she also saw opportunity which, even at 23, is something she’d learned not to ignore. So she took a deep breath, rolled up her sleeves, and eventually said yes. There was just one problem. Krista knew virtually nothing about traditional marketing. Playing to Strengths Krista was, and is, the type of person you want to be around. Full of kindness and compassion and genuine interest in the people she meets, I kid you not when I say that I’ve seen an actual twinkle in her eye. There are few people that will make you happier to be around than she. What Krista lacked in marketing skill, she made up for in her ability to connect with others. This was something she was born to do - her strength - and she played to it, rallying the team and their marketing efforts around this simple, human desire.
They didn’t see a ski vacation as just travel, they saw it as a way for parents to connect with their children, friends to connect with each other, and everyone to connect with nature. She didn’t want the brand to be a lifeless logo, she wanted it to be another living, breathing thing guests could build a relationship with along the way. Blogging It was through that lens that Krista saw another opportunity come along early in her tenure. In her mind, blogging wasn’t just a web-log of their highlights, it was a new way to communicate individually with PCMR’s customers. Senior leadership, however, balked, only agreeing to the blog on one condition: no comments. But to Krista the comments were the point. Without interaction it was just another broadcast. With comments it was a conversation. A powerful, direct connection with their guests. She didn’t back down and, with her bonus on the line, made one last push to get the thumbs up she needed. That season, four of PCMR’s six-pack lifts had major mechanical failures leaving hundreds, if not thousands, of paying guests stranded on chairs. Guests and skiers flocked to the blog reaching out for answers and updates. Krista’s team communicated personally, empathetically, and quickly enough to get ahead of the mob. There were few silver linings that season, but the blog, and Krista’s commitment to connecting with guests, was one of them. Needless to say, she didn’t lose her bonus. Security and Changes Soon the revolving door had all be stopped spinning and Krista was rolling along what would become a 10-year path as PCMR’s marketing director. At home, she also settled in. She met a wonderful man, fell in love, and married. Then kids came along. First one energetic boy, and then another. Luckily, though not planned, both arrived during the summer, allowing Krista to be back at the resort each of the following winters. Her husband was her rock, supporting her cold-weather schedule and picking up whatever slack was necessary so she could balance, as much as possible, family life with her success at work. Her blogging wins continued with the launch of Snowmamas. Born from the realization that mothers were coming to the resort but not skiing (a lesson learned from personally helping them find ski school in the morning on her way to work), she made it her mission to get them back on snow and participating fully in the family’s skiing experience. Of all the successes she had at PCMR, she may be most proud of this one. And rightly so. Few people have done more than Krista to put the ski marketing spotlight back on moms and the decision-influencing power they hold. Much of the resort blogging you see today is patterned on principles and lessons from Snowmamas. A Moment All of these efforts, Snowmamas very much included, did not go unnoticed and Krista quickly became a regular at industry conferences. On one such occasion at NSAA, three young women approached her to say thank you. They explained that at their resort every woman who had started a family ended up leaving. There simply wasn’t support. They couldn’t make it work. Family and career became an either/or choice and these young women worried their fate was the same. But then they saw Krista. A successful woman who was both a mom and a resort executive. To them, she became living proof that it was possible. Their Story, Her Story She didn’t take that moment or role lightly. And as the months and years went on, she thought often of those young women as she saw a similar scene play out across the industry. Most of all, however, she saw this play out in her own story. Leadership at POWDR and PCMR had been phenomenal to Krista. John Cumming, Jenni Smith, and the entire team made her success possible at work and at home. For that she will be forever grateful. But after years of long days and weeks at the office and missing milestones at home, it became harder to keep herself going. In Krista’s ever optimistic words, she had begun to “lose her sparkle.” A new position with POWDR provided new challenges with the same incredible support for her peers and employer, but the travel eventually outweighed the excitement and Krista soon found herself closer than ever to a breaking point. She thought about those other moms struggling, she thought about herself, she thought about whether it was time for a change. Around and around she went until that day in the car with her son. When he wondered who was who. And she decided it was time. The Next Chapter As I’ve followed and learned more about Krista’s story, two thoughts come to mind. First, is awe. Being a resort marketer is tough. Being a mom is even tougher. Doing both at such a high level for nearly a decade and a half? That’s ridiculously impressive and speaks to both Krista’s abilities as well as POWDR and PCMR’s culture. But my second reaction is concern. Because I can’t help but wonder how many Krista Parrys are out there that didn’t have that belief and support. That did have to choose between motherhood and marketing. That couldn’t find a balance. The idea that such a massive, talented segment of the workforce is struggling to even consider plying their skills to our trade is worrying in the face of already tall odds. For 15 years Krista’s example was for the moms who were trying to make their careers work. Today, she’s helping the rest. That business she started with her sister, aptly named SisterUp, helps moms be that mother they hope to be while finding something they’re good at and building a business around those strengths. Once again, Krista is leading by example. The format shouldn’t surprise either: small groups where she can connect with every mother at a personal, genuine level. To Krista I say “thank you.” For her hard work, for her example, for her friendship, and for her lasting influence on resort marketing. To the rest of us I ask a question: what are we going to do today and tomorrow to make sure that the next generation of Kristas have even better odds of success than she did? Best of luck, Krista. But, knowing you, I don’t think you’ll need it.

The map shop born from a pink slip.

June 29, 2017
Gregg: Senan, take me back to the day 16 years ago. You'd just started a new job a few days earlier. Now you're heading home with a pink slip in your hand. What's going through your mind? Senan: Ah yes, back in 2000, I was the Assistant Advertising Director for a small publishing company on the North Shore of Boston. When my wife and I decided to move back “home” to CT where we both grew up, I began the job search. I was hired as the new Graphic Designer at a family run Advertising Speciality company. In beginning our new life in CT, we both had new jobs, bought our first house and prepared to settle into our new life. To make a long story short, 4 days into my new job, it became clear that my new boss was an unstable madman. Day 1 and 2, I started in Shipping and Receiving for my new Graphic Design job. Ok. Day 3 I was in Sales making cold calls. As it turns out, he had the phones rigged so that he could listen in on your calls and scream at you…without the customer hearing. A little distracting to the say the least. On the 4th day, I’d simply inquired as to when I was going to get designing for him, as I’d had a lot of great ideas for the catalog. He responded with a question - “Did you bring a jacket?” When I answered, “No?” He said, “Good, there’s the door.” So, indeed my 11:30 am commute back to our new home was a tough one.  I’m thinking - OK, it took forever to find this job; the job market is horrible, and oh yeah, I have to break it to my wife why I’m on my way home a little early today.   Gregg: When you made the decision to throw your resume in the shredder and strike out on your own, did that happen in a moment? Was it a desire that had been stirring? Where did that come from? Senan: My Father has always been (and still is) my greatest entrepreneurial influence. While working full time, he “leveraged” his assets to start a landscaping business on the side. My 2 brothers and I worked side by side with my Dad some nights and every weekend cutting lawns and learning the value of hard work. My Dad left Ireland at 14 (our oldest son’s age now!) to drive a dump truck in England and send money home; while my Mother emigrated from Ireland to America at 18 to do the same. She had (as she’ll tell you :) $27 in her pocket. Incredibly, they worked to put 3 boys through college and keep us on the right path; instilling everything from a strong work ethic, ingenuity, love and the importance of laughter in everything we do. So the desire had always been stirring for sure. But North Pole Design was born both out of necessity and a desire to work for myself. Gregg: Your first product, if I remember, was a safety guidebook that you sold at NSAA. How did you come up with that idea and how'd that first sales trip to NSAA go? Senan: When I started North Pole Design. The original “product” was actually going to be a new Ski Pole that you could swap out the graphics anytime you wanted!! Thus North POLE Design. At that time, with no real money coming in due to a horrendous job market. Nobody was hiring. I had a few projects for Powder Magazine at the time doing spot illustrations; but my wife’s paycheck as a Teacher was essentially supporting us. So I had to do something without dropping a bunch of cash on inventory, etc. PIVOT! I began skiing at 8 years old and now in my 30’s, I spotted The Responsibility Code on the back of a trail map and thought - “I’ve never seen this before! I wonder how else ski areas promote safety?” After looking into it a bit more, I ended up coming up with a few characters, Guy Skis and Betsy Boards and had them illustrate what each of the 7 Responsibility Code’s looks like. I also included a handful of games and puzzles centered around safety messaging. The next step was to become a Supplier Member with NSAA and attend my first tradeshow where I had grand plans to have my new Responsibility Code Coloring Book welcomed with open arms! It didn’t quite go down like that. Imagine if you will, walking around as a Briefcase Attendee trying to break into “Red Badge” conversations to wow folks to my new coloring book. Thankfully Tim White, the then Education Director for NSAA (Thanks Tim!!) introduced me around to key individuals and I was on my way! Gregg: How’d that first season go? Senan: That first season, I was able to get 25 resorts on board with custom covers imprinted with their logo on the front and contact info on the back. I had a run of about 125,000 coloring books that season! Today, that coloring book is still available as an updated Mountain Safety Coloring Pages and delivered as a .PDF with all pages customized with logos / contact info. Resorts can print and use only what they need, when they need them; even specific sections like Your Responsibility Code, Smart Style / ATML / Environmental and more. Additionally, that same year, I landed my first Base Area Map project for Mount Snow! Which has been the forte of North Pole Design ever since. It’s crazy what getting fired will do for you! Gregg: How did you land that trail map gig with Mount Snow? Was that something you pitched or had dreamed about doing? Senan: At that first NSAA trade show, I had happened to meet the then-Marketing Director of Mount Snow and we talked about the Responsibility Code Coloring Book, as well as what other types of design services I could provide. At that time, I had been designing spot illustrations for Powder Magazine and upon sharing a few designs, I was asked if I thought I could design a map of their Base Area. My answer was of course, Um YES!! This was before Google Earth, Google Maps, etc. so it was all based on their existing top-down schematic map that just showed the footprints of their buildings; so with an on-site visit and many reference photos, I went home and hit the drawing board. Back then I was using a combination of hand-drawn assets brought into Photoshop and creating everything in layers. Thus the beginning and evolution of where we are now. On a side note - Around this time, I had heard about a design contest through Powder Magazine to design their new Web Logo. The Grand Prize was a week long heli-ski trip to Valdez, AK. With no limits to how many you can submit, I had 15 days till the end of the contest and treated it like a multi-vitamin! One-a- day! Gregg: And, did you win? Senan: About a month later while working on the Mount Snow map, I got a call from Powder letting me know that one of my designs had been chosen and would I like to go on an all-expense paid trip to AK for a week of heli-skiing? Whoa. Trip of a lifetime! We were able to fly everyday, except one, where we went cat skiing instead. Just pure insanity! I met some of the coolest people on the planet there and had an amazing experience tearing up ridiculous terrain in the Chugach Mountains. Thanks Powder!! Gregg: I’ll move on quickly to contain my jealousy. On your next sales trip were you selling trail maps only? Senan: Indeed, the next tradeshow, I set up a booth and promoted both the Responsibility Code Coloring Book and Base Area and Trail Map Design. From that show, I believe I was able to secure a handful more mapping projects and I was on my way! Gregg: And the coloring books were still going strong? Senan: Funnily enough, or not really at the time, when going to renew existing coloring book clients, as I was sure I would be starting out with the original 25 and building off them; it turns out many resorts had over ordered and had a bunch still sitting in boxes. So out of the 25, I think I renewed something like 8 and added a few more. Ultimately I came to the realization that the books really weren’t being used as I’d hoped and decided to move from a physically printed book to a digital download where the resort receives a .pdf of their customized coloring pages and can now print and use only what they need, whenever they need them. It’s turned out much better, more effective and obviously less wasteful for resorts. Which is great, as it relates directly to the environmental and recycling section of the coloring pages :) Gregg: Talk a bit about trail maps and where we are. Is the future digital and interactive? Will we always have paper maps? Senan: I think we will always have paper trail maps. They are so convenient to have on-hand when you need them; versus taking out your phone with no glove; praying you don’t drop it off the lift and navigating to the map on the resort’s site. The print-runs have and will continue to go down; but I do think we’ll always have them. As far as the future of trail maps are concerned and the format? There is amazing technology on the horizon, that I think will begin to be adapted. Interactive mapping that is mobile friendly / responsive is being offered and can be incredibly useful ( NPD of course offers a super robust interactive mapping platform :) Both from a Marketing side and Consumer usage standpoint, interactive mapping offers a whole new level of communication. Marketers now have an opportunity to show off their resort using big, beautiful images; as well as video PER icon that they drop on the map background. So whether it be a trail map or Base Area Map, resorts can apply video to each icon! Additionally, they can apply Special Offers to their maps at any time and turn it into another customer touch point and ROI source. Also upcoming tech includes iBeacon technology, Augemented and Virtual Reality; all of which can really enhance the customer experience on a variety of levels. Amazing stuff! I always keep an eye on the tech space  and see what can be applied to better provide resort customers with the best overall experience! Gregg: What does all that mean to the consumer? Senan: From a consumer point of view, they can be on their way to the mountain and see what’s open, what’s been groomed in the last 24 hours, what’s had snowmaking; even what the latest terrain park layout is (because the terrain park crew has updated the map by dragging park features into their new locations and published). So the level of information at the consumer’s fingertips is almost unlimited and can be updated at a moment’s notice. So digital and interactive is here to stay and evolve. Gregg: And what does that mean for your methods? Senan: As far as actual Trail Map Design is concerned - traditionally painted map assets will always be sought after as the preferred style. It’s beauty and landscape design is undeniable. Especially from the Master himself, James Niehues. I’ve been one of his biggest fans since I started skiing! That said, I tend to design trail maps in vector-based digital formats with layers upon layers of artwork.This allows for ease of future editing when a resort cuts new trails, opens up whole sections of the mountain, adds new buildings, etc. I do try to maintain a high level of terrain and  landscape design and detail; and am even playing around with hybrid techniques blending painted components with digital elements. Stay tuned there :) Gregg: Will there ever be another James Niehues or Kevin Mastin? Senan: Mr. Niehues will always hold the highest rank of trail map designers, in my eyes. His work is and will always be something to aspire to. Kevin also has created some beautiful work! As far as there being another artist to best that of James Niehues, I would simply say - Nope. Maybe a different style or technique, but for traditionally painted maps, no-one even comes close.

