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September 2012

Going to the Next Level

Bring A Friend program and new partners can help boost LSSM well above last season's 100,000.

Written by Rick Kahl | 0 comment

Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month (LSSM), now bolstered by the season-long Bring a Friend (BAF) campaign and hundreds of new partners, continues to gain support and promotional firepower. But can resorts turn all this additional attention into sustained new business?

Resorts have already formulated plans. Ski Vermont will repeat its offer for a $29 lift, lesson, rentals beginner package at member resorts. The package will be marketed through Liftopia, another LSSM partner. Ski Idaho will offer a similar beginner package through Liftopia at about the same price point. Ski New Hampshire is organizing a week, tentatively the week of January 12, when members provide a lift, lesson, rentals beginner package free.

The Bring a Friend program is a season-long effort to encourage current skiers and snowboarders to, well, bring a friend who doesn’t yet ski or ride. The national “Bring a Friend Challenge” provides an incentive, beyond simply being a good friend: a five-night, four-day all-expenses-paid trip to the Park City-area resorts (Park City, Deer Valley, and Canyons) or to Sun Valley, Ida. The Challenge runs from Dec. 17 to Mar. 17.

Many other partners have expressed support for the program and a willingness to play a role in it, including nearly all of last year’s partners. Head Wintersports continues to be a leading supplier partner. This year’s players also include, significantly, Snowsports Industries America (SIA) and 30 of its individual members, the National Snow Sports Retailers Association (NSSRA), all the major retail buying groups, and nearly all the regional ski industry sales rep organizations.

How to Enlist Partners
The question is, how can SIA suppliers and retailers take part? All the action takes place at resorts. Therefore, it’s up to resorts to make the first step and invite these businesses to join their effort. Start by talking to your existing suppliers and nearby retailers about your plans and how they can help recruit newcomers for your programs. Make sure that your retail and rental departments inform the marketing and communications staff who your key supplier contacts are. If you don’t know the key retailers in your major markets, now would be a good time to introduce yourself.

Ski and snowboard shops have been left out of the promotional mix, but could play an important role—if you reach out to them. Most ski and snowboard shops are small businesses and chronically short-staffed. They could not afford the time to organize a learn-to promotion—even if they could figure out where to hold it.

“Retailers aren’t really very good at this,” says Brad Nelson, chairman of the NSSRA. “Everyone’s heard about it, nobody gets it. Everyone is doing something different. Retailers haven’t embraced it because they already have full-time jobs. They can’t stop and take the time to create a program.”

Nonetheless, he adds, “I hope to come up with a dozen ideas for shops.”

Since many resorts already have ideas, this could be a great match. Most shops, like resorts, have extensive e-mail lists, and can help spread the word about BAF. And shops can give first-timers a primer on what to expect, and make sure beginners have the clothing and accessories that will help them thrive on their first day. Resorts can refer LSSM participants to local shops for that purpose. That alone could raise the retention rate.

That is similar to a “discover skiing” program Larson has worked on with a local area. The area and shop put up posters in a mall urging people to learn to ski. The interested folks came to the store to learn about clothing and how to dress for the slopes, how boots work, see how bindings function, and how to put on a lift ticket. If they need something like a hat, helmet, gloves, and long underwear, the shop can provide it. The program cost just $10 for lift, rental, and lesson, or $25 for a family. In some years—when it led the promotional effort—the shop kept the revenue; in other years, the area got the cash.

“Our hope is to create a skier and potential customer,” says Larson. “They come through the store, so they are familiar with us. As a retailer, all I want is the chance to win them as a customer.”

While there is no shortage of potential partners like Larson, the challenge for resorts is to bring all these other interested parties in. And it’s a big challenge, since resorts, equipment and apparel suppliers, and retailers have often had an uneasy relationship. Yes, resorts and retail shops compete for rental customers. Without ignoring that, urban and suburban retailers can undoubtedly help broaden the customer base for everyone. It’s quite possible that retail shops in potential customers’ hometowns will bring in first-timers who would not otherwise find their way to the mountains, and that ski shop participation will increase the total number of newcomers. That’s the long-term goal, and retailers are willing to help resorts get the message out.

Teaming with the Forest Service
Last year LSSM signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) with the National Forest Service in which both agreed to promote winter recreation, especially skiing and riding, on the national forest. The Forest Service also signed an MOU with the National Brotherhood of Skiers to promote winter recreation in the African-American community.

One promotional project involving both of these partners is the Capitol Christmas Tree Project. This year, the Capitol tree is coming from Colorado and travelling through the Southern states to D.C. At points along the way, there will be promotional events, including several that involve ski areas (such as Cataloochee, N.C.) and local NBS chapters. Massanutten and Bryce resorts are also along the tree’s route; Vail Resorts is a sponsor of the Tree. It might seem a bit corny, but aren’t most publicity stunts? And the Tree has the potential to bring a lot of awareness to the LSSM and BAF programs.

And that’s the aim. “The idea is to leverage the resources of all these groups to raise awareness for skiing and snowboarding in a part of the country not necessarily known for winter snow activities, even though resorts in the Southeast teach a lot of lessons,” says LSSM executive director Mary Jo Tarallo.

Everyone shares the goal of creating new skiers and riders, and all are aware that learn-to programs are, ultimately, local ones. And all these parties recognize that the resorts have taken the lead in this effort, as they should. To really expand LSSM and BAF and increase their outreach to the uninitiated, resorts can enlist these and other partners. There’s plenty of work to be done. Why not involve as many volunteers as possible?