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January 2007

Make Summer Sizzle

SAM hit the road to the annual IAAPA show to find out what's hot for the warmer months and what some ski areas were looking at.

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How do you find summer adventure activities to complement your winter fare? Comb the halls at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) trade show, the massive bazaar that showcases everything from roller coasters and water parks to animated Halloween ghouls and devilishly profitable junk-food snacks. We found several crafty resort managers roaming the halls at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta last November.

IAAPA is all about generating ideas. Not all of the exhibits are relevant to winter resorts—“There’s about 100 booths for every one that applies to us,” says Snowbird public relations director Dave Fields—but with hundreds of booths to see, there’s plenty of food for thought.

IAAPA veteran Brian Fairbank of Jiminy Peak was looking for ways to engage kids ages 4 to 10. The spider net climbing towers at Vertical Reality and Extreme Engineering intrigued him, especially the inflatable slide from the top of the cage at the latter booth.

The climbing towers and slides grabbed Fields, too, though the potential for UV damage to the webbing could create maintenance headaches in Snowbird’s dry, high-altitude environment. He also liked the creepy animatronic death-row villain who gets fried in his electric chair—very amusing, in a sick way—from Morris Costumes. (We favored the animatronic bum puking into a 55-gallon drum ourselves.)
Other items that caught Fairbank’s eye were fog machines, kid-sized mechanical bulls (Fields swears by the bull installed at Snowbird last year), and child security systems (GPS locators, to be specific). He also found a great revenue opportunity: a data system that lets people cut lines at rides for a premium price, and charges the cost to their cell phone bills. One summer venue added $1.5 million in revenues this way, he says.

We suspect we know where Fairbank picked up his idea of running Jiminy’s new Super Slide coaster through a tunnel made of tents. This idea was not on display; we imagine that, after experiencing several of the 3D motion rides at the show, and seeing so many tent suppliers in the exhibit hall, the idea just spontaneously came to mind. The 3D motion rides typically incorporate mine shafts and other narrow passages to heighten the sense of speed; tunnels made from inexpensive tents would accomplish the same thing. You could also blow smoke at riders in the tunnel . . .

And finally, Fairbank picked up a new perspective from the keynote speaker, Mark Shapiro, CEO of Six Flags. Shapiro urged the audience to observe how technology is constantly changing business opportunities. One example: providing instant videos of experiences, as some theme parks are doing. (Could that also apply to NASTAR races or ski lessons?)

One item that caught our eye: mini golf. It was everywhere. John Cueman of Bromley, another show attendee, admitted that mini golf does well at Bromley, and Greg Galavan of Amazin’ Mazes, who operates summer concessions at Breckenridge, Steamboat, and Winter Park, noted that mini golf operations do well there, too. You might not want to spend the $250,000 that a deluxe setup can run, but you could easily steal ideas that you could build yourself. The beauty is, a mini golf concession requires next to no labor, other than a staffer to sell tickets.

Another observation: waterfights have a big future. Several exhibitors offered creative ways to soak your buddies—and even strangers. In Water Wars, players catapult water balloons at one another. On the Sky-Phoon, an aerial ride in which water-cannon-armed gondolas replace standard sky-ride cars, each gondola (or regular chair, if you own a ski area) can carry a 15-gallon reservoir that its gunners can tap. Talk about your super-soaker! Galavan told us that the simplest way to instigate a waterfight is to simply turn a maze, which is a profitable attraction in itself, into a freefire zone for 5 or 10 minutes each hour. This is the latest rage at his Colorado operations—and a great way to increase profits.

If this sounds like your kind of fun, plan to attend the Orlando show next November—IAAPA regulars expect it to be the biggest of the past few years. For info, check out or call (703) 836-4800.