A golden resort marketing hire born from a blog.

June 22, 2017
When Lyndon Scott moved with his wife and two sons to the New Hampshire hills of his youth, he left behind a comfortable job in IT at UC Riverside. The pay was great, his skills a perfect fit, but their hope to raise their two sons closer to family was stronger than their desire to enjoy smooth sailing in the present, and so they went. There was no job waiting as he gave his two weeks notice and sold their house, but Lyndon had a card up his sleeve that I think even he underestimated. Because for more than 2 years Lyndon had been working on a side project. Not one that would ever support a family directly, but a project that had taught him a long list of skills that would soon open the door to a new career. A career for which, unknowingly, he had become a perfect fit. Hiking Geek Lyndon’s mix of offline experience with online hobbies had started in forums, but when he found that his hiking photos didn’t quite fit the classic car boards he frequented, he decided to give them a place of their own. A bit of shared hosting and a Wordpress install later, HikingGeek.com was born. But it wasn’t until a spike in traffic following a gear review (of something he already owned) that he saw a way to truly grow his audience. Reaching out to more gear brands, his list of reviews began to grow along with his traffic. Another Reason to Grow One day a friend mentioned to Lyndon that a hiking boot company was looking for ambassadors. With two months before the deadline and missing a few checkboxes on their application, Lyndon threw himself headlong into social media, something with which he had little prior experience. Before long he’d created accounts on nearly every site and was doing anything he could to extend his reach to these platforms. Two months later his follower counts had grown just enough to tip the scales and the ambassador label was his. Confident, additional ambassadorships soon followed and Lyndon’s project was showing more and more promise. Back to New Hampshire When Lyndon and his family arrived in New Hampshire, HikingGeek was coming off another uptick in traffic, but his most valuable asset wasn’t the thousands of visitors who were now coming to his site, it was the skills he’d learned along the way. Starting from scratch, it turns out, had taught Lyndon things that you sometimes miss in a traditional job where your role is limited and there’s always help an agency or freelancer or cubicle away. He’d learned a CMS from top to bottom. He’d learned about hosting and being ready for traffic. He’d learned graphic design and Photoshop. He’d learned how to build a brand from scratch. He’d learned how to come up with new ideas on demand. He’d learned how to write (and fix) HTML. He’d learned how to write engaging content. He’d learned how to identify successful strategies and replicate them. He’d learned how to build and engage social media audiences. So as he started to put out resumes for IT jobs, he began applying for marketing positions as well. Interestingly, when he needed to prove he could do one marketing skill or another, his claims didn’t rely on references or a resume, because with a single URL he could let HikingGeek quickly make his case. Okemo And that’s exactly what happened at Okemo. The job called for someone who could handle their CMS. Check. The position needed someone who could design graphics for ads and emails. Check. And blog posts too. Check Someone would could jump into the HTML when needed and wrangle social profiles and photography. Check. Check. And...yes..check. Even Lyndon, looking back, admits that the main reason he got the job was because of HikingGeek. Not just because of the skills, but because of the physical proof of those skills in the site and audience and brand he had built. With two energetic boys and a full-time job as the Internet Marketing Manager at Okemo, the posts on HikingGeek are less frequent than they used to be, but the influence and benefits to both Lyndon and Okemo continue. When he needs to design something, he often remembers a PSD file he can use as a starting point. When he has a new idea, he can test it in his sandbox so Okemo doesn’t bear the risk. When they need to reach out to an influencer, he’ll know how to talk to them because, well, he is one. A Case for Side Projects I’ve often attempted to make a case for side projects, but it wasn’t until I met Lyndon at Insight a few weeks ago that I found someone who was such clear, living proof of their benefits. To Lyndon, I say congrats for a successful reward to his years of hustle. To you, I ask a question: what are you going to build? What are you going to do with a little of that free time of yours to become better at what you do? Not just for your employer now, but to create better opportunities for yourself down the road. Think of it this way. Where would Lyndon be today if he hadn’t started Hiking Greek in 2013? A great IT job in Manchester? Flipping burgers in Lincoln? We’ll never know, but we know where he wouldn’t be. Okemo.

On passion, patience, and perspective.

June 7, 2017
Gregg: Sean, 13 years ago you were a world away from the ski industry but at a crossroads with your career and future. Talk about where you were both career-wise and location-wise, but also mentally with that path. Sean: In 2004, I was starting my 7th year of active duty in the Air Force, but my path had started long before... After graduating from the Air Force Academy in 1997, my career in the military led me into field communications...the team that I led could be dropped anywhere in the world and we would set up an array of communications for military forces moving into that area. I bounced around the world doing my thing and actually loved it...the travel, the camaraderie of a tight team on their own, and being in charge with very little oversight as long as I got the job done. Along came 9-11 and needless to say, things got a little more hectic. I was spending more and more time in and out of the Middle East. When I was home, I was focused on training teams to take my place in the field and get ready for the next rotation. Gregg: What was the breaking point for you? Sean: I returned from one of my rotations overseas, and unbeknownst to me, had a new assignment waiting for me. I was sent to the Air Force Test Center in Albuquerque, NM to help write test plans for new communications systems that were in development. When I got there, it was not what I was hoping for. I was put in a cubicle (imagine a Dilbert comic) where I worked mostly with contractors that wore ties. I didn’t get to travel anymore. I didn’t get to go in the field. And I felt the life getting sucked out of me. I tried to get a new assignment doing more of what I loved (and was really good at), but was told there are boxes that needed to be checked in order to get promoted and my days in the field were most likely over. 14955871_661942960278_3352398775539224400_n Back to 2004. I was a Captain in the Air Force, getting ready to meet my promotion board for Major. Anytime an office accepts a new rank, it comes with an extended time commitment to the military. I would have pinned on Major at about 8 years, owed at least 4 years more for that promotion and could retire at 20 years… if I stay in 12, shouldn’t I just do 20 and retire? If I do that, will I be miserable for 10 years just to get a retirement check? So for me, it really was a cross roads. Do I get out of the military now (after 4 years of military school and 8 years of active duty), find a new career… or stick it out and potentially be unhappy for 12 years of my life just to get a retirement. Gregg: And the the military wasn’t just a recent part of your life, correct? Sean: The military was definitely nothing new to me. I grew up in a military family. Bounced around mostly the east coast and europe as a child, only living in a place for about 3 years, before moving to the next. The typical, “army brat” story. My dad retired from the Army after a highly decorated career in the Green Berets, the army’s special forces...just think of every hard core military movie you watched in the 80s ;) I had family in every major conflict you can think of WWII, I, Korea, etc. Gregg: Was there any family pressure or personal pressure or financial pressure to stick it out and stay the original course? Sean: I think there’s always pressure when looking at a major change in lifestyle. There were a lot of people that thought I was throwing away everything I had worked for. An education at one of the top universities in the US, a stellar military career so far, I was single, owned a house and had a pretty good paycheck coming in. The worst part was I knew I was unhappy, but didn’t really know what my alternative was going to be. seanquote1 Gregg: So you decide to move on. Why skiing? Sean: I’ve always loved skiing. My dad was a skier and got my family hooked on it. Some of my earliest memories are from the slopes. Living on the military base in Germany, we had a very active ski club and I got the amazing opportunity to ski all over Europe before I even went to high school. So I guess you could say skiing was in my blood. My dad started ski patrolling while still in the military. He got me involved when I was in high school and was the Junior Patroller of the Year for the Eastern Division of the National Ski Patrol. I ski raced at the Air Force Academy and one of the biggest reasons I agreed to go to school there was because it was in Colorado. While stationed in Albuquerque, I got a call from the guy that was my coach from junior high school while living in Germany. He was the ski school director at a place called Angel Fire...about 2.5-3 hours from Albuquerque and wanted to know if I wanted to get back into racing. I said great! And started driving up every weekend in the winter that I could to work as a coach for their race team. Gregg: And why graphic design? How does an former cadet find work as a designer? Sean: The graphic design part was a little more random ;) I have always been interested in art, especially photography. I took art classes in school, was a photographer for the yearbook, did independent study classes and more. What I found about my “art” was I was pretty good at replicating things, but not as much creating my own from scratch. I had done some architectural drawing work with CAD, had started to learn photoshop on my own for my photography and definitely picked up the computer side of it quickly. Gregg: What was your first step after you made that decision? Sean: After I finally made the decision to leave the Air Force, I decided to move to Panama to live with my uncle and cousins down there to do a little soul searching. I had a full time coaching gig waiting for me at Angel Fire that winter, but had most of the summer and fall off so I headed south. I coached that next winter and at the season was stuck with another decision of what to do. I could go back to Panama for another summer and work with my uncle...and trust me, the idea of skiing all winter and surfing all summer was pretty appealing. But there was definitely a side of me that was still looking for more. I couldn’t quite leave the structure of a lifetime of military tendencies to the wind just yet ;) I heard through other employees that the marketing office at Angel Fire was looking for some extra help with graphic design. They had an in-house designer, but she was starting to ease her way into retirement. So I jumped up and said I could do the work (even though I wasn’t sure I could). I learned from their designer, called a friend in Denver that was a designer a bunch and just faked the rest ;) That eventually led into more of a full time design position and a part time coaching job to the point where I was doing marketing, design and events year round. Gregg: Most people that know you will know you from your current gig at Schweitzer. How did that path bring you to Sandpoint, Idaho? Sean: My best friend and roommate in Angel Fire and I had started to look around outside NM. He had been there for over 10 years, there were some leadership changes happening at the resort and we had just finished the worst winter in recorded history. Sounded like a great reason for a road trip. We spent that whole winter renovating his VW van, loaded up our skis, snowboards and bikes and hit the road. My buddy was originally from Seattle, so we had our sights set on the NW. Our plan was to hit every ski resort town in the NW where we knew someone and hopefully something would pan out. 13975270_10153807099843601_9025402003797106870_o After a month in Moab...the van broke down ;)... we made it to Ashland, OR. We were staying with the previous ski school director from Angel Fire that was running Mt Ashland at the time. Over beers that night, he told us that a buddy of his was the GM at a place called Schweitzer and they were looking for an events manager. My friend that I was travelling with had been the Angel Fire events manager, so we jumped online, tried to figure out where Schweitzer was and he applied for the job. Our trip progressed, we made it to the Seattle area and hit up Crystal, Baker and Stevens. While there, my friend got a call from Schweitzer for an interview. We decided to drive over and do the interview in person instead of over the phone. Got a chance to check out Sandpoint, hike the mountain (it had just closed for the season) and check out the local scene. After a couple days there, we continued on our trip. About a week later, we had just left Jackson, he got a call with the job offer. We both looked at each other and nodded. “That place was pretty sweet...let’s do it.” I didn’t even have a job prospect yet, but we went home, packed up our stuff and made the move. Gregg: If I remember right, you had to be a bit persistent to finally land a job with the resort. How long did that take and what were you doing for work until then? Sean: Ha ha, I guess that’s one way to put it ;) But they say good things come to those who wait. As I said, I didn’t really have a job prospect when we made the decision to move, but I was able to get a job right away with the trail/slopes crew. My intention was to work on the bike trails and try and recreate the success we had at Angel Fire (the year prior, we put on the UCI World Cup). I spent a couple of days doing bike trails then got pulled to work on winter slopes crew. They gave me a truck, a propane torch and a few bags of grass seed. My mission was to work my way down a couple of new slopes, burn the slash piles and reseed the ski runs that had recently been cut. That winter, I tried to get a position with the local race team, Schweitzer Alpine Racing School. SARS seemed interested, but weren’t going to hire someone they hadn’t seen ski… made sense to me. So i did what every ski bum does, got a job tuning skis during the day and slung drinks in the bar at night. Gregg: How long did that last? Sean: I did the seasonal thing for a few years, all the while hoping an opening would present itself in the marketing office. Tuned skis, wrenched on bikes, built trails, poured drinks, supervised the rental shop...applied for a graphic design job - didn’t get it. Applied for another marketing job - didn’t get it. But the persistence paid off, another opening came up and I got it - graphic designer for the resort. A year or two later, the manager left and I got that position. A year or two after that, the Director left and I got that position. Schweitzer has been great promoting from within and given me some great opportunities that i’ve jumped on with everything I had. Gregg: When you look back at this path of spending time out of the country and seeing the world, of the AIr Force culture of discipline, and the fruit of being persistent and working hard before seeing success, do you feel those dots are connected? Sean: I would like to think so. As much as my life seems to have two distinct chapters, it’s really hard to imagine it any way other than the way it’s been. Each job i had or decision i made, somehow led to the next one… and so on. Travelling and moving my entire young life made me realize how much I loved the Sandpoint area without actually living here long. I also appreciate everything i have now because i’ve seen so much other stuff - both good and bad. I still love to travel and get the “bug” or the “itch” to hit the road, but for the first time in my life I have a sense of community, a true sense of “home” and am surrounded by an extraordinary place and an amazing group of people. Gregg: Big picture aside, do you see your unique experiences influencing your day-to-day work or style as a marketing director? Sean: I think my style as a director stems from a true love of skiing, snowboarding, mountain life and the outdoors in general. I don’t think I would be in marketing if it was for another product - tissues, or corn flakes, or prescription meds. I just wouldn’t have the passion… it would have to be in the outdoor industry. seanquote3 When it comes to my experiences, i think the biggest thing is they put my life in perspective. I’ve seen some pretty rough times, and been in some pretty stressful spots… now, it’s all smooth sailing. Everyone I work with says I always seem even-keeled, get along with everyone and never seem to get worked up. Even the worst of days now don’t come close to some of the days i’ve already had, so i try to keep things pretty low stress. When you wake up every day in this place, go to work 25 feet from a chairlift and are tasked with convincing people how awesome skiing, riding and mountain life can be, I say bring it :) Gregg: To wrap up, any advice for those reading this who may be working in that rental shop or hoping for the “director” title one day? Sean: Keep at it. There’s no job too small...especially if you want to make it to the top. I think the best bosses i’ve had have done a lot of different things, so they have perspective, they get it. Be willing to move. The ski industry is a tight nit group and the funnel to the top gets smaller and smaller with opportunities to rise up through the ranks fewer and fewer. I feel lucky that i’ve been able to make a lot of my progression all at one place, but i know that’s not true for many resorts. One of my toughest challenges is having a bright group of motivated, young employees seeking year round/full time work, but don’t have a spot for them. Love what you do. It’s worth it :)

