The Winter Olympics Feb. 9-25 in PyeongChang, South Korea, might have been the biggest show on snow (the Games were still underway while this issue went to press), but at many U.S. ski resorts they were mostly a non-event in terms of learn-to efforts. Only a few areas actively promoted such events alongside the spike in visibility provided by The Games.
“I’m not sure this Olympics generated as much enthusiasm as in the past,” says Mary Jo Tarallo, coordinator of the national January Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month, when we interviewed her in late January. Tarallo encouraged LSSM partner resorts to do “something” in conjunction with the Olympics, but got few takers.
“I think it’s hard to get attention from American ski resorts because they already have so many things on their plate,” she added.
Indeed, February, already one of the busiest ski months, just doesn’t have a lot of room for more events, promos, and activities. Add in severe restrictions on how the Olympics can be marketed, and most ski resorts were content to simply turn the TV on in the bar and call it a day.
“To be really honest, we didn’t talk about the Olympics at all,” says Kristel Fillmore, communications manager at Killington, Vt. “It’s high season. We’re really busy in February.” This from the resort that has shown the world how a women’s World Cup event can attract 34,000 spectators and spawn all kinds of peripheral activities and interest.
Another hiccup: NBC planned to promote competitive and learn-to efforts through its SportsEngine.com platform, but those efforts were hampered by a delayed launch of the program—and by a focus on competitive programs, to the detriment of introductory efforts.
To be sure, a few areas did offer Olympic-related promotions. Mountain Creek, N.J., offered 23 percent off (in honor of the XXIII Olympics) a lesson package the week of Feb. 12-16, when all the ski and snowboard events started.
“We’re totally excited about the Olympics,” says Evan Kovach, marketing director. “Everyone in the market is thinking about snowsports. We’re 47 miles away from one of the largest urban populations in the world, who see skiing and snowboarding for three straight weeks. It gets everyone excited about what we do here.”
Eaglecrest, Alaska, home to Olympic downhill silver medalist Hilary Lindh, extended its January learn-to promotion into February and the first week of the Olympics. “There’s always a definite buzz around the Olympics,” says Jeffra Clough, marketing director.
Though not specifically for the Olympics, Blue Mountain, Pa., built a 200-foot luge track as part of its 7th annual Winter Fest, held at the end of January and first week of February.
“We’re one of the major recruiting sites for the U.S. junior luge team,” says CEO Barb Green. “Every year we get about 150 to 200 people who lie down on a small sled and try it out. One or two go on to Lake Placid. This Winter Fest will have a little more emphasis on the Olympics. We’re also adding fireworks.”
Also in honor of this year’s Winter Olympics, Crystal Mountain, Mich., resurrected its paintball biathlon event. “We highlight the fact that people watching The Games on TV can do most of the events right here at Crystal,” says Brian Lawson, PR director. That includes skating and playing hockey on the ice rink, and at least one paintball biathlon.
Jackson Hole, Wyo., hosted several of NBC’s major advertisers during the Olympic timeframe. Because of the political tensions on the Korean peninsula, NBC switched its normal Olympic trip for big spenders from PyeongChang to Jackson. Communications manager Anna Cole says other than that, the resort didn’t have any Olympic-themed events going on.
For many resorts, Olympic tie-ins mostly happened in January in conjunction with Olympic qualifiers. Deer Valley, Utah, site of the 2002 Winter Olympics moguls, aerials, and slalom events, had no special Olympic-related events scheduled, but hosted a World Cup moguls and aerial event and Olympic qualifier in January, and later a meet and greet with some of the members of the U.S. Olympic team.
“Because we’re an Olympic venue, we celebrate the Olympics every year” with competitions on the Olympic venues, says Emily Summers, senior communications manager. “We have seven former Olympic athletes who call Deer Valley home and participate in our popular ‘Ski with the Champions’ program.”
Other former sites kept the vibe going during the Games. Squaw Valley, Calif., site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, held some viewing parties and après events. “There’s a strong Olympic legacy here,” says Sam Kieckhefer, PR coordinator at Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows. “A lot of former athletes live here. It’s always a vibrant time of year.”
At Lake Placid, N.Y., site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, every day is Olympic day, especially in the months leading up to The Games. Lake Placid and its Olympic venues hosted five international events and Olympic qualifiers before this year’s Games, four of them televised nationally. “We are the destination for international athletes dreaming of being an Olympian,” says Jon Lundin at the Olympic Regional Development Authority.
In February during the actual Olympic timeframe, Lake Placid hosted the NorAm freestyle and aerials, biathlon, and U.S. Cup ski jumping competition, which Lundin bills as “the best way to see the next generation of Olympic athletes, and a lot cheaper than going to South Korea.”
With increases in TV ratings for pre-Olympic alpine and snowboard events, it’s possible that interest in skiing and riding—especially for newcomers—will spike despite a lack of resort-based Olympic promotions.
Business as Usual (Mostly)
At Nashoba Valley, Mass., corporate sales director and former Olympian Pam Fletcher (’88) was busy in February as a contributor to the local NBC affiliate during the time slot leading up to the nightly primetime coverage. The resort, meanwhile, was busy with its usual non-Olympic February schedule of events.
Beech Mountain, N.C., had so much going on in conjunction with its 50th anniversary season, there was no space for Olympic-related events, although Beech ran a series of ads on the local NBC affiliate before The Games. Still, marketing director Talia Freeman notes that Beech always sees “a huge increase in visibility and interest” during an Olympic year.
Ragged Mountain, N.H., was planning some Olympic viewing parties, but was mostly focused on implementing the second year of its free learn-to program. The program offers never-evers three free ski or ride lesson packages all season long. At the end of three lessons, participants can buy a $69 season pass, discounted equipment, a sophomore pass for $199, and additional lessons for the next two years for just $29.
“Our goal is to take people who want to try skiing or riding and actually turn them into skiers and riders,” says marketing director Ben Hall.
With a little luck, the Olympics will provide a lift for that effort, and others like it.