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November 2009

Home-Grown Videos

Thanks to new technology and equipment, resorts can create their own videos throughout the season, and customers love it.

Written by Tim Sweeney | 0 comment

Remember the good, old days—say, 10 years ago—when a live resort cam was cutting edge? Today, video of skiers floating through fresh powder can be shot at 8 a.m. and posted on a resort website minutes later, distracting skiers and boarders stuck in cubicles everywhere. And not just on a ski area websites, but on Facebook, Twitter and wherever else people follow you. The power to influence potential visitors with video is in the palm of your hand, literally. iPhone, anyone?

Consumers are being bombarded by content from any number of suitors, and video is a short, sexy way to capture their attention. We all know that from experience, but it’s been quantified as well. According to a 2008 Forrester Research study, “How Travelers Use Online Video,” nine percent of U.S. travelers (nearly 11 million people) have watched video content online specifically about travel.

Need more convincing? When consumer spending drops—like, say, now—the value of online video is even greater. The Forrester report states that during economic downturns, travelers have a strong desire to experience everything they can about a destination before they turn over their hard-earned bucks: 71 percent of those who view travel videos online are looking to learn about destinations, while 54 percent are looking to get ideas about activities offered at their would-be vacation spots.

Mammoth Mountain ( is one of the greatest producers of video content among U.S. resorts. Mammoth established a video and satellite department in 2006. That effort culminated in a full-length snowboard movie that will premiere this fall.

But the bread and butter output is more practical. The resort creates a mix of videos during the winter season, including two to three snow report videos per week, as well as more polished videos on resort events and activities. The work is done completely in-house by a small staff that includes Mammoth’s public relations manager, Daniel Hansen, along with three seasonal employees: a snow reporter, who does the bulk of the on-camera work, and a video/satellite operator and a video/satellite assistant, who shoot and edit the videos. Once the videos are completed and uplinked, Hansen alerts the media.

During the off-season, Mammoth disables its online video player and houses videos on YouTube, where its extensive collection lives year-round.

“The main purpose of our videos is to show up-to-date clips of conditions and to inform people about events and activities coming up,” Hansen says. “I’ve seen resorts give someone a cell phone that shoots video and then upload that. We thought about that, but we try to make the video a better quality—but not so polished that it looks cheesy.” This season, Mammoth will also use video as part of its increased social media marketing efforts, posting clips on Facebook.

In 2008-09, Mammoth took video capturing to a new level, hiring two extra videographers to shoot throughout the winter for the feature-length “Hot Laps,” which will premiere Nov. 14 with a free outdoor showing in The Village at Mammoth. The resort partnered with Snowboard Magazine, which will distribute 100,000 copies of the film free with the magazine’s Superpark issue in January. The footage was gathered in the terrain park, on the mountain, and in and around Mammoth, with the resort’s Team Riders providing the star power.

At the other end of the cost spectrum sits co-op-run Mad River Glen, Vt. Throwing gobs of money at things is never how Mad River has done things. Still, marketing director Eric Friedman manages to post video snow reports three times per week during the season at The 15-year Mad River veteran loves the honesty that comes with video snow reports. “We are a natural snow ski area,” Friedman explains. “We have two snow guns, and people are conditioned to think that you need machine-made snow in New England to ski. The video lets people know we have snow and it gets them excited.”

Friedman uses a small Cannon Powershot 600 digital camera that shoots still photos and video. He can gather all the footage he needs in one or two runs and 15 minutes of editing and uploading to the website. To stretch the value of this low-budget operation, he notes, “We’re going to try to use YouTube this year, just for the viral perspective. We’ll also post it on Facebook and have links on Twitter.”

In a world where many companies are scared to death by what bloggers and chat boards might say about them, Friedman would love to see Mad River’s locals begin posting their own video on the ski area’s website. “There’s validity in the information coming from them, rather than the high-priced corporate mouth that I am,” he says dryly.

At Mt. Bachelor, Ore. (, the marketing department uses two types of online video to reach two separate target audiences. Bachelor posts high-quality music video-style edits targeting vacationers in an effort to hype conditions; and documentary-style educational videos about Mt. Bachelor’s offerings and operations, which are geared toward locals in the Bend area.

“Fifty percent of our clientele is very local and they know the mountain very well, and 50 percent live at least a three-hour drive away, the vacationing skiers,” says Alex Kaufman, director of marketing for Mt. Bachelor. “We try to get the vacationers excited to visit by showing great powder videos, that sort of thing.” Kauffman contracts with a shooter from Poor Boyz Productions to put together the music videos, paying him a set amount of money to produce a set number of videos per season. “Then we make a highlight video at the end of the year and take it to all the ski shows and show it before all the movie premieres in the fall,” he adds.