Intriguing lessons from a lover of all lifts.

October 14, 2016
Gregg: Peter, what's your story. Where are you from, where did you learn to ski, what do you do for a living, etc.? Peter: I grew up in Seattle skiing on the weekends at Snoqualmie Pass and Crystal Mountain. Some of my earliest memories are riding a high speed lift for the first time at Stevens Pass and wondering about the word Doppelmayr on chairs at Sun Valley. I started working on a database of pictures and stats (manufacturer, length, vertical, number of towers, etc.) of different lifts when I was in 5th grade. The advent of the internet really allowed me to learn as much as I could about the lift companies and I studied the trail maps of resorts all over to find out what lifts they had. When I applied to college, I wrote my application essay about the lift database I had built, which by then included every ropeway in North America - 5,577 of them. I ended up going to school in Maine and skied my way through as much of New England as I could. The fall after I graduated in 2012 I went to Jackson Hole's job fair and started as a gondola operator. I've been year-round at JHMR since then, operating the tram in the summer and supervising the gondola crew in the winter. Gregg: What's the right word for your relationship with lifts? Love? Passion? Fascination? All of the above? Whatever the word, when did it start? Peter: Lifelong passion would be a good description. I really couldn't say exactly where it started but it is almost as old as I am.

One more from @coloradoskicountryusa and the #Riblet museum a.k.a. @sunlightmtnresort. This gem dates back to 1954, originally #chair3 at @aspensnowmass. #segundo

A photo posted by @lift_blog on

Gregg: Speaking of which, that surprised me when I first learned how young you were. So what did you study in school and why? With your love of lifts, was everyone assuming you'd do something like engineering? Peter: I just turned 27. Email was my friend when I was younger and didn't think anyone would take me seriously. I got Doppelmayr to send me their Worldbook every year and subscribed to SAM as a "ski area student" when I was in middle school to get access to their annual lift survey. My degree is in government. It's what my older brother did and at 18 I wasn't sure what I wanted to do except work at a ski resort. Interestingly, if you read my blog you know that more and more governments around the world are purchasing lifts for public transportation. Gregg: What it is it about lifts, then, that drives a kid in elementary school to build his own database? What that fuels the passion? Can you put your finger on why you love them, or is it just sort of there and you can't shake it? Is there anything else you've ever been this passionate about? Peter: I was always kind of a nerdy kid interested in technology and good at researching things. I'm the type of person who gets on an airplane and finds out what model it is and where it was built. Lifts combine a lot of my favorite things...cool technology, skiing and the mountains. I work at the tram almost every day and when I go home I write my blog about lifts and check out other resorts on the weekends.

P2P finishing out its 8th winter season in style #explorebc

A photo posted by @lift_blog on

Gregg: Favorite 3 lifts in the world and why? Peter: 1. Peak 2 Peak at Whistler. A 3S combines everything good about an aerial tramway with the efficiency of a gondola. Peak 2 Peak holds multiple world records and connects two world-class ski mountains with stunning scenery along the way. 2. Bridger Gondola at Jackson Hole. It's the first lift I ever worked and although the tram gets all the fame, the gondola is a beast of a machine. With 2,700’ of vertical, it can move six tram cars worth of people in 15 minutes. The cabin storage facility that holds the gondolas at night is super cool and something most people never get to see. 3. Mt. Rainier Gondola at Crystal Mountain. A top-to-bottom lift is is a huge positive development at Crystal, where I learned to ski. A 14,000-foot volcano greets you at the top and the snow is usually deep on the way back down. Gregg: For some ski area folks that have spent all day every day around lifts for 30 years, I think sometimes they're surprised that something so common in their world is so novel to others. I've seen you share a few stats about your readership and site visitation that I think are a great illustration of a hidden interest in lifts that many industry people don't realize. Can you share some key stats about your blog? Number of posts, most views on a single post, total pageviews, total monthly etc.? Peter: My blog gets an interesting mix of industry folks, die-hard skiers and people who are just interested in the technology. I'm a year and a half in with 355 posts to date. Readership is growing and a good day sees a couple thousand unique visitors and a good month 75,000 page views. The most for a single post is actually one I wrote recently about Big Sky's bubble six-pack that's under construction. Big Sky shared it on their Facebook page and it has been read over 5,000 times. Anything about lift construction or upcoming expansions does well. I did an interview with Carl Skylling of Skytrac when Leitner-Poma acquired them and that caught a lot of interest.

Last one from Big Sky 'til next time...new Challenger and the Spanish Peaks. #buildmorelifts @bigskyresort

A photo posted by @lift_blog on

Gregg: That really is impressive and, again, underscores the huge interest in lifts many folks just don't realize exists. And props on that pace, 355 in a year and a half is incredible. What can resorts do to help your efforts? Is it photos? Is it access? Is it connecting you with the right people? Tech specs? Other? Peter: Every day I work at the J.H. tram I meet people who want to learn how the machine works and take a tour of the motor room. Not everyone is interested but a certain demographic totally is. As far as supporting me, I love when resorts invite me to a lift-related announcement or give me a head's up when a big lift milestone is happening. That is how the recent Big Sky post I mentioned came about, with a simple invitation from the marketing team. They gave me a ride up the hill to watch a helicopter fly lift towers and bought me lunch. Even just sending along some pictures or responding to my emails if I have questions is super helpful. I won't name the resort that detained and questioned me for taking pictures of their lifts! Gregg: What's the goal for both you professionally and the blog? In other words, where do you want to be doing for work in 5-10 years and where do you hope Lift Blog will be when you get there? Peter: I would like to see Lift Blog continue to grow with more people reading and commenting. I started Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts that people can follow if they are interested in what's going on in the lift world. Leitner-Poma and Deasonbuilt Manufacturing are my first two advertisers and cover some of the costs of running around to different ski areas, which I am grateful for. Every lift is different and I would love to travel to more places to write about. I have never skied in Europe and want to visit what is really the heart of lift technology and manufacturing in the Alps. I enjoy sharing my enthusiasm about lifts with guests and co-workers at Jackson Hole and I'm not exactly sure what the future will bring. I have gained a lot of valuable experience in mountain operations and made some great connections in the industry through my blog.

Will technology replace hand-painted trail maps?

February 15, 2016
Gregg: Give us a little bit of background about you, Kevin. Where you grew up, how you got started in art, etc. Kevin: I grew up here in Leadville. I learned to ski on a very small hill in my backyard, using some of my mom’s and uncle’s very outdated, hand-me-downs: lace-up leather boots, bamboo poles with leather bales, and skis with cable-back bindings. Cooper Hill (Ski Cooper) was our weekend babysitter. There was a bus that ran from town, so we were out there most Saturdays all winter. Loveland was the first “big hill” I ever skied. I skied on our high school team for only a couple years, but I wasn’t great. I skijored for a number of years and was pretty decent at that. As I’ve gotten older I’ve been more into nordic, skate-skiing, and mountaineering. I've always been artistic. My uncle, Ken McGowan, was my high school art teacher. He was very inspiring, very encouraging to me. I knew that I wanted to make a living in art in some manner, but had no idea how that was supposed to work! I learned about the Colorado Institute of Art and toured it when I was a junior. That was my ticket. I went in with the intention of being an illustrator, but quickly discovered that I was surrounded by some amazing talent and that it was a difficult field to break into. rippinroscoe Source: Ripping with Roscoe, Kevin Mastin Out of college, I worked for one of those “Welcome Neighbor” companies, designing vinyl phone book covers littered with ads from local plumbers, car dealers and realtors. It mostly involved typesetting, waxing and pasting up little ads. A highlight of my week would be when the pet shop wanted an image for their ad—instead of using clip art, I could draw a little dog! My first real break was getting a job for Compugraphic, near Boston, designing typefaces for photo typesetting equipment. These were the very early days of the Mac—literally: Quark 1.0, FreeHand 1.0, PhotoShop 1.0, etc. After 4 years in Boston, creating only vector graphics for the Mac, my wife and I decided to move back home to Colorado, and I nailed my dream job: graphic designer for a ski area - Keystone - very near my home town. Gregg: What was the first resort trail map you did, when was it, and how did you get that job? Kevin: Working for Keystone exposed me to ski maps. We were working with Jim Niehues, who I consider “the modern master of the ski trail map.” Jim was updating several of the maps which had been painted by his mentor, Bill C. Brown. Jim painted the artwork, but he did not create the overlays (trail names, lift lines, etc.). This was at the point when some graphic artists were still using press-type, photostats ands acetate overlays. Fortunately, I was already well-versed in creating vector art. So, on my first two maps, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin, Jim painted the art and I did the overlays digitally. In 1994 Keystone greatly upgraded its mountain biking operation and I got my first opportunity to start a map from scratch—reading the maps, taking the aerial photos, sketching the layout, then painting the mountain—I finally had the chance to paint a widely seen illustration. I worked for Keystone and Vail Resorts until 1997 when I started my own shop. Gregg: Compared to other art, did you face any surprising or unique challenges when you started painting trail maps? Kevin: One of the main challenges is presenting the mountain in a way that is intuitive and makes sense to the skier. Map artists are required to “cheat” things around quite bit in order to make things visible. For instance, Keystone comprises three peaks, back-to-back-to-back. The front sides are north-facing and the back sides are south-facing. The resort did not want a map with separate illustrations or insets; they wanted everything in one view. I needed to create "bird’s-eye view" to get everything visible from one angle. It was a stretch, but it worked out. My most recent map, Loveland, was kind of the opposite of Keystone. Loveland is a large basin with slopes converging into a central base area. Their existing map was two images, a North View and a South View, and their skiers found it difficult to piece together. For this painting I created a panoramic, "fish-eye view.” lovelandmap Souce: SkiLoveland I consider these trail maps “illustrations” rather than "fine art.” A trick to all of the maps is that the ski areas can’t really be painted too literally. A few examples. Catwalks can be very flat and virtually invisible when looking at the mountain, so the downward slope is exaggerated and the trails widened. The mountains are never as steep and vertical as the skier perceives, so the elevations are almost always extended upward (plus, the marketing folks like it that way!). Also, the paintings need to accommodate all of the labels (lift lines, trail names, legend, compass, etc.) sometimes the trail name itself is longer than the little patch of snow I’m trying paint. Tangent, but kind of fun: about twenty years ago, I bought an art print from Warren Miller and got the opportunity to meet him and have him sign the print. He surprised me a bit, by asking me why in the heck we always painted the mountain from the base looking up; why not paint it from the skier’s point of view—from the top looking down? I’m good at visualizing things, but I have no idea how I would do that! Gregg: I love that combination of digital vectors and painting. Let me wrap that idea into what you said about having to "cheat" a little. There are a lot of people trying to create 3D maps using things like Google Earth but I feel many lack the usability of maps like yours. When you look at the progression of technology and the demands of a trail map, will there always be a need for hand-crafted art in trail map creation? Will digital take over? What do you see? Kevin: I think there’s room for both styles, although aesthetically, I find the digital maps “cold” and not as enticing. I sell quite a number of my trail maps as signed art prints for people to frame and hang in their homes. I’m not sure how many of the digital maps people feel are attractive enough to do that. The colors in satellite imagery are often a bit odd and need to be heavily doctored. The snow is usually too gray, and if you look closely the trees are often parallel to the ground! I use satellite imagery for reference, but most of what is readily available is captured in the summer time (winter, aerial photography is still the best). It’s also important to remember the the trail map is not just a functional illustration for navigation, it’s a very important marketing and sales piece. The skies are blue, trees are green, the snow is perfect; it’s the signature image of the resort. The traditional, painted map is not going away anytime soon. suicide6 Source: Stray Horse Arts (Kevin Mastin) Last, I’m often asked about maps in formats for use on a cell phone. Whether it’s a digital or traditional illustration, the map should to be loaded on your device before you hit the slopes. There are so many places in the backcountry where you can’t receive a signal, plus batteries fail much quicker in the cold. So, in defense of the printed map—it is safer; I’m a hiker and climber and I'd would never rely solely on a digital format. Gregg: And along those lines I wanted to get your thoughts on something. On my desk I have a book with hundreds of ski posters from the last 100 years from all over the world. Whenever I flip through it I feel like each decade had a very unique style of art. Even more, a culture that went along with and was reflected in it. Today, I don't see either. I see very little art. I see very little cohesive ski culture. When you look at ski art over the years, do you see a similar change? Any thoughts on that? Kevin: That’s a great observation and I definitely agree with you. Think of the volume of vintage ski and travel posters with beautiful illustrations from the turn of the (last) century up until about the 1960s. We have a number of them hanging in our home. Much of the ski art you see today are mimicking the styles from those glory days—I’m not throwing stones, I do it myself. Where I see the “ski culture” thriving is at the smaller, neighborhood hills. I still feel it in the parking lot at A-Basin and on the deck at Ski Cooper. Skiing has become a very expensive sport and whether you like it or not, it has largely been driven by real estate, and I don’t see that trend changing. There have been big changes in advertising art in the last 20 years, I’d say mostly driven by the internet, social media, and devices. Photos and videos are quick and cheap and active; illustration is labor-intensive, expensive and static. That said, where you can see the best art being produced is from the younger manufacturers of equipment and apparel. There is some very nice logo and typography work being done. The art is still being created, but it’s not in a magazine or being hung on the dorm room wall, it’s now a t-shirt, a sticker, or the design of a snowboard. -- For more info on Kevin and his art head over to: kevinmastin.com

