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May 2009

Best/Worst Advertising: 2008/09

Our annual look at some of the highlights, and low points, in print and web advertising for both skiing and snowboarding.

Written by Katie Bailey and David O. Williams | 0 comment

This year, our review highlights print ads that complement the Web—or not.

By David O. Williams

Oh, what a wild and wooly year it’s been.

Let’s review: the global economy collapsed last fall, taking the national banking and real estate industries with it (representing a huge chunk of our industry’s clientele); and the world of print media quickly followed suit, with newspapers and magazines around the planet shutting down in droves.

So as a freelance writer, while I saw longtime outlets like the Rocky Mountain News in Denver evaporate overnight (giving me more time to ski and try to figure out where the next paycheck was coming from), I also suddenly found myself a much more motivated and dedicated follower of Web publishing.

So much so that I decided to answer this burning question: If thousands of laid-off journalists all go into public relations and marketing at once, who’s left to actually print all their press releases? The answer: Local-content micro-sites like, a site I created late in 2007. The site has given me a first-hand look at how the Web is changing the way consumers use media, and how resorts can use the Web to reach their guests.

Figuring out Web advertising, for resorts, is a lot like planning a ski vacation for diehard skiers. It can be daunting to figure out where to go, what to do once you get there, and just how much you should be paying for the pleasure.

To answer those questions, I tapped into a two-person panel of Internet marketing experts to tell me what constitutes good interactive advertising. And, somewhat surprisingly, their answers don’t call for a complete abandonment of print practices, even though some of their market research suggests such a strategy might be wise.

“Our research has found that the impact that magazine ads have on skier visits has been diminishing dramatically for six years now, to the point where they are virtually irrelevant for perhaps 95 percent of the resorts that read SAM,” says James Chung of Reach Advisors.

Samantha Rufo of Ohio-based nxtConcepts says resorts often pay too little attention to what they’re putting on the Web. Instead, many seem satisfied to simply do something they can easily switch out the text on, without carrying through their print-ad branding. “Resorts are not doing a really good job of continuing their brand into the virtual world,” she says.

She evaluates interactive marketing on three key criteria: “Consistently carrying your brand through, creativity, and a strong, clear landing page.”

The “landing page,” in Web Parlance 101, is the click-through page (don’t take people back to your homepage, whatever you do) that gets readers from a banner ad on another site to a page on your site where they’re asked to act on that banner. The landing page is a call to action that asks readers to immediately snap up a lodging offer, buy a ticket package, sign up for a snow report or newsletter, or immediately respond to some other deal du jour.

“These ads are all calls to action, so if it doesn’t have that in it, they’re doing something wrong,” Rufo says. “The whole point of doing interactive marketing is to get a result. Everything is traceable, and there’s so much reporting, so if you’re going to do the marketing, give me something that gives a conversion. It’s not just about pretty pictures; make it useful.”

Chung totally agrees. “I went through a few [magazines] where I’m certain that the entire issue didn’t contain a single resort ad that delivered incremental profit that exceeded the cost of delivering that message,” he says. “We’re particularly interested in impact as the final measure. So we’re focused on marketing efforts that are on strategy, engage the target with an obvious message that quietly drives at an underlying motivator, and deliver results.”

To keep this investigation rooted somewhat in the print world, I asked both Chung and Rufo to single out a few campaigns that make a splash first in print and then on the Web, while at the same time deliver brand crossover and clear, motivating landing pages.

Deer Valley’s “Zen and the Art of the Ultimate Ski Vacation” ad, according to Chung, carried “a clear message (we groom the hell out of everything), and drove at a key motivator for their audience (a relaxing respite from life as a Master of the Universe).”

The resort then did a good job of carrying that same attention to branding over to its banner ads on the Web, according to Rufo: “Deer Valley was a really good one because it has lift tickets, logo, someone smiling, having a good time, and then the landing page actually brings you to a nice, simple page of how to do it.”

Steamboat managed to carry its taglines, colors, logos and branding through from its family-targeted print ads in Ski to its e-mails, sent periodically to subscribers, and its Web banners. “The Steamboat e-mail looks like all their other materials. It looks good, it’s well put-together, and it’s well-designed,” Rufo says.

The same cannot be said for Jay Peak in Vermont, which clearly was continuing its trend of shock-value, bizarro print ads with its “Further Up. Further Out” campaign. The ads declare Jay doesn’t look or smell like any other mountain in New England. However, this creativity was sorely lacking on its extremely basic Website.

Was this intentional? “The creative execution has been a huge turnoff for many, but it may have been exactly on strategy,” Chung says. “Jay Peak is ending up as one of the industry’s few distance-challenged, exchange-rate-challenged ski resorts that actually will end up with a near-record year.” Still, the disconnect between print and the web looks like a lost opportunity.

Vail has taken advantage of the print/web synergy. Vail’s “Like Nothing on Earth” print campaign is easy to like, with its sweeping satellite shots of North America’s largest single-mountain, lift-served resort. But, Chung argues, Vail topped everyone else by a mile by accompanying this imagery with equally evocative video on its Website—video that makes you want to book the first flight out.

