One thing I’ve been trying to do more of lately and plan to continue going forward is showcasing people that are trying to add value to the industry by trying new, unique things.
Andrew Snow is one of those people. So is Jamie Alford.
Jamie is the founder of White Diamond, a company with a simple mission positioned head-to-head with some of most persistent myths in skiing:
“Most people think skiing is a rich persons sport, the preserve of the wealthy few. That’s simply not true. Our goal is to provide incredible ski vacation packages that you don’t need a bank loan to pay for. Yes, truly affordable skiing and riding.
Our ski and stay packages are less than half the usual price. That’s what happens when you sell ski areas that focus on skiing and snowboarding, not adding shareholder value.”
I reached out for his story, results, and plans. Here’s what I found.
Gregg: Let’s start with the basics, Jamie. Who are you, how did you end up in Breck, and, more importantly, what’s the story behind White Diamond?
Jamie: After bouncing around the Greek Islands, Austrian Alps & Canadian Rockies for a few years after college, I took the position of North America General Manager for Crystal Holidays, the UK’s largest ski tour operator. Based in the Breckenridge office, I immediately fell in love with Colorado. After 15 years of managing every aspect of someone else’s ski business, I decided it was high time I started one for myself!
Ski White Diamond was launched to provide unique vacation packages to ski country’s independent, hidden gem resorts. I truly believe that the experiences these places provide are every bit as good as those provided by the larger, well known, corporate owned resorts. They offer incredible character lodging properties, free slope side parking, no lift lines and powder that stays for days. They also provide price points that can be a quarter of what big resorts and hotels charge. We want to disprove the widely held belief that skiing is the preserve of a wealthy few. One visit to our website and you’ll see plenty of awesome and truly affordable ski trips available for no more than a weekend city getaway or Florida beach vacation
Gregg: Talk for a second about the model. Is your core concept a traditional travel agency driven by a website? Are you closer to a true OTA where a website and booking engine do the heavy lifting? Something else entirely?
Jamie: A bit of both actually. We want (and recognize the need) to provide on-line book-ability. This works well for skiers that know exactly what they want and just need a way to book individual components or simple packages.
For many people, however, putting a ski trip itinerary together quickly becomes a complex and time consuming task. Here we encourage folks to pick up the phone or send us an email with their requirements and let our humans take over. Contrary to what I imagined before launching the business, we consistently add most value with what is essentially a “web enabled ski travel agent” service. In the (too much) information age, our promise of doing the internet grunt work AND promising the best deal is producing some extremely happy clients.
Gregg: I want to dig into something you said there. Specifically, that you have have just as good of a ski vacation at a small resort as you can at a Vail or Breck. To me, one of the biggest ironies in our industry is that the best skiing is almost never the most expensive. Do people believe you when they tell them? Or are they still convinced a $50 day of skiing on 1,000 acres can’t possibly be as good as a $150 day of skiing on 3,000?
Jamie: Absolutely. You can see imaginations kicking into gear as soon as you start telling stories of all day, knee deep powder and sharing the entire mountain with less than couple of hundred skiers. I think we get so amped up spreading what feels like a secret message, folks can’t help but get a bit excited about it themselves.
They understand that the ski areas aren’t quite as big and the lifts are sometimes a bit slower but they get that not having to share the trails with a thousand other skiers and never having to wait in line can more than make up for it.
Gregg: Talk a bit about the response you’ve had so far. And, more specifically, who is your message of small and affordable (but just as good) resonating with? Are these people who are only now realizing they can afford ski vacations? Are they skiers realizing that for the same price as that low-end, shuttle-into-town Beaver Creek vacation they could stay slopeside somewhere smaller? Are they wealthy skiers just looking for a different experience? Maybe just describe your typical customer.
Jamie: We’ve had a mix of all different types of people book so far but the principal motivation is often the same. It’s people who want to experience something different. They’ve often heard of the resorts we feature but never really had someone present them with lodging options or lift ticket pricing before. They look at the values on offer and just say “why not?”
We’re also really doing well with first timers. These folks don’t know if they’re going to like skiing or snowboarding so they really appreciate not having to rack up a huge bill just to try it out. The atmosphere and set up at the smaller areas is also much less intimidating for never ever’s The small base areas are easy to navigate, and ski school is uncrowded with super laid back and friendly instructors.
We also take the time to walk people through everything they need to consider when booking and before they arrive at the resort. It’s easy to forget how much goes into your first day learning to ski so our beginner clients really appreciate the hands on approach and attention to detail we provide.
Gregg: To wrap up I want to tie a couple things together you’ve mentioned. First, that you have both online booking and the ability to call you up and let a person do the heavy lifting but, second, it sounds like the phone is where your happiest customers are coming from because of your enthusiasm and knowledge in ski vacations. What percentage are you seeing coming through each channel? And does the smaller transaction size of a vacation make the automated revenue from online bookings a bit more important within your model?
Jamie: So far about 80/20 call/email versus web bookings. We did A LOT of face to face promotional events this fall to help get the word out which explains why the first figure is currently so high. You’re right though, with a lower margin per sale, we definitely need the booking engine to supplement production from the custom built side of the business to generate the necessary volume. As we continue to improve our digital presence and SEO ranking we aim to get closer to a 50/50 split.
Gregg: All in all, very excited to see your direction and early success. What does the future hold for White Diamond? Outside of Colorado? And if a gem would love to work with you, what’s their next step?
Jamie: Colorado was just the logical place to start but we ultimately aim to be the go to site for packages to smaller, independent resorts all across North America. We will shortly be adding Taos, Angel Fire and Grand Targhee, 3 of my personal favorites, and it’s on from there.
If you’d like us to feature your resort on our site, just drop me an email or give me a call. We’re always up for a chair lift chat to get things rolling. On the condition that there’s a few minutes set aside to sample the prospective product ;-)
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