Behind the Scenes: Making the Max Pass

March 23, 2015
The MAX Pass came out of nowhere with a unique strategy built on new tech and designed based on lessons from the past. This week I'm covering three aspects of how this pass, sale, and brand came to be. Today's perspective on strategy comes from Intrawest's CFO, Travis Mayer. -- Gregg: How long has the MAX Pass been in the works? Travis: We started talking to the Boyne and Powdr guys about the idea of joining forces to create a new pass shortly before Thanksgiving. We all got together in Denver in mid-December for a brainstorming session, and the idea came together pretty quickly after that. Gregg: Where did the idea first come from and how long did it take to go from an idea to the "let's actually build this" stage? Travis: The genesis of the idea was an observation that the level of pass penetration in many regions of North America, most notably the East, remains incredibly low. For example, in Colorado approximately 60% of active skiers and riders buy a season pass; in the northeastern US fewer than 30% of active skiers and riders are pass holders. A similar disparity exists in the Northwest, eastern Canada, and other regions that are home to large numbers of skiers. In combining our portfolio of resorts on one pass, we have created an entirely new category of pass product that we believe will convince more folks in these regions to buy a pass instead of a handful of day tickets. The M.A.X. Pass provides a customer an unprecedented level of flexibility to do day trips and weekends at great resorts near home and also take a longer trip to world class destinations farther afield—all on one pass, at a great price. Gregg: Talk a little bit about how three resort groups came together to work like this. Was it a tough sell or was everyone already thinking of some sort of response to the EpicPass, etc? Travis: The coordination was amazingly easy. We quickly coalesced around a common vision of the opportunity and the appropriate product to offer the market. As I mentioned before, the pass isn’t necessarily a direct response to the Epic. Instead, it is intended to be a new product that will motivate people who haven’t bought a season pass in the past to buy a pass next season. By giving these people a bunch of great resorts to explore, we hope they will ski more and enjoy a low cost per day of skiing. A scenario where everyone wins. Gregg: The Mountain Collective is so as its own pass product but only 2 days at each mountain. The Powder Alliance can only be purchased as an add-on to current passes but only gives 3 days. The EpicPass is it's own product and is unlimited. Talk a little bit about why you chose the model you did that offers the pass as both standalone but also a pass upgrade and enough days (5) to make for a solid vacation? Travis: We decided to offer 5 days at each resort to give customers the ability to ski a few weekends at any individual participating resort or take a week-long vacation (with one rest day), which appears to be the new normal for week-long western trips. We don’t think 2 or 3 days is long enough for a week long western trip. We wanted to offer a very affordable add-on to our existing passes to provide our current passholders the flexibility to experience other great resorts in addition to their home resort. Gregg: How did the success and lessons learned from the Intawest passport play into the planning and model used for The MAX Pass? Travis: Our experience with the Passport validated our view of the East to West opportunity and helped us determine that 5 days was the appropriate amount of skiing at each property to give customers the desired flexibility to vacation how they want, when they want. Gregg: This is the first such pass effort that ties the west to the east. Talk a bit about what you feel that does for the strength of this pass's value in the marketplace, especially vis-a-vis other pass products? Travis: If you are an adult who buys the pass in the spring for $699 and skis 15 days next season—some local weekends and maybe a destination trip in the Rockies—you will be paying ~$47 per day to ski at some of the best resorts in North America. That’s less than half the cost of a window ticket at some eastern resorts and one third the cost of a window ticket at some western resorts. If you ski more, it’s even a more incredible deal. Gregg: What was the biggest challenge in making this pass a reality? Travis: It always takes time to work through the details and complexities of bringing a new product like this to market. Given that we had three partners at the table, one would have expected this to be much more difficult than it actually was. We have a lot of respect for the teams at Powdr and Boyne. They are smart, analytical, creative people who consistently deliver great guest experiences at their resorts. Given the mutual respect in the partnership, we quickly got everyone rowing in the same direction. Gregg: What's the future? If Peak Resorts comes knocking can this expand or is does the current scope match your current goals? Travis: We will consider adding new resorts to the pass in the future if we think they complement the existing portfolio of participating resorts and increase consumer value.

Politics, climate change, and resort marketing.

April 29, 2013
Winter resorts. That’s what you are. Protect Our Winters is trying to keep the first word in that description from disappearing. A worthwhile goal, don’t you think? I’ve been following the climate change debate for a while. So when I had the chance to shake hands with POW’s Executive Director, Chris Steinkamp, recently, I jumped at the chance to get this ex-marketing-exec’s view on resorts, climate change, and what that means for resorts and resort marketers. -- Gregg: First, this is a big topic with lots of perspectives. Let's make sure we are all on the same page. In a sentence or two, what's POW's stance on climate change: man caused, man assisted (how much), natural cycle, etc.? Chris: It's proven that climate change is real and its being accelerated by man made greenhouse gasses. The science is unequivocal about that and to us, we can't spend any more time debating it. Its time to move towards solutions, because our window to save any semblance of winter is closing fast. Gregg: A few resorts have done some small things to raise awareness or purchased credits/offsets and others have gone big by installing wind turbines or methane generators - is this a matter of getting buzz, PR, and building a brand or do resorts have an obligation to be active in working with and supporting a causes like POW? Chris: We think that resorts should dial up their sustainability efforts because it's the right thing to do. And they're cost saving measures too. But do it for those reasons and know that, that alone isn't solving climate change. We think that the most effective things that any resort can is:
  1. Engage their customers to be smart about the real, effective solutions. Take a leadership position on climate to everyone who buys a lift ticket, for example. Since the response to climate change has been so fragmented, we're working hard to standardize the messaging and the call to action across our industry and throughout the 23 million member winter sports community. It could be very powerful and having resorts join this effort would be a game changer.
  2. Help drive climate policy both at the state and federal level. Resorts, who are huge employers and tax contributors in their tourist-based states have a unique opportunity and a responsibility to become climate activists. Using this lever to change policy is the most effective thing a resort can do right now.
Climate change is going to directly impact every US resort, so its time to see this as a real threat and work with us to do something meaningful about it. Gregg: Let me hit something from your response to Q1 again and dig more into the branding side. In fact, let me break this up into two questions. First, I've been in global warming discussions that border or religious or political debates with emotions high on both sides. If a resort takes a firm stance on global warming, can they do so without driving away the group of the US population that hasn't looked at the science, hasn't studied the data, and because of players, personalities, or perspectives thinks that global warming isn't real or man-caused? Chris: Climate change has become so politicized that's its clouding rational decision-making. A resort has to take a stand on an issue because its an issue that’s threatening their business, and that needs to be explained to anyone who questions their motives. Its the responsible thing to do, and in the best interest of their consumers. The converse needs to apply too in the fact that climate activism is appreciated by a growing majority of winter sports enthusiasts so taking a stand on climate change will actually attract consumers. After Jiminy Peak installed their wind turbine, the next year skier visits were up 15%, some of which might be attributable to their sustainability efforts. Gregg: And, second, how does a resort take a strong stance with their brand while, at the same time, not ignoring the fact that their business relies of thousands of people driving a combined tens of thousands of miles each weekend to their mountain? Should a marketer be worried that their environmentally focused brand may be sending a silent message of "come skiing, but we think driving 3 hours here to do so is irresponsible"? Chris: We always say that nobody's perfect and that we all need to use our biggest levers while staying in business. We all recognize the fact that resorts need to stay in business which means that doing some carbon-intensive things that they aren't proud of. But with that, comes the responsibility of finding their biggest levers and exercising those. So, ok, people have to drive or fly to the resort. Then, can they partner with a shuttle company to take some cars off the road? Better yet, can they take more high-profile stand against climate change to affect federal policy? Use your lever to make the bigger difference and let consumers know it. Gregg: Jiminy's wind turbine has very much become part of the image and brand of the resort. I think the climate change message that sends is pretty clear. When Steamboat opened their Sunshine Express headlines stating it was "solar powered" because of they credits and investment they made that would produce the equivalent used by the lift. It's been a few years, but I remember a bunch of feedback that equated to eyerolls at equating credits to being "solar powered". Is that route, vs the Jiminy Peak route, ever viewed as a negative to a brand as some sort of a cop out to installing the real deal at the mountain? Chris: REC's and carbon offsets are quickly becoming widely known as a shortcut to be able to claim carbon neutrality. Consumers know that buying offsets doesn’t equate to being fully carbon neutral so eyes do roll now when people talk about them They're fine as supplementary sustainability strategies, but they just can’t exist as the only solution. Gregg: Any quick ideas or advice for resort marketers if/when their resort starts sending this message? Chris: I’m a 12 year advertising exec and marketing advice is not to dwell on communicating the negative effects of climate change and its doomsday effects on our business. We’re trying to get people involved. Instead, we need to engage the consumers in what the resort is doing and activate them to become fans or part of the overall effort. That's critical. If a resort can message their effort so well that consumers say to themselves, "thats cool. I want to be part of that", that's a home run. The messaging has to be interesting and relevant to the target consumers as well, so does the creative. It has to be delivered in a unique and authentic way so young skiers and snowboarders feel like they're not being talked to, but part of the conversation. And we know how young skiers and snowboarders use media so be smart about how you use it.

