Entering its seventh year, the Learn to Ski and Snowboard initiative has introduced some 500,000 newcomers to the sport. Not all have become aficionados, of course. But as resorts continue to tinker with what works in getting people into lessons, the January spotlight on learning continues to spark creative solutions that can work all season long. As its promoters emphasize, LSSM, like Bring a Friend, is not just for January anymore.
Lessons remain the focus. “Taking a lesson is imperative to retention,” says Talia Freeman, marketing director at Beech Mountain, N.C. “Beginners are not going to have a good experience unless they have a good lesson.”
Tammy Brown, marketing director at Cataloochee, N.C., agrees: “If we provide a great lesson and the tools, we feel we can get some lifelong visitors.”
To that end, Cataloochee moved to terrain-based learning this season. The resort is also one of several that has partnered with Elan skis on a killer deal. Cataloochee is offering a limited number of 5-day lesson packages, with a free pair of Elan skis at the end, for $299. The resort also has a $49 lesson package for January.
Free for All?
What is the right price point for a lesson? Many think free is not it.
In years past, New Hampshire resorts celebrated January LSSM with a week of free lesson packages. “We did up to 150 lessons a day during the free week,” says Karen Dolan, director of snowsports at Cranmore, N.H. “But because it was free, people would sign up and then not show up. People didn’t seem to have any commitment.”
This January, instead of a free week, New Hampshire resorts are charging $29 for lesson packages ($19 at Nordic resorts), for the entire month, midweek, non-holidays.
But resorts are not giving up on free altogether. Dolan says Cranmore, Jiminy Peak, Mass., and Bromley, Vt., all with terrain-based learning programs, are offering three free lesson days at each resort—one day each in December, January and March.
Beech is offering free lessons, Monday through Thursday, non holidays, all season long to guests who rent at the mountain. “It’s good for customers, and also our instructors,” Freeman says. “It’s a little slower midweek with lessons. The ultimate goal is to retain customers and provide a good experience."
One Price Offers
Many states, and even regions, are moving to a one price offer for January, as New Hampshire has done.
Vermont resorts have offered a $29 January lesson package for the last four years. In 2014, resorts sold 1,707 of the January packages, and more than 1,800 in 2013, according to Sarah Wojcik, public affairs director at Ski Vermont.
This January, a few resorts in Maine are joining the movement. Sunday River offered the $29 package for both December and January. “We’ve never done anything like this before,” says Sarah Devlin, communications manager. “Just the beginner lift ticket is usually $39.”
Utah resorts are also teaming up to offer a $45 January lesson package. “The problem the last few years is that all the resorts were doing something different. From a PR, marketing perspective it was very confusing. We wanted to streamline the program and make it easier to pitch [to the media],” says Susie English, communications director at Ski Utah.
Resorts set their own parameters on the offer. Deer Valley is doing only one day at the $45 price. Others will offer the $45 package all month (midweek, non holiday). English says the program has a goal of 10,000 lessons. “We’re really pushing it locally,” she says.
Keep It Simple
Learning to ski or snowboard can be confusing, so resorts are finding ways to keep their programs simple.
Beech’s solution: Skiing 101. For three years, Beech has offered Skiing 101 midweek in January—lifts, lesson, rentals plus one night lodging for $101. The package also includes hand-holding.
“We walk them through the whole process until they sign up for the lesson,” Freeman says. “Sometimes the hardest part in the beginning is just putting on the equipment.”
Beech also re-did its signage to make the process simpler: Step 1: Get lift ticket. Step 2: Get rental equipment. Step 3: Sign up for lesson. Each step along the way, employees are briefed on how to direct beginners on to the next step.
To simplify its program, New Hampshire eliminated coupons. Newbies no longer have to download a coupon from the state association website and then go to the individual resort to make a reservation. Now, they can book directly with the resort. The streamlined system will make follow-up easier too.
“When somebody creates that payment into the ski area, the area can track and nurture that connection,” says Kim Pickering, member services director at Ski NH.
All-inclusive pricing is another way to simplify the beginner experience. For the last five years, Alyeska, Alaska, has offered a simple $99, three-lesson, no-blackout-days package in January. Copper Mountain, Colo., is offering a three-lesson package with lunch and a season pass at the end for $199. Monarch, Colo., has a junior lesson package for $89, and an adult lesson package for $99.
Pick Any Two
Last season, Wachusett, Mass., created a Bring a Friend for Fun (BFF) package that married a full day lift ticket for one person and a beginner lesson package for another for $110. The online-only offer was good all season, but Wachusett pushed it especially hard in January.
“It really took off,” says Tom Meyers, marketing director.
Wachusett also did an email campaign to all former lesson participants and expanded the friend program to three levels: bring a friend, bring a good friend, and bring a great friend. The good friend package ($135) adds a lesson for the experienced friend. The great friend package lets two participants pick any two of three options— two experienced lesson packages, two beginner lesson packages, or two lift tickets—for $160.
“What we’re trying to do is get those people we know are skiing to become ambassadors for the sport by bringing a friend,” Meyers says. It works: Wachusett, which conducts 10,000 beginner lessons a year, sold 1,500 “friend” packages in 2014, double the prior year’s total.
Everyday Low Prices
In the Midwest, learning is a season-long focus. “We have such a huge existing effort in that regard, it doesn’t make sense for our areas to create something new for January,” says Fred Seymour, general manager at Hyland Ski and Snowboard Area, Minn. “January is already a very busy month for us. We don’t have the capacity to create a new program. If we can spread the message out over the winter, we can do a lot more with learn to ski and snowboard.”
Like Us on Facebook
Whatever their programs, resorts are using every tool available to spread the word about them. Social media channels is where most resorts promote their January lesson deals. They are also using their websites, blogs, email newsletters, old-fashioned press releases, local newspapers, radio stations, school contests, ski pubs, parenting magazines, and Pandora to get the word out.