Posted on: February 18, 2020
December marks the start of another ski season, and what a wonderful season it will be!
According to one report, more than 20 million Americans participated in downhill skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling during the 2015-2016 winter season. These winter sports enthusiasts will contribute an estimated $20 billion to the U.S. economy, “through consumer spending at ski resorts, hotels, restaurants, bars, grocery stores, and gas stations.” Winter sports is big business — and growing by the year.
As ski resorts welcome visitors from far and wide, I continue to marvel at the ski industry’s ability to get the word out about events at those resorts and daily weather conditions. Ski resorts like Sugarloaf — my personal favorite, and where I worked in 1984 as the Assistant Communications Director — release a so-called “Mountain Report” on a daily basis, explaining not only how many trails are open, but also the mileage and acreage of those trails and where there is new machine-made or natural snowfall.
Keeping season pass holders, condominium owners, employees, community members and local businesses in the know about conditions, upcoming events, staff changes and other newsworthy items is vital to building a sense of community around each resort. It’s a competitive business, so every resort is trying to build a loyal base of skiers and riders who will consider its resort to be their home mountain.
And that’s what ski resorts do, year in and year out. Sugarloaf’s media team, for example, regularly publishes and promotes blog posts on resort conditions — with a personal touch. They even maintain real-time webcams at the base of the lifts so customers can watch what’s going on live on YouTube.
All brands can learn from this practice. How can you serve your audience by providing ongoing online updates on your social media platforms of choice, by email or even — wait for it — snail mail, that are helpful, useful, educational or even entertaining? Test various messages, methods of delivery and intervals to see what generates the most engagement and feedback. Most Sugarloafers I know are accustomed to getting their report each morning when they wake up. Whether they plan to ski or not, they are so engaged with the mountain that they just like to know. If they have to go to work, it makes for great water-cooler conversation.
Back in the day before social media, we used mail and media relations to stay connected to our target audiences. We did everything possible to garner earned media — that is, coverage from news outlets. For instance, it was always a race to open first, and your ski resort wanted — no, needed — to be the one ringing in the new season. This year, Killington Resort secured the publicity for first to open in Vermont. Sunday River was first to open in Maine. Then, the race will resurface again in the spring, as ski resorts scramble to be the longest to stay open.
Trust me: It is a race! And it teaches you how to hustle for results. I remember going to New York City to meet with reporters and editors from the major ski publications, but Sugarloaf wouldn’t book appointments in advance. (When you’re in your 20s, you don’t have as many inhibitions.) We would just go to Two Park Avenue where SKI and Skiing magazines were located, and my boss would tell me to stand at the sink in the ladies room and wash my hands, just to see if I could spark a conversation with a writer.
I would say, “Hi, I’m Nancy from Sugarloaf. Have you been to Sugarloaf?” Then I would proceed to regale them with funny stories about the resort and what makes it so unique. On a few occasions, that face-to-face interaction led to top-tier media coverage.
If you plan to do media visits in any market, it’s advisable to first contact the media outlet and ask for a coffee meeting or deskside visit. Prepare your messages, and keep it short. Journalists are always on deadline, so do what you can to be helpful and concise.
Today we have the luxury of creating our own content and not depending so much on the news media to get the word out. Take Vail Resorts, which now operates dozens of locations around the world. Vail CEO Rob Katz hosts a podcast called Epic By Nature, on which he interviews people in various resort jobs — from ticket sales to grooming and dining. His goal is to communicate the complexities of the resort business and the ski industry writ large. And communicate he does, using new podcasting technologies to reach all kinds of new audiences.
Ski resorts find themselves at the intersection of personalized service and technological development, positioning themselves to be high-tech and high-touch to compete successfully. This means leveraging the latest technologies, but also maintaining that personal touch to leave people satisfied with their experience — and willing to come back. Face-to-face interaction still matters, just like it did for me in New York.
As a matter of fact, I decided I wanted to work in the ski industry when I was only 12 years old and my family got snowed in at the base lodge of Jay Peak, Vermont. My father, who was famously frugal, actually bought my mom, brothers and me all a round of beverages (we usually brought our own in a cooler), and we danced to the sounds of a live band in the base lodge as a snowstorm howled outside. Right at that magical moment, I was having more fun than I had ever had in my life, and I decided that someday I wanted to work at a ski resort.
Working in the ski industry taught me about the power of combining in-person and high-tech communications. Feeling alive and free while soaring down the slopes in the cold winter air, followed by wonderful times with family and friends after a day on the slopes, is something that skiers and snowboarders live for — and it’s something I’ve always been willing to work for, too.
This article originally appeared on the Forbes Agency Council CommunityVoice in December 2019.