Nine Marketing Questions from Ten Years at Diamond Peak

August 15, 2011
The recent news that Milena Regos, Marketing Director at Diamond Peak, was stepping down to move on to her next adventure was a bit surprising. While I haven't had the chance to meet her in person, I've heard only good things about her decade-long tenure in Tahoe. Interested in the highlights and takeaways from Milena's marketing reign, I shot her a handful of questions. Classy as always, she obliged. Here they are: -- SlopeFillers: What is the biggest marketing lesson you learned about the ski industry? Milena: Two things: customer service and bringing new people to the sport. You need to make sure your guests are happy, had a fantastic time and will return to your ski resort. I'm sure that applies to other industries as well. Without happy customers you don't have a ski resort. Although the ski industry has been growing over the year, too many ski resorts concentrate on growing their market share by taking away skiers/riders from other mountains. At Diamond Peak, we concentrated on bringing new people to the sport and making sure they have a great first time experience. When your guests are happy, they will come back season after season. SlopeFillers: What is the biggest marketing lesson you learned about social media in general? Milena: Social media is where people are and how they want to communicate. The reason companies are trying to figure out how to use social media for business purposes is because they understand that traditional marketing has its limitations. Social media continues to grow and evolve and together with mobile is a critical component to a successful marketing strategy. You need to stay on top of all trends, make sure you have a well thought out strategy and use your resources wisely. I realized that to be good at social media I need to concentrate all my time and energy there and hence the move away from Diamond Peak and towards my own social media company with Out&About Marketing. Even for someone passionate about social media I needed more time in the day to do everything at Diamond Peak. Companies should consider hiring someone to be responsible for social and not just taking on more duties among the existing staff. It's a new industry that changes too fast and needs daily attention to do it well. SlopeFillers: What is the biggest marketing lesson you learned about Twitter? Milena: Twitter is by far one of my favorite social networks. The biggest lesson I learned is that it's all about relationships on Twitter. You are better off knowing 1,000 people than having 10,000 followers. Meet people, provide valuable content and don't worry about the follower count too much. Companies miss the mark there by just blasting out messages they old way. Twitter only works if you actually listen to what people are saying, engage in conversations, and provide valuable information to your followers all in 140 characters. SlopeFillers: What is the biggest marketing lesson you learned about Facebook? Milena: People are on Facebook to have fun, connect with family and friends and live in a world that makes them feel like rock stars. Things that work on Facebook are fun, easy contests, exclusive deals and discounts and valuable information like how much snow you received or if the roads are open. The biggest accomplishment on Facebook for us was winning the Hermes Platinum award in social media by doing a really cool birthday celebration offer. By celebrating people's birthday on Facebook we immediately became their friends and it worked out well for us too. SlopeFillers: What is the biggest marketing lesson you learned about tahoe? Milena: Tahoe remains a drive up market and people from the Bay Area are looking for deals. With a tough economy it's still important to make people feel they are getting a good deal. The Bay Area is also very tech savvy so social, video, and mobile should be at the forefront of a successful ski marketing strategy. People want to know the conditions, where you are located and the rates. Tahoe is a very competitive market with many ski resorts so close to each other. Finding a niche that resonates with your customers is crucial. Diamond Peak's positioning with kids and beginners has worked out extremely well and it matches the resort personality. SlopeFillers: What is the biggest marketing lesson you learned about integrated marketing? Milena: All marketing efforts need to be going in the same direction and driving the same message. It's super important to have a consistent voice on traditional and new media and to create events and promotions that complement the brand. We concentrated more on kid friendly events and less on hard core terrain park comps because we realized we needed to be consistent with our audience. Find your voice, make sure it works for your brand and then stay consistent on all platforms. You'll still need to modify the message slightly to fit with the specific audience but overall consistency is really important. SlopeFillers: What was your favorite marketing moment at Diamond Peak? Milena: Hmmm, I really have too many of them: from talking to customers who tell me what our brand is to the teeth, to helping out operations on a busy day, acting as a model in photo shoots, creating fun special events, strategizing for next season with various vendors, being out with Diamond Pete (Diamond Peak's mascot, a really good looking penguin) and Santa with the kids, or shooting the next kids commercial. If I have to pick one moment, it's being with customers on the mountain- riding the chairlift and talking to them and understanding what drove them to Diamond Peak and why they love the place. That's probably the reason I like social media so much: it's getting the feedback from your customers that you can't get from a TV or a radio spot. SlopeFillers: What are your plans now? Milena: I'm planning on concentrating on my own social media and digital company with Out&About Marketing and helping companies in the health& fitness, recreation and outdoor industries connect with people online, transform their marketing efforts and create legendary marketing. When a company provides an outstanding product or service with excellent customer service they are guaranteed to do well in social media and I can point them in the right direction with a well thought out social, digital and mobile strategy. I'm looking forward to having a lot of fun doing this, meeting new people along the way and improving the world in general by creating remarkable marketing that people actually need. I have a lot of work ahead of me but I'm ready for the challenge. SlopeFillers: What does the future of ski resort marketing look like? Milena: Connecting with people on social and mobile and providing them the up to date conditions with audio, video, text messages, photos. The technology is there for ski resorts to use it. RFID, QR codes and smartphones has changed the way people consume content, purchase lift tickets and connect with friends on the mountain. Ski resorts need to play catch up with people who are already using this technology. The IT and the Marketing departments will have an even more crucial role in the future. Skiers/riders are extremely tech savvy and they will continue to request that they receive information they way they are used to it. I see exciting times ahead for the ski resort industry!

Defusing a Bomb – A Year of Social Media Lessons at Sunshine Village: Doug Firby Interview

July 7, 2011
Even being 2,000 miles removed from the situation when the uproar around Sunshine Village began this last winter, I felt like it was happening just down the road thanks to one thing: social media. Voices from both sides wanted to be heard and smack dab in the middle of this blizzard of opinion was Doug Firby, the communications and marketing guy for Sunshine Village. Now, I have no idea who is right and who is wrong, that is not what this post is about. What's done is done, people have their opinions. What I wanted to know was what Doug had learned from all that had happened and what he hoped to do moving forward. Let me say that I really appreciate the time Doug put toward these answers. You can tell these aren't the canned sound-bites I sometimes see in interviews, these are genuine. If I were you I'd drop everything and take some notes. Really.  This is good stuff. -- SlopeFillers: Doug, tell us a little bit about yourself and your marketing background. Doug: I am relatively new to marketing. I came to the Communications position at Sunshine Village in July 2008, after working in newspapers on the editorial side for more than 30 years. Except for a few months in Marketing in the 1990s, all that time was editorial. Since I’ve taken on this position, I’ve taken a couple of university level courses in Marketing to provide some additional academic perspective. Historically, people who work in the news media have adapted very well to Communications jobs. They understand what journalists need, and are able to anticipate those needs well and cater to them. SlopeFillers: Social media is a tricky space to master these days.  What lessons have you learned about social media this last winter that you'll apply with Sunshine Village's profiles going forward? Doug: My strength has been in traditional media, but I have always had an assistant working in social media during my time at Sunshine. What we learned is that it’s not enough to “dabble” in Facebook, Twitter and other popular social media sites. Posting updates when there is “happy” news, like large dumps of snow, is easy. It’s much more challenging to deal with an angry mob that has heard a narrative that puts your organization in a bad light. Really, it means you have to take social media seriously, and not treat it like it’s some sort of passing fad. Social media is where people have their conversations, and you need to be part of any conversation that involves your organization. The key things I’ve learned are these:
  1. It’s important to have thorough and sophisticated monitoring tools in place, so that you know what is being said about you and where. If there is a firestorm brewing on a certain blog, for example, you need to be there to see what is being said, and to start formulating a response. Sometimes, that response could be as simple as correcting factual inaccuracies; at other times, it can be much more complicated than that.
  2. If you’re a company that is being accused of making a mistake or doing something wrong, then you must have an executive-approved statement ready to go. Not having the bosses signed off on a statement creates the potential for crisis paralysis, as those executives debate what should be said. The company needs to come forward and respond to whatever is being said immediately, and not allow discussion to fester while the company stands by in silence. But that means everyone in charge must be signed off on what will be said. This is best done before you get into a communications crisis.
  3. A crisis communications plan should be drafted long before you encounter a problem. Make a list of all the things that could go wrong – labour dispute, accident, avalanche, tower failure and so on – and draft out ahead of time who will speak and what will be said.
  4. Draw boundaries. Decide what is fair comment and allow people to have their say. But when comments become abusive or obscene, know when to draw the line. In our case, we set certain standards for our Facebook page and other sites, and stuck to them. We encouraged our critics to have their say on our blog page (sunshinevillageblog.com) . Some people didn’t like that, and took the discussion elsewhere. Ultimately, I think setting those limits was the right thing to do.
Finally, I think any organization needs to fully consider the communications or public relations implications of any major action they decide to take. That means having those PR professionals involved in the decision-making process. The company’s decision might ultimately be the same, but even so it will be made with eyes wide open. SlopeFillers: That is an interesting idea to route negative discussion elsewhere, like your blog.  Who did you have monitoring/responding to comments on the blog?  And along with that, did you have a policy in place to guide how they responded or did each response need to be approved? Doug: We have a very small communications team sharing the duties of monitoring and responding – myself, my assistant and one other. Our guidelines are to stick to the facts, be respectful in replies and try not to get drawn into debates. Responses don’t need to be pre-authorized, but everyone has a good sense of when to seek advice if a question appears to be excessively hostile or leading into a broader discussion. The objective is to bend over backwards to keep the lines of communication open, and to allow people to have their say, regardless of whether we agree or disagree. The only comments that aren’t approved are ones that contain obscenities, attack the character of others or that deliberately misrepresent the situation as we know it. It’s always a judgment call, but we try to err on the side of being very tolerant. SlopeFillers: For a while there it appeared the Sunshine Village Facebook page was missing.  What was the tipping point that made you decide to pull it down, when did you decide it was time to bring it back, and what are some of your goals going forward? Doug: The Facebook page was closed down for a time when it was being swamped with negativity – constant swearing, highly abusive language, and there were several angry participants who were using it as a means to conduct a kind of a kangaroo court. Several questioners were trying to “cross-exam” Sunshine (i.e. demand answers and then challenge the veracity of those answers) on the Facebook page. It had a bit of a mob feel to it. Individuals who tried to defend Sunshine were shouted down and ridiculed. Others who just wanted to post images or a video of a great day on the slopes were equally singled out. So, all in all, it seemed to have descended into a very unhealthy “discussion”, if you could even call it that. We thought long and hard about taking it down, because we really didn’t want to. The conventional wisdom is that you’re supposed to just let the negative criticism run its course. Ultimately, we decided we had no choice but to take a break, though. Before we put it back up, we made sure we had the resources to moderate the discussions on the page, so that we wouldn’t just fall back into another round of negativity. That’s partly why we created the blog: “If you want to carry on with a discussion about the fired staff, here’s the place to do it.” This allowed people who wanted to resume normal communications – to talk about the snow or events or whatever – to do so on Facebook. The page was down for several weeks: Enough time had passed that a lot of people didn’t want to continue on with the endless discussion about the dismissals anyway; a lot of them were tired of the subject by then. Going forward, our Facebook page is becoming what it always should have been – not so much a pure promotional tool as a place to have conversations, to share a sense of community and to provide information about upcoming events. There are still some critical comments on the page, and we listen to those comments and channel them to the appropriate managers. That’s part of what any Facebook page should be doing. Our page is now part of a much larger communications vision, employing all of the conventional and social media. SlopeFillers: Anything else you'd like to add?  Advice?  Other lessons?  Ideas? Doug: I’ve learned not to be too closely tied to “conventional wisdom” on social media, because this environment is so new I don’t think anyone fully understands it. Do what feels right in your gut, have a very clear sense of your principles and stick to them. Most importantly, do NOT wait until you are in a crisis to deal with the communications challenges. I hope some of your readers can use our experience as a cautionary tale. Take our story, show it to your bosses and tell them, “If you’re not prepared, this could happen to you.” Have a crisis communications plan in place. Be willing to invest in the time and resources you need to do social media properly. Educate yourself on the basic ground rules, and immerse yourself in social media until you fully understand them. Spend a lot of time listening. None of these actions will prevent a negative round of publicity, but they might help your organization stay in the conversation. Realize that a communications revolution has taken place. This is how people talk today. Don’t treat social media like it’s a passing fad. One final thought: Once you understand social media, you’ll see how effective they can be in connecting you with your audience in ways you never could before. You’ll learn a lot from those people about how you can run your organization better. You’ll learn about what people want. It’s time extremely well-invested.

