When Ski Roundtop, Pa., opened its paintball course more than a decade ago, the response was only lukewarm. “It wasn’t great. It wasn’t bad. Just cruising along,” says Chris Dudding, marketing manager. Then Roundtop started hosting paintball birthday parties.
“The response was huge,” Dudding says. “Paintball has grown phenomenally, basically fueled by birthday parties.”
Ski Roundtop has since expanded birthday parties to its Mountain Adventure center along with its zipline and bumper boats, and to its snow tubing hill in the winter. “We typically have a number of parties going on at the same time,” Dudding says. “We probably have at least one party every day we’re open.”
For those ski resorts close to their markets with lots of self-contained, “easy access” activities like tubing, paintball and waterparks, birthday parties have become a large and lucrative business. “Parents are always raising the bar on birthday parties,” Dudding says. “We offer something different from Chuck E. Cheese and the bowling alley.”
“We do everything,” says Lori Rowell, sales and marketing manager at Pats Peak, N.H., which hosts four to five birthday parties every winter weekend on its tubing hill. “Parents like that. There’s not much planning and no cleanup.”
“Birthday parties are fantastic!” echoes Chris Kitchen, marketing director at Nashoba Valley, Mass., which hosts an average 20 parties a week during the winter. “In the early ’90s, birthday parties were ski-driven,” Kitchen says. “Now, it’s all tubing-related.”
“Skiing and riding are not well-suited for birthday parties,” Dudding says. “Tubing is great. You just show up and go.”
“Tubing is great for both kids and parents,” Rowell says. “You don’t need to be a certain ability level or need any special clothing or equipment. It’s all in one area. It’s great for parties.”
At Amesbury Sports Park, Mass., one of the few areas with both winter and summer tubing, birthday parties are a huge staple of its business. “We do more every year,” says Meredith Robinson, sales director. “We usually have several going on at the same time.”
Pricing and Scheduling
Birthday parties are a good fit for resorts. They require little maintenance and no extra staff. They can also be scheduled during slow times. Boyne has a birthday blackout during its busy Christmas week or spring break. Nashoba Valley bars parties between 12 and 5 p.m. on weekends. “Even if parents have to schedule a party in the morning, they don’t mind,” Kitchen says. “They know the parties sell out very quickly.”
“You have a lot of control over the parties,” says Amesbury’s Robinson, who schedules most birthday parties during ‘quiet’ times in the morning and after 3 p.m. “They can help balance business out. They don’t require extra staff. They’re easy to market. It’s a good way to sell some quiet time. It’s a nice chunk of business.”
“We provide great value for parents,” says Erin Ernst, communications manager at Boyne, Mich. Ernst says admission to the resort’s Avalanche Bay waterpark normally ranges between $25 and $39. A birthday party for 10, including four hours in the waterpark, food, cake and ice cream, and arcade tokens starts at $270. More expensive packages include more extras, such as gift bags and party favors.
At Cranmore, N.H., which has winter tubing and year-round zipline, mountain coaster and indoor adventure zone, birthday parties start at $12 a head. “We do à la carte birthday parties,” says Ann Pinkham, group sales coordinator. “Kids can pick and choose what they want to do based on age and how much their parents want to spend.”
Nashoba Valley charges $33 a head for two hours of tubing, soft drinks, cake and ice cream. For $3 more per child, Nashoba will throw in pizza, hot dogs and burgers. Both parties come with balloons and birthday decorations.
Close proximity to major markets is a key requirement. Amesbury, for example, is just 40 minutes north of Boston. Telluride, Colo., on the other hand, 90 minutes from Montrose and two hours from Durango, has hosted only a few parties despite excellent party facilities.
“We have a large indoor craft area that is pretty conducive to birthday parties,” says Krista Neumann, assistant manager at the resort’s Eco Adventures Center. “We’d like to do more parties, but it’s hard.”
For resorts closer to their markets, birthday parties need little advertising or promotion. Ski Roundtop features birthday parties on its website, and does a few e-mail blasts and print ads.
“At first, we definitely had to work hard to get the word out,” Dudding says. “People did not associate us with birthday parties. Now we have reached a point in our marketing where the return rate is huge. Word of mouth is enormous.”
Other resorts report similar experiences. Cranmore has a page on its website, a Google ad and a print ad in the resort’s magazine about birthday parties. The rest is word of mouth. “Birthday parties really took off last year,” Pinkham says.
Pats Peak runs an ad in parenting magazines for its tubing center that includes information about birthday parties. It also features birthday parties on its website and in its print brochure. “Word of mouth and return rate are huge,” Rowell says. “We have the same families come back more than once for friends and younger siblings.”
Although parties do not require additional staff, if groups are especially young, make sure you have enough adults to oversee them, and don’t forget to check heights and weights, Pinkham advises. Service and timing are also critical. Reserve a table or two in the lodge, and make sure food is ready when the kids come in to eat.
Kitchen says a good reservation system is also helpful. Nashoba’s web manager wrote a reservation system just for birthday parties. “It allows the group coordinator to book the slot and lock it up,” Kitchen says. “Everybody else can see it in the calendar. Nothing slips through. The snow tubing desk reserves the tubes, the food is ready. The cake is decorated. Everybody’s in the loop.”
But just in case, having a spare birthday cake on hand is a good idea.