In ski area marketing, we know that a crisp image of a skier slashing a turn through deep snow on a bluebird day will land with guests. But can the day-to-day activities of your mountain operations team have the same effect? As it turns out, yes. As more and more ski areas highlight these lesser-known details of daily ops as a marketing tactic, the transparency, they say, grows hype, improves communications, sets guest expectations, provides recognition for team members, and even helps to recruit staff.
SHOW AND TELL
Allowing a peek into the inner workings of your resort can be a boon in the age of social media, where transparency is key. Now that nearly every guest has a computer at their fingertips—and a platform to voice their opinions—accuracy and education have never been more important in resort marketing.
Building trust. Take Maine’s Mt. Abram Ski Area. Following a thaw-and-freeze cycle last spring, a photo appeared on the resort’s media feeds in the early morning hours. It showed fresh corduroy with a caption explaining opening would be delayed because groomers needed time to transform the conditions into a safe, skiable surface.
Simple, right? But the feedback in the comments was overwhelmingly positive, thanking Mt. Abram for keeping folks apprised of the situation, as well as for the candid snow report and putting safety first.
“Come spring, when it’s 40 degrees in the day and 20 at night, it becomes obvious to us that everything early morning will be a sheet of ice,” says Mt. Abram marketing director Zach McCarthy. “So, why pretend this isn’t the case? Instead, we opted to be entirely honest and transparent.”
Such transparency meant fewer visitors some days when conditions were bad, acknowledges McCarthy. “But on the other end, when we said it was good, our community knew it was GOOD.”
Communicating rationale. At Mission Ridge in Washington, a similar conundrum arose last March when, on a bluebird day, the Wenatchee Express bubble quad went on wind hold. In the base area, there was barely a breeze, but at the top, the chairs swung wildly. Understandably, guests were confused as to why the lift wasn’t running when the weather seemed practically perfect.
To explain the localized wind event, resort officials decided to share a video mountain ops staff had filmed. “We realized that it would help guests understand the rationale behind the unique situation,” says Mission Ridge marketing director Tony Hickok.
The video received 40,000 engagements as a single Facebook post and was picked up by several media outlets, ultimately providing a host of positive coverage for the resort. “It turned out to be a great decision,” says Hickok. “The guests that were on-site chimed in on the comments, and people that weren’t on the mountain appreciated seeing an update.” (Liftblog.com also commented, “which staff thought was cool.”)
These are scenarios the mountain resort industry is all too familiar with—guests less so. By educating guests on the challenges your mountain operations team faces, particularly with weather, you have an opportunity to build trust with your customers that will pay off down the road.
HOW TO MARKET OPS
So, how can a ski area capitalize on such day-to-day operations to generate positive PR? From blogs to videos to well-timed social media posts, many are getting creative.
Long-form, documentary-style video is becoming a standout way to deliver operations content—whether capital improvements or the nitty gritty of daily operations. The format is an engaging storytelling medium that provides viewers with unprecedented access to the inner workings of a resort.
Big Sky, Mont., has used video to share several major construction projects, including installation of its Ramcharger 8 and Swift Current 6 high-speed chairlifts and renovation of its signature Lone Peak Tram.
“Building a chairlift is a marvel, and watching it come together creates a new level of appreciation,” says Big Sky PR manager Stacie Mesuda. “When we can take our guests along the construction journey, it demonstrates our passion for investing in the ski experience, keeps winter guests engaged during the summer, and creates anticipation to see how this improvement elevates the ski experience.”
Frequent updates. Big Sky’s approach goes beyond a lone blog post or single video posted to YouTube. Guests get frequent photo and video updates in their social feeds and email and have access to in-depth content on the resort’s Big Sky 2025 website, which details individual projects in the resort’s decade-long renovation and where they stand.
“Developing engaging operations content is not just about getting glamour shots of helicopter work,” says Mesuda. “It’s also about educating guests about the complexity of our operations and what it takes to make them happen.”
The lift projects have received regular media coverage, thanks to consistent outreach, and in summer 2022, tram construction update posts were among the top-performing on Big Sky’s social media.
Mission Ridge used an 18-part video series to share the 2020 Wenatchee Express chairlift build, which offered an “unprecedented look into a lift build project that highlighted the staff doing the work, partners that were helping along the way, and different aspects of the project,” says Hickok.
The videos, released about every two weeks, documented the chairlift upgrade, and, ultimately, helped quell guest concerns when the lift didn’t open by the beginning of ski season as planned. “Staying committed to that frequency of video releases really helped mitigate guest questions about why the chair wasn’t open and potential frustrations,” says Hickok.
MAKE IT PERSONAL
A unique benefit of highlighting mountain ops in marketing efforts is the opportunity to acknowledge behind-the-scenes resort teams for their hard work—and put a spotlight on career opportunities that may not be widely known.
Putting a face to what we do. Last winter, a video titled “What It Takes to Run Ski Lifts at Purgatory Resort” hit the Colorado ski area’s marketing channels. Narrated by Purgatory’s director of resort operations, Jim “Jimbo” Brantley, the video illustrated how the mountain operations team keeps the lifts spinning, specifically highlighting lift maintenance work in response to some challenges with lifts the season prior.
“The primary goal was to help put a human face behind everything we do,” says Dave Rathbun, Purgatory GM. “We focused on lift maintenance and showed the guy who leads it. He’s passionate. He doesn’t want the lifts to break down.”
