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.
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?
John: It is hard to say. We do work hard to create as much buzz as we can, but I think a lot of it is natural. For example, at the same time every year Colorado skiers and riders are eagerly awaiting the start of ski season. The news is exciting, people seek it out and end up passing it on. At the same time, people out of state are kind of surprised to hear we are skiing so soon so it is also exciting to them. I think that applies to both social and traditional media. We see a lot of articles/stories from our local media get picked up by national outlets while the same info spreads across the social sites.
Of course it is our intent to create as much buzz as possible and help proliferate the natural buzz with some intentional buzz. Like everyone else, we have see how powerful social media can be so that is a big part of our early season PR efforts. We try to push as much exciting content as we can to try to help get the natural buzz going, so Im not sure if that makes it natural or intentional.
Either way, natural or intentional buzz is good for Loveland Ski Area and the rest of the ski industry. People see snow in October and they start thinking about their ski trip, season passes, etc.
SlopeFillers: Q: How long has Loveland been in the race to open first in the US? Seems the conditions of temperate and elevation are perfect for it, but when did Loveland really start making a push with snowmaking to be (one of the) first to open?
John: Loveland started making snow in 1967. As far back as anyone can remember, we have employed the same strategy with our snowmaking efforts: open with good coverage on a top to bottom run as quickly as we can. The technology has improved dramatically since then so we have been able to open earlier and earlier as the years progressed. Now we open with a top to bottom run with an 18” base and tree to tree coverage. Our opening day run is over a mile in length and 1,000 vertical feet.
Along the way we have competed against a handful of different resorts in CO for opening day bragging rights, but now the race is primarily between us and Arapahoe Basin, our neighbor across the pass. Our philosophy remains the same regardless of what the other resorts are doing. We are going to open as soon as we have quality snow to offer our skiers and riders. We are never going to compromise quality just to open before someone else. The race is kind of a byproduct of our efforts(and the efforts of other resorts) to open as soon as we can. So, I guess you could say that we have been in the race since we started making snow in 1967.
SlopeFillers: How important is it for you to be one of the first to open? If something forced you to open in mid-late November, what kind of impacts do you think that would have on your brand and future pass sales?
John: It is important, but like I said above, we are just trying to offer our guests quality skiing and riding as quickly as we can. It is not important enough to compromise the quality we strive to provide, but our snowmaking crew works hard to get us open as soon as we can.
The media coverage we receive when we are the first to open is huge. Typically it is in excess of a million dollars and that is the biggest perk of being the first to open. It is exposure that we can’t afford to buy.
If we were to open a week or two late because of warm temps, I don’t think it would be a big detriment to our business. But if we were not able to open until mid-late November, I think it would certainly have a negative impact on our brand because we have a reputation of offering our pass holders a long season. Losing a month of skiing would be tough to deal with. Thankfully, because of our elevation and our great snowmaking crew, that is something that we don’t really worry about.
SlopeFillers: On opening day when you are the first to open in the country, do you have any idea how many skiers are pass holders and how many are buying day passes?
John: Generally speaking the majority of opening day visitors are pass holders. But, if we open exceptionally early or receive early season snow, we do get more people purchasing day tickets.
And then anything else you want to talk about when it comes to marketing and your early openings. For the reasons above, it is always good for us to be the first to open. But the impact also extends to the other ski areas in CO. The race gets so much local and national media attention that it gets everyone thinking about skiing. That, in turn, gets the phones ringing at resorts across the state which is great for the ski industry as a whole.
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