After another mediocre winter, resorts are happily turning their attention to summer. And if winter does not watch out, summer may soon overtake it.
“Winter is still typically busier, but that gap has closed significantly to the point where if you have a rough winter, summer can save the year,” says Brian Lawson, PR director at Crystal Mountain, Mich., which offers 36 holes of golf, an alpine slide, climbing wall, ropes course, water playground, spa, and offsite paddling, hiking and biking tours. “In some cases, while the revenue may be different, we’re actually busier in the summer.”
Mike Colbourn, VP of marketing, sales and communication at Stowe, Vt., says the hotel occupancy rate in the ski resort’s hometown of Stowe is also higher in the summer than winter.
“Winter is concentrated on skiing and riding,” Colbourn says. “Only a small percentage of the population participates in those sports. When you look at what we’re able to offer in the summer, everything from antiquing to hiking to riding the gondola, 100 percent of the population can participate. It’s not sports-specific.”
To take advantage of all those summer visitors, Stowe put in a new 10,000-foot zip tour and treetop adventure course to complement its golf, gondola rides, and auto toll road. “Summer is becoming as critical a season as winter,” Colbourn says.
Summer Pricing Strategies
But pricing summer is a lot harder. As in winter, competitive pricing is essential, and there’s often more competition.
“The competitive set in summer is much larger,” says Lawson at Crystal. “People have a lot of choices in the summer—where to stay, what to do, where to go. Our pricing has to reflect those choices. We have to be cognizant of how other similar attractions are being priced.”
Brian Czarnecki, VP of sales and marketing at Camelback, Pa., where summer has nearly overtaken winter, agrees pricing competitively is key. Camelback’s winter operation and summer outdoor water park (Camelbeach) each host about half a million visitors a year. The resort’s new Aquatopia indoor water park and 453-room, ski in and ski out hotel are expected to attract another 600,000 annual visitors.
“In the summer, we’re competing against some of the biggest amusement parks in the nation,” Czarnecki says. “There are three big ones right in our area, all with water parks. The water parks are not as big as Camelback, but we have to price our water park experience against their entire park. We look at competitive pricing, what they’re charging and what we’re charging.”
The same is true for Camelback’s summer treetop adventure courses, zip lines, and mountain coaster, where the competitive set is even larger. “There are 20-plus operations in the tri-state area alone,” Czarnecki says. “We look at competitive pricing there as well.”
Glenn Harmon, director of operations at Cranmore, N.H., agrees that knowing the competition is critical. “We shop around. We look at the competition and what they are charging, talk with manufacturers and what they see for pricing. Our goal is to be competitive, offer enough activities, and give guests perceived value.”
Cranmore’s summer activities include tubing, zip rides, mountain coaster, giant swing, chairlift rides, hiking, obstacle courses, and bouncy houses. Visitors can buy all-access day passes, season passes, bundled activity passes, or individual rides.
Bromley, Vt., offers an alpine slide, aerial adventure park, giant tramp, giant swing, water slide, mini golf, space bike, and little kid rides. Marketing manager Janessa Purney says all of that makes “our pricing a little bit complicated. We’re trying to address that.”
Adding to the confusion, Purney says summer guests are also more concerned about pricing than winter guests: “We see a lot of pushback on pricing for summer. People want to feel they are getting the most out of their day for the money spent.”
Snowbird, Utah, also offers a wide array of summertime activities, including mountain tram rides, alpine slide, mountain coaster, climbing wall, ropes course, bungee trampoline, inflatables, and one of the nation’s largest Oktoberfests, a two-month-long festival that lasts from mid-August to mid-October.
Dave Fields, VP of resort operations, says the all-access day pass ($42) is the most popular summer product. Visitors can also buy individual rides.
This summer, for the first time, Snowbird will try selling online tickets through Liftopia. “It’s been very successful in the winter,” Fields says. “Like winter, we’ll do variable pricing based on demand and weather.”
Most resorts do online summer sales. Lawson says that Crystal has had good luck with advance tee time bookings. The tee times are dynamically priced, with the lowest prices the earlier you book.
“As we move out of winter into summer, we’re trying to incentivize people to book summer as early as we can,” Lawson says. “We’ll put some hot dates out there, some good deals on lodging.”
Some of the most successful dynamically priced summer attractions are at Camp Woodward. Boreal, Calif., is one of four Camp Woodward operations. It runs eight week-long camps focused on “lifestyle action sports,” including snowboarding, skateboarding, BMX, skiing, and gymnastics. The camps are priced from $849 to $1,699, depending on the camp and how early you book.
“If you show up the day of, you’re going to pay a premium,” says Matt Peterson, marketing director. “If you plan ahead, you definitely see a sizeable discount.”
Peterson says the camps are averaging about 150 attendees, and in just Boreal’s third summer season, nearing capacity. “Woodward Tahoe is almost doubling in size each year,” he says. “We’re expecting 35 to 50 percent growth again this summer.”
After the camps end Aug. 15, Woodward Tahoe opens its facility to day and season pass holders. Day passes cost about $45; summer/winter passes (good from Aug. 15 to April 15) are $499.
Because Stowe’s new treetop course and zip tour are inventory products, lasting from 90 minutes to two hours with a lot of staff interaction, Colbourn says guests “need to let us know in advance when they are coming.” The zip tour will cost $109, and the treetop course $59, with both available for $139.
Czarnecki says online advance ticket sales at Camelbeach are about the same as winter: 30 percent. He says food purchases are higher, because guests stay longer and buy more meals. But overall, summer revenue is less than winter, even though the number of visitors is about the same.
“Ticket prices are less, and there are no rentals or learn-to,” he points out. Tickets range from $25 for adult twilight to $55 for the all-day Camelbeach and Aquatopia combination. At Camelback Adventure Park, which operates separately from the water parks, prices range from $10 for a single ride on the mountain coaster and $15 for a single 1,000-foot zip to $35 for a 4,000-foot zip and $50 for the full canopy tour.
Snowbird’s Fields agrees that summer prices and revenues remain lower than winter. “All pricing is lower, and there is no ski school or rental,” he says.
But that doesn’t apply to all summer activities. Crested Butte’s Evolution Bike Park, which includes 30 miles of lift-served mountain biking, is helping fill in some of that gap with bike rentals and instruction. “Last summer we had nine percent growth at the bike park, and a 12 percent increase in scans,” says Erica Mueller, director of PR and innovation. “People are riding the lift more and staying on the mountain longer.”
Since ’09, Crested Butte has seen steady growth in its summer operation, which now includes chairlift rides, guided hikes, a family-focused Adventure zone, kids’ camps, and a new 20-target archery course.
“We do a mix of individual and bundled prices,” Mueller says. These range from $20 for single rides to $41 for an all-day adult lift and Adventure pass to multi-day discounts and a summer season pass ($279). And for true CB fans, there’s a summer/winter pass for $839.