It’s only October, but ski resorts across Colorado have launched their busiest season: First comes marketing and then comes snow, followed by tourists. For the roughly 21 ski resorts that make up Ski Country USA, the season starts even before the snow flies.
The group was in Colorado Springs last week promoting the latest deals, infrastructure upgrades and ski equipment at each resort. This week, they’re in New York City, and then it’s off to yet another destination.
It’s no wonder that the group puts so much effort into marketing — skiing, snowboarding and the other winter sports that the resorts attract are a roughly $5 billion industry annually in Colorado. And while the Springs doesn’t have ski resorts, it does receive a share of that money — through retail sales for skis and clothes, and as a secondary destination for out-of-state visitors who might want to drive through Garden of the Gods or take the Cog Railway up Pikes Peak.
For the resorts themselves, Colorado Springs is a fertile market — people who will use the resorts year-round, skiing or snowboarding in the winter, mountain biking in the summer. The goal of these resorts is to attract more Front Range guests to their hotels, restaurants and ski slopes, and increase their skiing numbers as well.
“We’re really trying hard to attract more people from the Front Range,” said Megan Collins, marketing director for Crested Butte Mountain Resort. “So we’re having sales events for people specifically from the region.”
The Crested Butte ski area is also working to engage the military. During January, military members and their families can stay at the Grand Lodge (normally $230 a night) for $99 and get a $35 lift ticket. Ski and snowboarding lessons are also $35.
“It’s something new we’re doing; there are a few blackout dates,” she said. “But it’s open the whole month.”
Crested Butte also put about $1 million into a new attraction on the mountain that is popular in Europe. Called the Umbrella at Peak 8, a huge glassed-in umbrella provides a heated place to rest, food, drink and panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
And over at Winter Park, plans are being coordinated with Amtrak and Union Pacific Railway for a ski train to run from Denver’s Union Station to the mountain, which was popular in years gone by.
“We want to do it every weekend, instead of just once like last year,” said Steve Hurlbert, marketing director for Winter Park. “It sold out instantly. We’re just waiting on approval from Union Pacific; they own the tracks.”
Arapahoe Basin finished a stage for musicians, after a successful ski season in 2014-2015 that lasted until June 14. Late May snow allowed the resort to stay open longer, thanks to a 60-inch base.
“We hosted one of the legs of the USA Pro Challenge (bike race) this summer,” said Adrienne Saia Isaac, marketing and communications manager. “So we built a stage that’s covered, and we plan to have music events this winter. We’ve also upgraded the ticket area and provided people for a call center — we want to provide great customer service, and we believe people will see a difference.”
Is competition so strong that millions are poured into upgraded resorts, marketing products, ski promotions? The answer is yes.
A-Basin spent $1 million to improve the public infrastructure, and another $500,000 on other infrastructure needs.
While Copper Mountain didn’t spend a lot of money on capital improvements, the resort decided to focus on upgrading food and beverage products. Copper has a new Starbucks and fish taco stand for those who want a grab-and-go option. It’s also offering three moonlight dinners during the season — take a lift up, have dinner and ski down by moonlight.
As ski resorts continue to upgrade and market their products, it leads to the question: Is competition so strong that millions are poured into upgraded resorts, marketing products, ski promotions?
The answer is yes.
“Not only do resorts in Colorado compete with each other — there are so many in a relatively tight space geographically — they have to compete with Utah and California,” said Patrick Byrne, public affairs manager for Colorado Ski Country. “So there is a lot of competition, a lot of need to improve the products they offer.”
Colorado Ski Country is an industry group that represents several ski resorts — but not some of the largest and best-known. Vail, for instance, isn’t represented by the industry group. Neither are Beaver Creek or Breckenridge.
But there’s power in numbers, says Byrne.
“Yes, we compete — but overall, we know that when it comes to public policy, group marketing, things like that — it’s better to work together,” he said.
And since Colorado sees 20 percent of the nation’s skiers, he said, it make sense to work together.