Resort Photography Keys for Print and Social: Dan Carr Interview

June 30, 2011
One of my personal favorite perks of blogging is having the excuse to get in touch with talented people and pick their brains. My latest victim was Dan Carr, an uber-talented ski photographer whose work first came up on my radar after I featured the awesome print ads that Whistler put out last season. With so much photography floating around the marketing world - in print, in social, you name it - I wanted to get a professional's view on what TO do and NOT to do when it comes to your resort's photography needs. If you want more proof of Dan's prowess, swing by his website and view some of his recent commercial assignment work. Awesome. If you ever need photog work, I'd highly recommend him. -- SlopeFillers: Dan, give me the 30 second version of how you got to where you are today, some of the people you've worked for, and what you are best at. Dan: Getting here was a weird journey, I'm actually from the UK and I studied aerospace engineering at university with an aim to working in the automotive industry. When I finished the degree I took some time out to ski in whistler and I fell in love with the place. While I was there for a winter I got a digital slr and started to take photos of my friends skiing crazy things. Some of them got published in a local magazine and when I saw them printed I thought to myself , you know what.... that's something I could get used to! I set about getting my Canadian residency so I could stay and my whole life's plan did a u turn. Whistler is a great place to start something like that though as there is a huge talent pool of local skiers. That was 5 years ago and since then I have worked for people like Salomon,Oakley, Atomic, Volkl, Line Skis, Whistler Blackcomb, Grouse Mountain, Scott, Peak Performance, Orage in locations such as Alaska,Japan, Europe, new Zealand and the USA and Canada of course. I primarily concentrate on shooting Freeskiing, be it big mountain backcountry stuff or urban skiing and big park shoots. SlopeFillers: The first time I noticed your work was the Whistler Blackcomb print line-up. Be as biased as you'd like in your answer, but how important is high-quality photography when it comes to print ads? Dan: Ski magazines these days are very picture heavy, and we have all been into the grocery store and flipped through powder magazine just looking at the photos.... I think the ski resort advertising imagery needs to be just as strong as the rest of the magazines photographic content otherwise people will just pass it by without a second look. Once you have the readers attention then the design agency and copy writers come into play but getting people to stop turning the page and take a second look is the first step in my opinion. The imagery should be tailored to the readers too. Sometimes a photo of someone carving a pristine piste is not going to get a second look in a Freeskiing magazine so you have to know where the ad is destined to run. SlopeFillers: You mentioned that merely a picture of "carving a pristine piste" doesn't cut it in a freeskiing mag. What other mistakes do you see made with ski photography? Dan: My personal pet hate is people who use photos of skiers or snowboarders in the air doing a trick but missing their grab. You see it all the time. To the designer of the ad, and seemingly the resort marketing team they dont see the difference. But if you run that ad in a magazine full of photos of the worlds best skiers, and show it to a young audience They'll spot it straight away and to me it makes it look like the photo was the last thought. You wouldn't run a photo of a guy making a mistake in his turn on that pristine piste so it shouldn't be done with Freeskiing photos either. More than likely it's a simple case of the designer not being familiar enough with the subject matter but goes to show that some consultation with someone who is more familiar with the subject matter is a good idea. SlopeFillers: Leaving print ads for a moment, resorts are constantly taking photos and sharing them via Twitter, Facebook, etc. They probably couldn't afford to deliver your level of photos day in and day out, but are iPhone photos good enough or should they put up the money to have someone with a bit more skill and better equipment provide higher quality pictures? Dan: I think that can work because you aren't trying to attract people's attention from within a mass of other amazing ski photos. On twitter for example all you would see is a link, and people will either click it or they won't based on their desire to learn more , or interact more with that user. At that point it won't make a difference how good the photo is as they haven't seen it and by the time they do see it the resorts name is already reinforced in their memory. They obviously shouldn't be terrible photos , but for daily reminders of how awesome the powder is at some place I think it's not such a bad way to go. Some places strike the best balance and don't use iPhone phone photos but photos from local photons who whilst they aren't pro , are still better than a phone. SlopeFillers: What advice do you have for a resort that needs to get some high quality photos of their resort? What should they look for in a photographer, how can they make sure the photos don't end up looking like stock photos purchased online, are there certain shots that you think a resort should always have a few of on hand, etc.? Dan: The first thing you can do is to equip your favourite photographers with an image needs list early on in the winter, before Christmas. If you get to the end of the season and budgets are running low but there was a shot you really wanted and don't yet have then the only options are relatively expensive specific shoots or buying something stock. If all the photographers know what you are looking for throughout the winter then you'll stand a much better chance of finding it when it comes to submission time in the spring. If you want a whole range of similarly themed shots then a specific shoot will be the way to go, but if it's just a single shot you need for the website or something like that then you don't want to have to go the stock route. Another thing that I think is important is to use someone that specializes in snow sports photography. Commercial photographers who do not necessarily shoot snow all the time invariably come up with some of the most cheesy looking stock images because it is what they are unfortunately typically used to seeing. Talk to the photographer about any necessary models too because most will have people they love to work with and have already formed a good working relationship with. Some models look good but don't always ski well or take directions as well as you'd want them to so ask the photographer first if he can recommend someone he'd like to work with. If the resort has an online database of available images then refresh that pool on a regular basis. Ski and snowboard fashion comes and goes at a blinding rate and you can spot an old shot pretty quickly. An old shot will look like a stock shot. In terms of shots to always have on hand, that really depends on the specific resort. Is it a family resort or a place with more extreme terrain. Does it have a famous backdrop or is it in an exotic part of the world. The image pool should contain shots that depict the nature of that resort and should ideally be unique shots that can only be from that location. Keeping generic powder face shot photos in the image pool for people to use will again just end up looking like stock photos when they are published. Get that unique feature or unique view in there for those shots because if they are being handed out to media you'll have no control over the location or context of their printing. SlopeFillers: Thanks again, Dan. Any final thoughts on marketing and photography? Dan: The final thing is that experience is worth a lot when it comes to this stuff. Invariably on a shoot there will be some hurdles to overcome because when you are dealing with mother nature and so many variables (clouds, snow, wind, ice, models) it's impossible to get them all perfect simultaneously. Hire someone with experience who is a professional in that field. Lots of people have fancy looking cameras these days but the guys out there who do it day in day out and make a living out of it do so because they can deliver in a wide range of scenarios. People often ask me what makes someone a professional photographer these days. For me it is someone who always delivers.

Resort Logo Rules & When to Rebrand: David Holm Interview

April 14, 2011
To say David Holm knows a thing or two about branding and logos is like saying that getting kicked in the face by Chuck Norris might tickle. David knows his stuff and has spent his professional life working in the field on a variety of levels. After making contact with David a couple months back, and realizing he was now spending a little bit of time with Buck Hill Ski Area in Minnesota, I thought I'd pick his brain for some resort branding gems: -- SlopeFillers: Dave, tell us a little bit about yourself. Your history as a designer,your involvement in skiing, etc. David: After graduating from design school I started working at a promotional product firm in the Minneapolis area. During the 13 years that I worked there I also did a lot of freelance work with my main client being Buck Hill Ski Area. Not coincidentally, I have also worked at the same ski area for nearly 20 years. My graphic design work has focused on logo design and branding and I have had the privilege of working with many clients around the world, from Fortune Global 500 companies, to small mom-and-pop operations. I love to ski and snowboard, and being involved in the ski industry as a designer is a great way to bridge two of my passions. SlopeFillers: Dave, you've been working with logos and skiing for a long time. Out of all the resorts you've seen, what is your all time favorite resort logo? David: If I had to choose only one favorite, it would be the Arapahoe Basin logo. There may be some personal bias here as A-Basin is one of my favorite ski areas, but I truly think that their logo is very successful in many areas. The logo is simple, just one color, and can't be mistaken for anything else. It's timeless. SlopeFillers: You mentioned one reason you liked it was that it is one color. Why is that such so beneficial to A-Basin, but also other resorts with one-color logos? David: A well designed logo should be successful without color or special effects. It should be simple enough to be used at very small sizes and printed on any medium. The main benefits of a simple logo are versatility, consistency, and ease of use. I worked in the promotional product industry for over a decade. There were countless times when a client would bring us their new shiny logo with all kinds of colors and 3D effects and request it be printed on pens or key-chains at 3/4" high. Many times it wouldn't work without drastically modifying the design. To have a logo that is recognizable it needs to be used in a consistent manner. Having a logo that is simple enough to be used in the same consistent way across all mediums is a big part of developing the brand recognition that all businesses should strive for. SlopeFillers: So, how imperative is good logo design for a resort? Is it going to make or break a brand or is it simply a helpful bonus? David: A logo plays a very important part in any company's branding. It is the foundation of the visual identity of your business, it is often times your company's first impression. However, a logo is not a brand, and your logo will not necessarily make or break your brand. Your brand is your complete business image, your brand is your customer's perception of your business as a whole. Logos usually become more important after your brand is established. When you think of famous ski resort logos, there are probably a few that come to mind right away. I think of resorts like Vail & Snowbird. These resorts have been using the same logos for as long as I can remember, I would assume from their beginning. They are simple logos that by themselves aren't anything amazing, but when tied to the brands of Vail and Snowbird, these simple logos are priceless and a very important part of their respective brands. That doesn't necessarily mean that your logo should never change. For some resorts, rebranding may be a way to breathe some new life into your business. SlopeFillers: So how does a resort know when they should think about rebranding themselves? Are there any resorts you've seen that have been successful in their rebranding efforts? David: Rebranding is much more than just a fresh logo, but as a logo designer, that is where I will focus. A new identity is something to consider if your resort's brand image is seriously outdated or no longer relevant. If your logo is unintentionally retro, it may time for a new look. If your business includes much more than skiing (snowboarding, tubing, mountain biking, etc), and your logo is ski-focused, it may time for a new identity. Rebranding your business is a sign of change, and when your resort is going through big changes such as ownership changes, major expansions, or additional offerings, it is a perfect time to rebrand. Mammoth refreshed their identity a couple years ago and as with most rebrands, not everyone was happy with the change. Some of Mammoth's fans were quite vocal about the demise of "Wooly", their old logo/mascot. However the new logo, in my opinion is a fantastic design, and much more versatile than the old cartoon mammoth. Killington also has a new logo, and although I don't know what Killington loyalists had to say about the new image, I can tell you that from a designer's perspective, it is a great design. Their previous logo looked like it was stuck in the early 90's. The new image is classic looking, yet modern. If you did not know the history of the logo, you might assume that it had looked like this all along. SlopeFillers: Anything else that's on your mind or advice/ideas for resorts about branding, and/or logo design? David: Your brand says a lot about your business, and although your logo is not your brand, it is the glue that holds the visual elements of your brand together. Logo design is often thought of as something simple, and although the end result may be a simple image, there is a lot more that goes into a successful logo design than meets the eye. Hire a professional, it's not always as expensive as you may think.

Baby Boomers & The Death of Print: Eric Wagnon Interview

April 7, 2011
Since starting SlopeFillers, I've noticed that among the discussion on resort marketing are folks that aren't resort marketers. Heavily involved in the industry, they have incredibly insightful perspectives on trends and changes. I'm going to be collecting more and more of these "perspectives", and we'll kick things off with the one, the only, Eric Wagnon: -- SlopeFillers:Eric, give me a little background into your history and involvement with the ski scene? Eric: I went to journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill and have worked primarily on the television side for almost 20 years. As an avid recreational skier for more than 30 years, I first combined my professional career with the ski industry about eight years ago when I was working for the ABC affiliate in Chicago. I was producing a weekly lifestyle and entertainment show that periodically did travel episodes. Being that Colorado is a major destination for Chicago travelers, we did a few shows featuring Colorado resorts such as Aspen/Snowmass, Copper Mountain and Winter Park. A little more than two years ago, I started writing online about recreational skiing as the "National Skiing Examiner" for Examiner.com. That exposure led to other opportunities with ski-related websites such as TheSkiChannel.com, Snowlist.com, and buzz.snow.com. I've also done a little work for Ski Canada magazine in the print world. SlopeFillers:So, over those 30 years of skiing and 20 years of professional perspective what has been the biggest change in the ski resort marketing landscape that you've witnessed? Eric: I would say the changes in ski resort marketing reflect the changes in the resorts themselves. For example, snowboarding and terrain parks really didn't exist 30 years ago, so any marketing in those areas is obviously completely new. As someone on the receiving end of "pitches" from resorts to do stories, I would also say that more and more resorts like to tout their non-skiing offerings that have expanded in recent decades. For example, one "ski" travel show I did included tubing, winter fly-fishing, snowmobiling, sleigh rides and dog sledding. As you might guess, this is particularly true for marketing departments dealing with general mainstream media outlets such as Chicago's ABC station where I worked. In reaching out to the dedicated skiing population, it seems resorts have increased their emphasis on a more natural-- or even more "extreme"-- skiing experience in the last decade or so. The resorts try to offer "backcountry light," meaning natural terrain, but avy-controlled. I'm not sure if it's true, but the logic I've heard is that shaped skis have helped put this more challenging terrain within reach of a larger percentage of the skiing population. The cat-accessed terrain at Keystone and Copper, Vail's Blue Sky Basin, the expansion at Telluride, Highland Bowl at Aspen Highlands, Stone Creek Chutes at Beaver Creek, and Vasquez Cirque at Winter Park would all be examples of this trend. If you'll notice, all these new examples are in Colorado. I think the more rugged spirit of hike-to-terrain and such has long been instilled in other Western locales such as Alta, Jackson and Squaw. Interestingly enough, Park City in Utah is going the other way by marketing their groomed "Signature" black runs. SlopeFillers:Great points, Eric. What about the future of resort marketing? Do you see these trends continuing or is there some "next big thing" on the horizon? Eric: My speculation is that the "next big thing" in resort marketing will be related to the demographic reality that the first baby boomers are just now entering retirement age. Marketing to this group with time and money to spend will likely continue an emphasis on the total winter resort experience of sleigh rides, dining, etc. I wouldn't be surprised if you start to see lodging packages that allow retirees to spend an entire ski season at the resort (kind of a "ski-bum year" at the age of 65 instead of right out of college, albeit likely much more luxurious in nature). You may also see marketing to multi-generational families-- grandparents, parents, kids all vacationing together. Those situations are profitable for resorts in all the ancillary revenue sources such as lessons, rentals, and dining. SlopeFillers:One final question. If reaching baby boomers is the next big step, what do see as the next resort marketing trend to fade away? Eric: In terms of delivering marketing messages, print media will continue to fade away. I've talked personally with Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz about their shift away from magazine advertising into an emphasis on social media. Marketing through social media is here to stay, but I think certain social-media avenues will fade away. Remember MySpace. The problem with social-media marketing as it now stands is that it's very difficult to come up with ROI in dollars and not just "Likes" or "Followers." Leading a publicly traded company, Katz may be in a honeymoon period with his social-media vision, but eventually shareholders are going to demand real return data in dollars. Whoever can design a social-media interaction platform that is appealing to consumers and also provides companies with real ROI data will be a very rich person. Perhaps Facebook can morph into something that provides those benefits or it'll be an entirely new concept. Whatever that turns out to be could supplant today's hot social-media models such as Twitter.