The documentary-style videos are produced in-house and posted on YouTube, covering topics like avalanche control work or how the lift ops crew gets the mountain up and running after a big storm. “Those types of videos are catered to our local audience of Monday morning quarterbacks,” Kauffman explains. “We have a large local community here in Bend who are more interested in how the place is run.”

Mt. Bachelor doesn’t use a ton of resources to create the documentary-style videos, shooting with a still camera that has video capabilities and editing with Microsoft Moviemaker. “That allows us to turn it around quickly and it gives people the idea that they could have made it themselves,” Kaufman explains. “You can do voiceovers and lay music over it. You can really let people into your world using that simple technology.”

Kaufman says the whole process works best if the turnaround is done quickly, while the content is still fresh. It takes his department about half a day to turn around a short video, and a day to finish a longer one. The cost of producing video comes mostly in the form of labor time. The process can be time-consuming, so having someone available to do the work is important.

On Schweitzer Mountain Resort’s website (, the video section contains short clips focusing on specific tree runs, the park scene, upcoming events, and snow reports. Patrick Sande, marketing manager for the Idaho resort, says that Schweitzer has taken several steps over the last two seasons to enhance its video. “We’re big advocates of video use,” Sande says. “We shoot and edit all footage right here, and we’re also able to post it directly to our website. It’s proven to be a great tool for a variety of reasons. It allows us to show our guests what the most current conditions are like, which helps drive visitation to the resort.”

Many of Schweitzer’s guests live in the nearby Spokane River Valley, where Sande says it can often rain. Timely video of on-mountain conditions is an easy way for those guests to verify what things are like on the hill. “We can shoot, edit and post a video that shows the fresh snow we just received,” Sande says. “Posting videos also allows us to highlight upcoming events and announcements that we want our guests to know about. Additionally, it helps keep our website looking fresh and keeps people coming back. ”

Vail’s video at displays slick editing, high-quality production, and catchy background music, as you might expect. Adam Sutner, Vail’s director of marketing, says that video is an important part of the resort’s marketing efforts, and believes the ski business is tailor-made for it. “It’s difficult to convey the ephemeral feel of light powder, snow-covered trees and the ambience of a powder day through two-dimensional media,” he says. With video, he notes, “we can have a TV spot on the air in the New York market less than 24 hours after a fresh snowfall with real-time video of that new snow,” Sutner says. “And even quicker if we convey it via the web, on Twitter, Facebook and the like.”

Vail local Chris Anthony (a Warren Miller film regular) also posts the clips on his Facebook page. Anthony’s 2,200 friends, most of whom love to ski, are quickly exposed to the clips, which create instant online conversations about the new powder at Vail.

Yet Vail does not have a huge investment in video. “With our relatively modest resources, we consider video a kind of force multiplier that allows us to compete above our weight, so to speak,” Sutner explains. “With a modest investment in in-house resources, we can portray high production values and react nimbly to market and weather conditions.”

But perhaps the most important reason of all to use video is Sutner’s last point: Vail’s customers simply love it. “We can remind everyone why we love our sport so much in the first place—because it’s fun!” Sutner says. “And video is the best way to convey that essence.”

Tim Sweeney is senior writer/online video editor for Callaway Golf, where he produces videos for, and is a contributor to Ski magazine.

Video cameras and camcorders are not quite a dime a dozen, but the price-to-value ratio is nonetheless extremely high. Better cameras have image stabilization and can take hi-res still images as well. Here’s a look at a few of the thousands of choices. For the models listed, price ranges reflect different memory capacities and recording times.

• Flip Mino and Ultra ($150 to $200)
Slightly bigger than an iPhone, these models have 1- to 2-hour recording time, in either standard or HD format. 3.3 or 6 oz., depending on model.

• Sony Handycam HDR series ($600 to $1,500)
These record at up to 1080 HD and produce “amazing HD video,” says author Tim Sweeney, “you could ski with it in your hand.” 10X to 12X optical zoom, up to 12 megapixel still images. 11 to 20 oz.

• Sony Webbie HD ($170 to $200)
Slightly smaller than most Handycam models, the Webbie can also records in 1080 HD. 5X optical zoom.

• Canon Vixia series ($750 to $1,400)
Record up to 6 hours of full 1080 HD, 10x to 15X optical zoom, up to 8 megapixel still images.14 to 17 oz.

• Panasonic HDC series ($500 to $1,400)
Full HD recording, image stabilization, weight, 9 to 16 oz., depending on model and memory.

• Vholdr ContourHD1080 helmet cam
Can record up to 2 hours of HD video with 16 GB memory card; built to be operated with gloves on. 4.3 oz.

Note: standard-definition camcorders, available from dozens of companies, typically cost $50 to $250.