skip to main content

Vail vs Whistler: Can Mountains Alone Be Enough to Draw Summer Guests?

divider image for this post

Leaders in any industry are carefully watched by smaller players. The same is true for ski. When it comes to marketing, it’s no surprise that my posts often focus on what leaders like Vail Resorts and Whistler/Blackcomb are doing.

Today is no different.

A few days ago I compressed thoughts much broader than 140 characters into one such package.

Vail Resort’s CEO Rob Katz asked the question in this way during last year’s Epic Discovery announcement.

How can we take the mountain in the summer and make it as special, as amazing, and as iconic as it is in the winter? How do we have people come here and enjoy the amazing beauty that exists here day in and day out in the same way that they do in the winter?

It’s a good question, so let’s take a look and see how each resort answered it with their marketing.

Answer A: Whistler/Blackcomb
Whistler/Blackcomb released this video in February. Pay extra attention to what their “product” is.

To Whistler, Rob’s answer was actually found in his question, they sold the “amazing beauty that exists here day in and day out.” In other words, they sold the mountain.

To me, mountains are amazing, peaceful, and inspiring. Even more, they’re enough for me just the way they are. It seems Whistler’s direction follows a similar ideal.

Exhibit B: Vail Resorts
Now, after Rob asked the question I shared above, his very next line was:

We had a challenge, we needed a legislative fix.

So, years later, now that the legislature has paved the way for changes, we see this on Vail’s Facebook page:

(original post)

But look behind the activities. Do those peaks look familiar? It’s a view almost identical to what Whistler was using to sell people on coming. To Vail, it’s a nice backdrop while you do something more exciting.

Ironically, Rob said later in his talk that they wanted a piece of the 3 million visitors that go to Rocky Mountain National Park – a location that draws those millions with nothing but nature. But are National Parks exceptions to the rule or patterns to follow?

Realistic vs Idealistic
To me, this photo from Jay Peak paints a very telling story of both the place mountains hold in our culture as well as what it takes to get families to visit them:

Two kids are high-fiving on a artificial wave indoors while, behind them, a real mountain sits alone outdoors. Mountains seem to becoming less the product and more the backdrop.

This picture was taken at Jay Peak. A resort that, as far as i know, is doing about as well as any in the industry these days. On the flip side, the picture in the header of the post sold the solitude of the resort and saw a great response. So which angle is most effective?

Two Roads
On the one hand National Parks prove that, in an ideal world, people will travel with nothing but the mountains as the lure.

On the other hand, we live in an age of technology and visual stimulation and adrenaline. Can a mountain without the bells and whistles realistically compete?

I honestly have no idea. I hope mountains will be enough, but don’t know if the ideal is up against a more powerful reality. Perhaps it’s a one-two punch of both fun activities and amazing scenery.

What do you think?

About Gregg & SlopeFillers
I've had more first-time visitors lately, so adding a quick "about" section. I started SlopeFillers in 2010 with the simple goal of sharing great resort marketing strategies. Today I run marketing for resort ecommerce and CRM provider Inntopia, my home mountain is the lovely Nordic Valley, and my favorite marketing campaign remains the Ski Utah TV show that sold me on skiing as a kid in the 90s.

Get the weekly digest.

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