The Power of Professional Resort Video: Rex Lint Interview

March 17, 2011
Video. Quite the popular medium these days. As a follow up to yesterday's Top Ski Resorts on YouTube post, I wanted to share some perspective from the group with the most YouTube subscribers, Vail Resorts, and the man behind their lens, Rex Lint. With Rex's new ACL still healing up, he had the time and was willing to share his story plus some great insights and tips into the whys and hows of jaw-dropping ski video: SlopeFillers: Tell me a little bit about your background, how you got into shooting video and how you ended up with Vail Resorts. Rex: I grew up skiing in N.H. Raced in High School on the ski team, and went to UNH for a couple years before dropping out to be a ski bum in CO. I started ski patrol in Keystone in 1993. I also started Kayaking that same year in Santa Fe NM. Over the next 7 years I patrolled in the winter, and started a white water video company that I ran in the summer. The company (dragonfly video) was a bunch of VCR’s and a videonix linear editing switcher. This all fit in the back of my Toyota Previa. I took my show on the road, summers on the Arkansas, and fall in WV on the Gauley river. The videos were super basic edits of commercial raft trips. I would mix the videos as people watched them, usually in a bar someplace. I would only get paid if people actually bought the videos. I did pretty well, making 200-500 a day, and getting to paddle my kayak, which was the really the whole point. Wintertime I would use my little studio to make a ski patrol movie for our end of the season patrol party. Over the years the video became the main event of the party. These patrol videos got me discovered by the marketing people at Vail. They eventually drafted me out of Patrol, bought me a fancy studio, and made me a year round salaried employee. SlopeFillers: In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge of shooting skiing and snowboarding as opposed to other sports or events? Rex: Shooting big mountain and powder skiing is, for me, one of the most challenging and rewarding subjects to shoot, for so many reasons. Let’s start with snow. Is it snowing, how much, it’s got to be a lot, but not too much. It’s got to be light, but not too light, wind, bad, sometimes. Location: Usually backcountry, long hikes, snowmobiles, maps, logisitics can be intense, days are often long. Risk: Backcountry is a dangerous place, even for the experienced educated avalanche technitiion. I got buried last year, and blew up my knee this year. There is more risk to my athletes that to me, so the decision making process for what lines we are going to ski and shoot has to be a very cooperative process. It is a very delicate balance between getting the shot, and not getting hurt. Team: Finding the right chemistry of people is critical. Team dynamics make all the difference in results, and in how much fun you have. SlopeFillers: I watch a video you made and my jaw drops. I watch a video Joe Snow Report at Mt Trashmore makes and I cringe. It's easily to blame it on a camera, lighting, etc, but what do you see are the biggest differences between amateur video and professional video? Rex: There are so many variable that together create a professional creative artistic video. No one thing makes or breaks a video, it is a combination of all the elements, and attention to detail that makes all the difference. Composition of the shot, putting your camera on a tripod, staying off the zoom, no pans for god sakes, these are all important elements of the shoot. A trick that really helped me, I learned from this old salty DP a couple years ago. His mantra that he would shout in my ear every time I touched my camera was “Don’t move the f***ing camera!!” He made us shoot a couple stories without moving the camera. This was an amazing revelation for me. It made me really consider my composition. This time taken to set up shots makes a HUGE difference in how a piece presents. Aesthetics is all about composition. The edit, of course is critical. Music selection can sometimes take me longer that the entire edit. I am always listening to Pandora, and fine tuning my stations. The more creative and underground you can get, usually the more cooperative the artists are. If they are unknown, they will usually trade you music credit for rights. It is a win win. Pump audio and Killer tracks are also great sources of quality stock. Take your time in the search though, cause there is a ton of shit and elevator cheese that will suck the life out of the best photography. Color corrections is critical. Take the time to learn basic color correction, especially if you have a less expensive camera. The 3 way color correct, and magic bullet looks are money skills in the Final Cut Pro world. Get to know Phillip Bloom. SlopeFillers: Vail Resorts obviously takes video more seriously than other resorts. Should other resorts be putting more resources into professional video or is their amateur stuff enough for them? Rex: The verdict is not in on quality vs quantity. Some people love the shaky dark, dirty lense, muffled audio. They just want content and lots of it. These people are usually marketing people that want the website they are in charge of to have a lot of videos on it, so they can say to their boss, we make 54 videos this week for the site. I don’t know who watched a 20min gopro video of some blue skier skiing coral reef on a grey bird. But people do. Vail has really embraced the higher quality productions from their staff guys, while still leveraging the user gen stuff as well. I think there is need for both. Vail created the snow squad this year, bringing in a bunch of amateur video people, giving them a flip cam, and some basic tools. This worked really well, especially when it comes to event stuff. Social video is perfect for creating buzz on events, practically as it is happening. This snow squad also frees up the staff guys to work on more high end productions. Vail also has invested in tools for the staff guys. Canon 5ds, dollys, jibs, lenses, and high end Mac studios. Video is the most effect way to communicate the outdoor product, and it is paramount that we maintain the brand with our signature video content. Producing poor quality dark grey lame video does more damage to the product than no video at all. Vail has demanded that the video quality be as high caliber as our photography has been for so many years. Jack Affleck is a legendary photographer. He has been the staff guy at Vail forever, and he sets the bar extremely high. It is a great challenge. I have learned a lot from watching him. SlopeFillers: I mentioned this a little already, but I hear a lot of amateurs blame the camera. How important is having a good camera and do you have any camera recommendations for resorts looking to take video more seriously? Rex: My Kit: Canon 5d (shoot all my scenics, interviews, and architectural stuff) Canon 7d (for most of my action stuff. The smaller censor and 60 fps make keeping stuff in focus and slow motion way easier) Panasonic HVX200. Great storm shooting camera, and run and gun event stuff. This thing is a beast and indestructible. Glass for Canon. 70-200 2.8 IS, 50mm 1.4, 85mm 1.8, 15mm fisheye, 24-70mm 2.8. That is a good starter set. If you can afford the 400mm 2.8 IS, that lense is the shizzle, but is heavy and $$$ Intervelometers for the timelapses. Sachtler tripods, carbon fiber, light enough to carry on short to medium missions. Get some good mikes, a lav and shotgun set as well. Most important have fun and tell a story!

Do Your Resort’s Social Media Efforts Need Some Funnel Love?

January 14, 2011
Earlier this week I got an email from Steve Chipman, the co-founder of Media Funnel letting me know about a blog post he wrote regarding ways ski resorts could use the Media Funnel system. While we all know why companies blog about things like that, I let the down my "you're marketing to me" guard and took a quick look.  Needless to say, I was impressed with what I saw.  While I try not to do too many posts like this, I think the occasional exploration into technologies that help resorts improve their marketing and/or make it more efficient are worth some attention.  Here's the 3 minute interview: -- SlopeFillers: Ok, tell me about Media Funnel. What it is, where the idea came from, who is benefiting from it the most? Steve: We came up with the idea for MediaFunnel two years ago when we realized Twitter was going to be increasingly adopted by businesses over time. At the time, there was no easy way to involve multiple employees without sharing a username and password across multiple users. Plus, we anticipated that some businesses would need a level of editorial control - so we created a contributor role, modeled after WordPress's concept of a contributor, which is a person who can add content, but who can't publish content to the world. Companies who benefit the most from MediaFunnel are: those that want to involve many employees in the social media engagement process; those who want to support customers who log customer service issues on Twitter and Facebook; and those who want to engage customers and guests via both SMS text and social media. SlopeFillers: You mentioned some of this in your blog post, but how do you see ski resorts getting the most out of Media Funnel? Steve: Ski resorts can leverage the natural tendency for guests to use their mobile phones between runs. With the SMS interface to MediaFunnel, a resort can communicate in real time with guests and can also take positive guest comments and "forward" them to social media channels, such as Twitter and Facebook - in order to boost the resort's social media marketing presence with "natural" content that comes straight from skiers who are on the slopes. SlopeFillers: Going off that last part of your response about "guest comments",. what are a few specific methods you would recommend to resorts for gathering these comments? Steve: Resorts can promote the SMS number in several different ways: on their Web site; on a trail map or on anything else that's visible to guests. The resort can provide a special offer in exchange for text comments, such as entry into a drawing for a lift ticket voucher or a drawing for a gift certificate to a mountainside shop or restaurant. MediaFunnel provides a report of all mobile numbers for a given campaign, from which a random drawing can then be generated. SlopeFillers: When it comes down to it, for a resort with a tight budget this is another thing that will cost money, take time to learn, and doesn't have guaranteed results. What does MediaFunnel have in the way of training and support that would help resorts quickly get started and make the most of their use of the system? Steve: MediaFunnel takes just a few minutes to set up and we have text tutorials and YouTube videos on setup and features. Our team is also available for live, online help with setup via GoToMeeting, at no extra charge. There's a Standard Plan that comes with a 30 day trial and there's also a Free Plan for organizations with two or fewer users and two or fewer social media accounts (one Twitter and one Facebook account, for example). The Free Plan does not include Twitter brand monitoring. The URL is: http://mediafunnel.com/pricing-plans/ We've made MediaFunnel extremely affordable. The Standard Plan is only $1 per user/channel (combination of one internal user and one channel) per month. With either plan, even during the Standard Plan trial period, we do charge for SMS usage, since that comes at a cost to us. The cost per SMS number is $2.95 per month and SMS message credits can be purchased in blocks. The entry level block is 100 messages and this costs $5.95. So, the total financial exposure for trying out MediaFunnel, with SMS, is only $8.80.

Marketing & Your Resort’s Ski School Bounce Rate

December 21, 2010
A huge amount of effort is placed into getting visitors to your website. Paid ads, promotions, social media, SEO, etc. all play a role in traffic generation. It's little wonder, then, that you landing page's bounce rate is such a vital stat. Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors that arrive on your site but don't go any further. Rather than click through to another page, they simply go to a different website altogether. This term can easily be applied to many other areas (I'm sure there is a more official term for these but humor me if you will): first time ticket buyers that never return, season pass holders who don't renew, and ski school students that never become loyal, resort skiers. That last group is the one I'd like to focus on. To be honest, when I first started looking into this I wondered if I should blog about it all. It seemed more mountain operations than marketing. When it comes down to it, however, the mountain is the product. Despite the fact that the "4-Ps" of marketing are all but forgotten, one facet of traditional marketing is shaping and refining the product to meet the needs of the market. That said, I've been very interested in a new venture called Socially Booked which some of you may have heard of. Combining social media with your ski school, Socially Booked could help to accomplish a few goals, among them are two big ones: decrease the "bounce rate" and give you as a marketer an extra, unique, competitive benefit to use as you promote the ski school. I got in touch with one of Socially Booked's founders, Jim Keenan, for a few details: -- SlopeFillers: Tell me about Socially Booked. Jim: Socially Booked is a social media platform for ski and ride schools. We give ski and ride schools the ability to offer their instructors fully functional, resort specific, social media profile pages that allows them to market and promote themselves, interact with guests and share content with their existing social media circles. SlopeFillers:What are some of the details of the actual product? Jim: Socially Booked is a SaaS (Software as a Service) platform offered to resort ski and ride schools. It's designed to seamlessly integrate into a resorts website providing guests with a single experience. We take the existing static, informational ski and ride web sites and make them dynamic and interactive. For example, one feature of socially booked allows instructors to create private, secure lesson pages for guests. This private guest page gives the instructor the ability to recap the lesson at the end of the day. The instructor is able to outline the days lesson, add pictures or video of the guest, make suggestions for improvement, reiterate the drills and award badges for the days accomplishments. It creates a permanent memorial of the lesson the guest can alway return to. SlopeFillers: Where did the idea for Socially Booked come from? Jim: The idea came out of frustration with the lack of tools to market and promote myself as well the lack of tools that allowed me to engage with my clients before and after the lesson. The lesson experience is awesome on the snow. Ski and snowboard instructors around the world are phenomenal. Unfortunately, 99% of the interaction happens on the snow. I felt that was too narrow. Therefore we wanted to build something that influenced learning to ski before, during and after the on snow experience. They say it takes 5 good experiences for someone to become a lifelong skier. We'd like to shorten that, to 2. If you can connect with people before their lesson and stay connected to them after, you have a lot more opportunity to improve their experience. There are more ways to hook people than just on the snow. Socially Booked is giving resorts the ability to do that. SlopeFillers: How long have you been around? Jim: We launched in July. This is our first season. For more details see Eric Wagnon's article or find Socially booked on Twitter or their website.

Virally Simple: Boreal’s Team Video Challenge Contest

December 14, 2010
Video is hot. Helmet cams give riders a chance to relive and share their runs. Affordable HD is giving average Joes the chance to shoot top-quality video. And, when stacked up against text or static images, video takes the cake over and over again as the preferred medium. ViralBlog reported some incredible stats about video consumption on YouTube: more than 2 billions video views are recorded each day, 70% of viewers are from the US, and over 24 hours of video are uploaded every minute. Riding on these coat-tails and with a huge boost from Terrain Park Manager Eric Rosenwald, Boreal started a simple, yet powerful contest that let up-and-coming film crews battle for prizes while showcasing the impressive Boreal park at the same time. I spent some time on the phone last week with Boreal's Marketing director, Jon Slaughter, to get the details on the appropriately named, Team Video Challenge.  Rules and guidelines were as followed: Then, the "switch" that took all this content and made it, as the buzzword/cliche says, "go viral." One of the teams would walk home with the "award for most views." Without that prize, it's still good. With it, you suddenly have a dozen teams getting everyone they possible can to view their videos. Apparently, a few of the teams even got their videos onto Transworld's site. Last year the videos from the contest pulled in over 200,000 views during the season. Already, the videos from the 13 teams that participated in this year's contest have pulled in well over 50,000 views. How much would you pay to have 13 semi-professional movies made in your park and then shared with every living being within reach of the 50+ people that made them? Probably more than $2,500.