And for Web motivators, how about Vail print ads touting not just a landing page but a landing site ( that is a clear, uncluttered call to buy the best deal in the industry, a six-mountain season pass for $579?

The Canyons in Utah is one bigger mountain Rufo feels held up across all media. “The Canyons did a good job of sticking with their colors, integrating in some cool thoughts, providing good content—‘The ultimate winter playground’ and ‘ski free’—and a really good job of providing Web-only deals,” she says.

Whiteface Mountain, N.Y., shows that you don’t have to be big to use the Web well. Chung liked the super-cool, techy creative “Bridget Widget” on the Whiteface Website. “Basically, Whiteface has put a fun personality—their very friendly marketing director—as the face of a mountain that otherwise has an imposing reputation, and it’s given Whiteface permission to dominate that customer’s PC desktop,” Chung says.

And that clearly is where it’s at today: controlling your message, reinforcing your brand in both the static and the interactive worlds, and getting immediate, quantifiable results.

Big Cats, lucky ladies top the list.

By Katie Bailey

The usual suspects* are back this year with a flurry of new campaigns to titillate and inspire legions of snowboarders to head to their slopes. There was some really good stuff this year, and we’re stoked that these resorts have not only continued their commitment to putting out good advertising, but to the industry’s magazines as well. So here you go, the best of 2009, in all their glory.

* Yes, I realize almost all of these resorts are in California. That was an accident, but in no way a coincidence, given the density of the Californian market.

“More jibs, more jumps, more fun” – Bear Mountain, CA
Taking back its crown for best print campaign is Bear Mountain. Not only did these ads have the best creative, they had the best copywriting, too, a killer one-two punch. My favorite ad of the year is from this campaign: a two-page spread with a picture of a bobcat baring its teeth and Bear team rider Simon Chamberlain nearby, his arm torn off and laying bloody beside him. The copy: “One dozen cats unleashed nightly.” Love it!! The other ads, featuring other team riders, were equally as good, each explaining an aspect of resort operations in a shockingly normal non-marketing speak. Way to go, Bear, you really nailed it this year.

“What’s your good day?” – Northstar-at-Tahoe, CA
Northstar continued its innovative print advertising this year with a cool, three-page-spread campaign focusing on its pro riders. The campaign featured personal stories from its riders, describing their “best day” at the mountain, with a trail map showing where the pros like to ride, and a foldout, two-page photo of the rider. Readers were invited to go to the website, tell the rider their ‘best day out’ and win a chance to ride with that rider and win his gear. Nice drive-to-web device, and a good showcase of just how much Northstar supports its pro team with on-hill events and filming and photo opportunities.

“Save our snow” – Aspen Snowmass, CO
This campaign really came into its own this year and delivered the message with youth-audience-appropriate creativity and execution. This isn’t the kind of message you shove down this audience’s throats, and I think Aspen delivered it masterfully. Each ad features a stylized photo of an aspect of operations (in this case snowmaking) and some well-written copy explaining it. I like both the “Our business isn’t perfect” angle (kids are pretty quick to point out hypocrisy) and the photo caption, which I think all resort folks will like, too: “Frank White, our snowmaking manager, has got skills—like mad fixing-huge-dangerous-fiery-hot-power-plant skills.”

“Two women want you. Neither is willing to share” – Heavenly, Lake Tahoe, CA
Sure, this campaign is a little cheesy, but I liked it. A little bit of sexy girl innuendo certainly never bothered the largely male readership of snowboard magazines, and the ads broke down my icy wall of cynicism. The concept was “Mother Nature vs. Lady Luck” and how each vies for your attention on vacation. Lady Luck is the siren, Mother Nature, obviously, the mountain. This is the age-old question of the big-mountain vacation (“Should I have one more?”) and I liked how they executed the concept. I think the copywriting saves it from eyerolling-dom. It’s well written, just cheesy/silly enough, but doesn’t go over the top.

“This park ain’t no fairy tale” – Mountain High, CA
I don’t really have a highbrow explanation of why I like this ad, other than I like the fact that it has Pinocchio, castles and a mouse in a top hat in it. And I liked the way it was drawn. And I liked the terrain-park-as-Disneyland concept (though I certainly would rather go to a terrain park than Disneyland). And I liked how eye-catching it was with a simple color palette and giant font. Yep, I liked it.

“Re-discover Cypress”— Cypress Mountain, BC
Now, in these tough times, it doesn’t feel right to poop on bad ads, but this ad is pretty lame. There’s nothing technically wrong with it, but the photo is of a dorky-looking rider, the copy isn’t great, and the overall creative is boring. This is the 2010 Olympic snowboard venue! The advertising opportunity of a lifetime! What about the glory? The excitement? The new 22-foot pipe soon to be filled with glamorous pros? Unfortunately, according to this ad, the most important attributes of this resort are its six chairlifts, a local contest series, and the subtle indication people haven’t been discovering Cypress lately.

Mammoth’s campaign was a bit underwhelming this year, maybe a bit too dark and arty to really capture your attention. And Park City has been running with the same concept for a while now and it’s gotten a bit stale. Time to switch this one up.

There you have it. It was a good year for creativity and, personally speaking, this year’s Bear campaign goes into my all-time top three for sheer awesomeness.