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What Makes a Midwest Skier / Ski Resort Tick? Amy Frischmon Int.

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A few years ago, during an early-January, cross-country road trip, I vowed I’d hit a few of the small, midwest ski areas that dotted the landscape near I-80. Thanks to bitter cold temps and way to many solo hours in the car, I didn’t keep my promise, and I’ve regretted it ever since. It wasn’t the skiing I was looking forward to, it was the skiers. I was dying to have a few lift-ride conversations about what makes a Midwest skier tick. I was coming from Utah, home of the “Greatest Snow on Earth” and resorts with thousands of feet of vertical, and driving through ski country where 300′ of vertical was amazing, and 150′ of vert covered with icy, man-made snow was commonplace. What, I wondered, kept them coming back over and over again if the conditions seemed so “poor” to my Rocky Mountain mind?

I’ve been wanting to get a Midwest ski resort’s point of view on things ever since. When Amy Frischmon from Wild Mountain, Minnesota shot me an opening day announcement, I pounced. Despite a busy schedule, she was nice enough to answer a few of my questions.

Gregg: Quickly give me an overview of Wild Mountain, what area it serves, and it’s history.
Amy: Wild Mountain is located 50 miles NE of the Twin Cities Metropolitan area. We service the Twin Cities Area and the northern and northeast suburbs as well as Western Wisconsin.

Wild Mountain is family owned and run, my parents, Dennis & Cam Raedeke purchased Val Croix, a ski area with 7 runs, 2 rope tows & a t-bar in 1972, they renamed it Wild Mountain. We are celebrating our 40th year this year. My parents retired in 1989 and my brother Dan & I now own & operate Wild Mountain along with an excellent team of employees. We have 25 runs, 100’ of vertical, 8 lifts, 4 terrain parks, and snow tubing. In the summer time we have a Water park, Alpine Slides, & Go-Karts on the ski area property, in the town of Taylors Falls we operate a scenic boat tour business, canoe & kayak rental and a campground.

Gregg: Tell me a little bit more about this tradition about being the first to open in the midwest.
Amy: We have been the first area open in the Midwest for the last 36+ years. There are a few years that a ski area in MI who like to claim being open before us, I think they are wrong, but it is a friendly competition. : ) Mike Terrell, who writes for On The Snow, typically declares us the winner. If you contact him, he may know what year that another ski area was close to us, or perhaps opened at the same time.

1992, was our earliest opening, Oct.18th. That year we were the first area open in the Nation. Last year First Tracks On-line Ski Magazine announced that we were the first area in the Northern Hemisphere to be 100% Open. That was fun!

We printed t-shirts for all of our staff, instructors & patrollers that said we were the first area in the Northern Hemisphere to be 100% open. It is fun to still see these shirts at various local events.

Gregg: When did you first put effort into this and why do you continue to do so?
Amy: We didn’t purposefully put effort into this in the beginning, it just happened. But for the last 20 years or so, we have purposefully put effort into doing it.

As far as why we do it, we do it, because we are as excited as our guests to get out and ski/ride. All of our management staff are all skiers or snowboarders and we love the sport! But in addition now, we have become well known in the Midwest as the ski area that always opens first. Our goal every year is to be 100% open by Thanksgiving. Some areas are only just opening at that time.

Gregg: What does opening first in the midwest mean from a marketing and publicity perspective?
Amy: It is great for marketing and publicity. We typically get visits from 1 – 3 television stations when we open the first time. The local radio stations and papers always do stories on us and print photos of opening day. It definitely gets our name out there and in the Midwest on low snow years, everyone knows that if conditions are at all marginal, then Wild Mtn is the place to be. We always open first, and are known for our fantastic conditions no matter what your back yard looks like!

Gregg: What do you feel is the biggest difference between a midwest skier who is happy with 100′ of vertical and a western US skier who won’t ski less a resort with less than 1000′?
Amy: Hmmm! Wondering how I answer this without offending anyone. I think the Midwest skier is perhaps less “snobby” than a skier who says they won’t ski at a resort with less than 1000’. The Midwest has produced some amazing skiers, look at Lindsey Vonn – we may have less vertical, but we can get more runs in as our chairs our shorter and all areas in the Midwest are typically open from 10am – 10pm. : )

Note: I had to look this one up, but just as an FYI, Lindsey Vonn was born and raised in Minnesota where she skied until she was a teenager. Pretty cool.

Gregg: Let’s give you a chance to talk about both sides. First, what is the hardest part about being a midwest ski area from a marketing perspective?
Amy: I don’t know what it would be like to market to any other type of ski area. But I think the hardest part of any marketing is knowing what is successful and what is not. I always say that 50% of my marketing works, and 50% doesn’t, just tell me what 50% does! Although, I do like the statistics that come with social media!

Gregg: Feel free to brag a little on this one :) What is the best part about being a Midwest ski area?
Amy: I think the best part is the family atmosphere, the people and getting the opportunity to teach so many people about the sport and to watch them learn and love to ski & snowboard, love the outdoors and love MN winters. The Midwest teaches more people to ski/ride than anywhere else in the Nation.

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

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