Is SnowTrax the ‘Next Big Thing’ for Resort Marketing?

December 9, 2010
We've all heard of Travelocity and we've all heard of Liftopia. A new company, however, hopes to combine the best of both of these concepts. SnowTrax, a subsidiary of Airfare.com, has been in the works for two years but just launched live services only a few months ago. While the site design looks pretty old-school and bugs are a plenty (according to their calculator it takes a little under two hours to drive the 20 miles from Ogden, UT to Snowbasin) SnowTrax also shows huge potential. Here are the full details from Evvie Meier, a project manager at SnowTrax: -- SlopeFillers:How long has SnowTrax been around and where did the idea come from? Evvie: SnowTrax has been in creation since 2008, but just launched this August. Official promotions began in October. Our parent company, Airfare.com, has been in business since 1979. The idea was to create a niche travel website specifically targeted at a special interest travel group in order to meet the unique needs of this group. Rather than satisfy some of the needs of the larger travel market, our goal is to be the ultimate resource for a specific travel market. For the ski market, this means stressing the importance of hotel or vacation rental precise location, particularly in relation to the ski lifts and ski shuttle bus stops. Also, calculating precise airport-to-ski resort drive times and offering travelers multiple arrival airport options so they can weigh the costs/benefits of flying into a smaller, closer airport (like Aspen) versus a larger airport hub that may involve a transfer (like Denver). These are just some of the many features that cater to the ski traveler specifically, and don't make as much sense for other types of travel. SlopeFillers: How do you differ from other lift ticket or travel websites? Evvie: SnowTrax has many features that users won't find anywhere else on the web. To name a few: (a few screenshots that Evvie provided)     SlopeFillers: What role does the resort play in the system? Do they have a way to control what prices and offers you show? Evvie: All of our lift contracts are with resorts directly, and we also have lodging contracts in place with resorts that manage their own lodging. Lift sales gives resorts full price control, of course, and we list all of our contracted properties first, so resorts can enjoy premium placement. For those resorts we do have contracts with, there is a lot of variation in the level of interaction. Some resorts email us powder alerts and update us on sales and specials, which is of course the ideal. We are set to launch a marketing campaign that will blast specials across several ski and travel sites and their email lists, so we are actively promoting our partners' specials. SlopeFillers: If a resort marketer is looking to partner with you, what can they expect as far as fees, support, and visibility? Evvie: We don't charge any fees; we prefer to receive net rates and apply our own commission, but also have some commission-based contracts. We support several different Central Reservation Systems and also have our own Extranet that resorts can plug rates and contracts into (we are happy to fill these in for resorts, as well). Our extranet system was built internally and is improved daily, allowing us to meet unique contractual needs and handle atypical pricing systems from resorts. We have a team of 20+ developers ready to provide technical support, and our staff goes above and beyond to cooperate with resort requests, respond to questions, and solve and issues. In terms of visibility, SnowTrax has a strong marketing budget to be allocated toward PPC, PR, and display advertising placements on prominent websites in the ski and travel industries. Our direct contract partners' specials are actively promoted in email marketing campaigns, and on "deals" sites across the web on sites including StudentUniverse, ShermansTravel, CheapFlights, and more. SlopeFillers: Who should a resort contact if they are interested in partnering? Evvie: Contact Matt Zito: mdz at mattzito dot com.

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

December 2, 2010
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: 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: 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.

Interview with a Ski Resort Marketing Genius Factory

November 23, 2010
When it comes to print ads, I am sometimes harsh with my critiques. But when it comes to Origin Design's resort print ads, I'm speechless. I've already featured their stellar Whistler/Blackcomb ads, but they've recently showcased Jay Peak's new line-up that is as beautiful in a marketing sense as they are to look at. Interested in Origin's history, background, and reason for such stellar work, I got in contact with Danielle, one of the original Originians, for some answers. -- SlopeFillers: How did Origin get started working with ski resorts? Who was your first resort client? Danielle: We opened our first studio in Whistler in 1993 and that location obviously defined for us the types of clients we would be working with. We (and when I say "we" I mean "me") were open about a week when Whistler Mountain handed us our first project. We were three people the next year, four more the year after that, and now 16 or so years later we're about 25 people with two offices —one still in Whistler and one in Montreal. SlopeFillers: What is a unique challenges about working with a ski resort on a project? Danielle: We're in a really fortunate position as we work with some of the leaders in the industry, and so our challenges are definitely outweighed by the benefits associated with having clients who are driven to be the best in their field, in marketing as well as operations. With that said, most ski resorts—even those that are evolving toward year-round business—have seasonal swings that are difficult to build a normal, steady business around. We've worked to diversify our portfolio of clients to compensate for those that have a real seasonality to their marketing. Beyond that, I'd say that having a marketing business where weather is a wild card is a bit of a bummer. We've seen our business effected when our clients have gone through lean snow years. And that's not just our resort clients, but snowsport brands can have down years when weather doesn't support the sale of their goods. This typically results in marketing budgets being cut somewhere down the line. On the flip side, it is extremely hard to measure the success of an advertising or marketing initiative if it coincides with snow. If it snows, skiers and riders show up in droves, and although I hate to think it, I sometimes wonder if we should have told our clients to save their dollars. (Perhaps I shouldn't say that. Do resort marketers read your blog. ;-) SlopeFillers: Where do you go to find inspiration and ideas for ski resort clients? Danielle: The obvious answer would be the great backyard that we have. Whistler is the mountains, and Montreal is renowned for its proximity to an amazing number of ski areas. But I think there's more to inspiration than that. Montreal, if you haven't been there, is one of the most culturally rich places in the world. If you can't get and stay inspired in that city, you don't think with the right side of your brain. Whistler, if you haven't been there, is this crazy melting pot of people from all over the world visiting, staying and passing through. The result is a culture that appreciates travel, and all of our people travel. Seeing the world is the best form of inspiration. We also take the time to surf the web, in the most old fashioned sense of the phrase. Get on, let it take you, you'll go crazy places that will spark your brain in awesome ways. Oh yeah, we have another major source of inspiration. We count some of the most amazing action sports photographers and filmmakers in the business as our friends and collaborators. Their imagery is our continuous source of inspiration. How can you not design something great around images that are amazing? SlopeFillers: Why do you feel your team has been so successful in working with ski resorts? Danielle: Since opening our first studio in 1993, Origin has recognized that our unique understanding of our clients' products, customers and markets allows us to stand apart from the competition. Our immersion in mountain culture keeps us at the forefront of its trends, innovations, research and events. If it belongs in the mountains, we live it, breathe it, work and play it. As we like to say, "You are where you live." SlopeFillers: What advice would you have for resorts looking to work with you or any other marketing agency? What should they have on their end that would make the process of designing an ad or campaign as smooth as possible. Danielle: I think if you're working with a professional agency, the best advice I can give to a client (or potential client) is focus just on your business goals or marketing objectives. Resist the temptation to solve the problem for them or tell them exactly what you want. If the agency is worth its salt it will provide strategy creative solutions to reach your objectives. In situations where our clients say something like, "we want to move the mark on early season pass sales to baby boomers" we dig into the project in a completely different way than when the solution is already prescribed for us, like "design a microsite that'll attract people over 55." Beyond having their objectives, a client should have a budget to share. There is no benefit to keeping that budget a secret. There are a 100 ways to skin a cat when it comes to solving marketing problems. A good agency will take the objective, look at your whole budget and recommend the best way to get the biggest bang for your buck.

Is a Kid Friendly Ski Resort Worth the Effort?

October 15, 2010
Last week, Tori Ossola, the Managing Director of Snow Monsters asked me if I had any data on kids and ski resorts. Coming up empty and being extremely intrigued as to what goes into a kid friendly ski resort, I turned the tables on her and asked her for a little bit of info. Our conversation was simple. Three questions. Three answers to convince me of the need and benefit of a resort implementing a kid friendly program. I was going to edit down her answers but I felt the content was all good and relevant. A little bit of a longer read today, but worth the time to at least consider what they have to offer: -- SlopeFillers: Tell me about SnowMonsters. What is it? Where did the idea come from? What are your goals? Tori: Snow Monsters was originally a kids song that former U.S. Ski Team member, Jack Turner, (more…)

A Look Inside Snowshoe Mtn’s Outrageously Effective Social Media Efforts

September 29, 2010
The other day I got an email from Laura Parquette, brand and communications manager at Snowshoe Mountain Resort, informing me that the Top 25 Ski Resorts on Facebook list was lacking. According to her numbers Snowshoe should have been #20. As it was, they were nowhere to be found, at least on the public list. Looking into it more, Snowshoe was on my list but had sat at #26 since August. Those same numbers told me that in the last two weeks, Snowshoe had gained nearly 1300 Facebook fans! And not just fans, but active participants. Average, Sunday afternoon wall posts were getting 10+ comments. Others, we doubling or triple that. Intrigued, I asked Laura a few questions, and she obliged. Thanks again Laura for keeping me on my toes and being so willing to share some insights into your social media efforts: -- SlopeFillers: When did Snowshoe start taking social media seriously? Laura: Snowshoe became actively engaged in social media 2-3 years ago. While we have always (more…)

Interview w/ Lift Ticket Jedi and Liftopia Co-Founder Evan Reece

September 17, 2010
As I mentioned yesterday, my curiosity surrounding resorts use (or lack) of Liftopia has been insatiable: until today. I finally had a chance to swap emails with Liftopia co-founder Evan Reece. Right off the bat I knew that Liftopia ain't no kiddie website just trying to make a few bucks. With a deep understanding of the industry and the financial ins-and-outs therein, here's what Evan shared with me: -- SlopeFillers: Give me the rundown on Liftopia. Where the idea came from, how long it's been around, mission statement, etc.? Evan: Liftopia was founded by myself and Ron Schneidermann who had worked at Hotwire.com. Essentially, we were thinking about going to Tahoe but it hadn't snowed in a while. As skiers, we realized (more…)

To Liftopia or Not to Liftopia, That is the Interview Question

September 16, 2010
I have always wondered why more resorts don't use Liftopia. And by "always" I mean the last two months. Their business model seems sound, traffic is high, why wouldn't a resort use that exposure and system to drive sales? I wondered, so I asked. First I contacted Liftopia directly and swapped emails with co-founder Evan Reece (his interview is coming tomorrow). Then, I contacted Wildcat Mountain's Marketing Director Thomas Prindle who uses Liftopia extensively. He reported a few basic details about their use of Liftopia in a 2008 issue of SAM. Two years later, here's what he had to say: -- SlopeFillers: Why do you think more resorts aren't using Liftopia? Thomas: Honestly, I don’t know (more…)

An Insider’s Perspective on Canyon’s Big 2010-2011 Changes (Interview)

September 15, 2010
Canyons, UT announced a huge list of changes recently to their mountain, uphill capacity, and, most intriguing, the comfort of their skiers' derrieres. Hannah Bowling, Canyons' Communication Coordinator, took some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few of my questions about they whys and how of the resort's latest upgrade, including some of their social media ideas. -- SlopeFillers: Talk a little bit about your decision and marketing goals to make so many big changes at once. Hannah: The Canyons has been working the last couple of years to truly become one of the top destinations for guests not only locally but world wide, (more…)

Competing with Creative Ski Area Partnerships: Monarch Mountain Style (Interview)

September 13, 2010
The late infomercial superstar Billy Mays would have loved to work with Monarch Mountain. The reason, of course, if because his classic, "but wait, there's more!" line could have been repeated more than a dozen times. Here's why. When you buy a season pass to Monarch you not only get excellent skiing there, but free (or nearly free) skiing at a host of other mountains like Grand Targhee, Alta, Taos, Loveland, Revelstoke, Arizona Snowbowl, Silverton, and more. Not too shabby of a deal, eh? Intrigued why other resorts weren't involved in similar partnerships, I emailed Monarch's marketing director Greg Ralph for details: -- SlopeFillers: Without sharing too many secrets, what are the details of these partnerships? How are both parties benefiting? Greg: For most of the partnerships it (more…)

The Million Dollar Ski Resort PR Race

September 8, 2010
When October rolls around it means a few things. For a few American soccer fans like myself, it means the MLS Cup Playoffs. However, for millions of skiers across the country, it means the annual race to open. True, folks have been skiing on Mt Hood all summer, but there's something about early season snowmaking, the buzz surrounding who is making more snow and getting better coverage, and finally the big announcement. Who will it be: Loveland, Arapahoe Basin will a resort like Boreal try to sneak in and steal the glory like they nearly did last year. Last week I had the chance to ask John Sellers, Marketing Director of Loveland a few questions about the race to open and the focus Loveland places on it. -- SlopeFilllers: The first U.S.resort to open each season, which usually is Loveland, gets a lot of attention both in traditional and social media. How much of that buzz is just natural, and how much of it is intentional that you are working to create? (more…)

Mammoth Mountain’s Mascot Woolly Returns (Interview)

August 25, 2010
You see that button on the top right corner of the page called "contribute"? Yesterday, Stephen Krcmar, Mammoth Mountain's Social Media Manager used that link to let me know about a video series they put out just recently. Using the beloved Mammoth mascot "Woolly" and his new friend "Bear", they were looking for a fun way to illustrate the summer activities that a lot of Mammoth skiers and riders don't realize exist at the mountain. Among other things, these clever videos are what they came up with. (more…)