Purgatory’s video features stunning scenery, mechanical prowess, and, of course, the people that make the place run. It’s dramatic, yet educational and personal, creating ties with both the local and visitor communities.
On brand and honest. Trollhaugen Outdoor Recreation Area in Wisconsin regularly posts about its mountain operations team. The area’s “Snow Science” series opens viewers to all things operations-related. “Our branding is always fun, silly, and out there, so we find ways to make the story of our operations teams reflect that same feeling,” says marketing director Marsha Hovey.
“Snow Science” episodes have included the kick-off to snowmaking for the season, supply chain issues that impacted the installation of a new chairlift, and even calling out Mother Nature for not cooperating with the crew.
“We share when we are experiencing setbacks and struggles, and that honesty makes our customers feel that much more connected to the inner workings of Trollhaugen,” says Hovey.
The feedback to that approach has been overwhelmingly positive in the tight-knit community.
Vulnerable storytelling. At Big Sky, a series called “The Way I Ski It” became a regular written blog that highlighted specific employees who had a role in an on-mountain project, including a cat operator, lift maintenance manager, banquet manager, and talent and culture director. The series appeared on Big Sky’s blog and social media channels, and received positive feedback from both staff and guests. It also demonstrated a notably different tactic.
“We are challenging ourselves to be more vulnerable in our storytelling,” says Mesuda, “not just focusing on the brick-and-mortar parts of construction, but the stories of the people who make it happen.”
Unique POV. Big Sky is also using long-form videos to highlight the efforts of entire departments—lift maintenance, lift ops, grooming—to show the impacts they have on the guest experience and team culture.
“It takes more than 900 team members on average during the winter to make Big Sky run each day,” says Mesuda. “By watching one of our videos such as ‘Life of a Tram Operator,’ ‘Morning on Route,’ or ‘Caretakers of the Corduroy,’ guests can appreciate the sheer amount of work it takes to run the mountain from just one team’s point of view.”
RISK VS. REWARD
While content centered on mountain operations can garner great results, there are associated risks.
Customer responses. Sometimes, being vulnerable leads to unintended consequences. Purgatory learned the hard way when it showcased diesel-burning equipment, which some found off-putting.
“There may be some things that your audience doesn’t know or like, so you have to be prepared,” says Rathbun. “While our output is pristine blue skies and white powder, behind the scenes, we burn a lot of diesel fuel, and we contribute to factors [such as carbon emissions] that our customers don’t like.”
In a similar vein, during last year’s wind event at Mission Ridge, Hickok says he was hesitant at first to publicize the mountain ops video that addressed it. Though ultimately the outcome was positive, “We have seen videos of chairs swinging go viral without context, leading to a bigger problem,” he says.
Hickok knew he had to be intentional with the messaging surrounding the video. It was important to note up front that the wildly swinging chairs presented no safety issue to guests or equipment.
Safety and compliance. Marketers put extensive checks and balances in place to ensure that mountain ops content is reviewed for accuracy, safety standards, and brand compliance before it’s published. This keeps a mountain from posting a flashy video with an OSHA violation on display, for instance.
For example, says Rathbun, for a recent Purgatory video talking about mountain improvements and the removal of beetle-damaged trees, “We had to pull a bunch of shots that were ‘sexy’ but showed some [safety-related] things that did not portray what we believe in.” While most of the concerns related to third-party contractor work, Rathbun says,
it’s necessary to ensure your content reflects best practices and the letter of the law.
That meticulous review and focus on safety also serves to deepen the trust and connection between the operations and marketing departments. At Big Sky, for example, every mountain operations or construction update is reviewed by the internal team and any relevant contractors for accuracy, proper safety measures, and additional context or interesting facts that might have been missed, says Mesuda. “Communication with our construction teams and contractors is critical to our success,” she notes.
Likewise at Mission Ridge, where Hickok says the marketing team attends weekly mountain ops meetings to foster a critical connection. “It comes down to the connection that we have with our teams and the trust that our mountain ops team has in us,” he says, “making sure that everyone understands that safety is the top priority, and the priority of capturing marketing material is really far down the list.”
Key considerations for producing mountain ops content:
Adhere to mountain policies, such as employee on-snow helmet requirements and trail boundaries or signage.
Ensure equipment featured is sanctioned and functioning properly, e.g., the brake lights come on, and the backup beep works.
Demonstrate OSHA compliance, including use of safety vests, helmets, protective eyewear, hearing protection, seatbelts, and harnesses where needed.
Confirm projects are properly permitted, and note environmental impacts, such as run-off, soil compaction, etc. (and be prepared for customer concerns even when work is compliant).
Notify all concerned parties when filming or photography may occur.
While there are potential negatives to sharing a behind-the-scenes peek of your business, marketing your ops can provide entertainment akin to an action movie (or maybe a MacGyver episode) and have a slew of other positive impacts, too.
“Running a ski area is complicated,” says Rathbun. “People might think they know, but it’s always best to give them the sights, the sounds, the smells, if you could, to be up there in all conditions. [With ops focused marketing] they have a view into our community that they’ve never had before.”
“The magic of the ski area will always be there, even if your customers get to see how the snow is made, how the trails are groomed, and how the magic comes to be,” says Trollhaugen’s Hovey. “The benefits of your employees feeling valued and your customers trusting in your business will always outweigh any possible downsides.”