Bluebird skies, fresh powder, ski lifts taking thousands of visitors to mountain peaks. All that soft snow creates a winter adventure that attracted 11.4 million vistors during the 2014-2015 season.
But skiing is a very serious business in Colorado. Before snowboarders can catch air in the terrain park, before skiers bomb down the mountain and catch another lift up, before all those relaxing aprés ski moments — comes the big marketing push with each of the state’s 28 resorts competing for visitors around the nation and the world.
Skiing is a $3 billion business in Colorado, and it seems Colorado Springs is left out of the ski rush — the closest resort is more than two hours away by car.
But that’s not the whole picture.
The drive-in market — Colorado Springs and the Front Range — is vital to the ski industry’s success. That’s something savvy marketing groups at the resorts never forget.
“The largest number of visitors come from the Front Range,” said Erica Mueller, director of innovations and relations at Crested Butte ski resort. “By far, the largest number. The second would be the Texas market.”
Crested Butte, about 30 minutes north of Gunnison, is less than four hours away from Colorado Springs and far from the gridlock that happens on I-70.
“We’re an easy drive,” she said. “It’s a little farther than the I-70 resorts, but you are never going to be stuck in traffic, waiting for an accident to clear. When you consider the traffic, it’s not that much farther.”
Arapahoe Basin, a ski resort without attached lodging, “absolutely relies on the drive-in market,” said Adrienne Saia Isaac, marketing and communications manager for the resort. Always one of the first resorts to open and one of the last to close, A-Basin makes the most of its long season. It opened in October this year.
“That long season attracts people who might not think of skiing as the first thing they want to do,” she says. “But because they can drive in, it’s pretty warm and still snowy, we get visitors taking lessons as early as November and as late as April. They can sit outside and watch skiers while having lunch mid-mountain. It gets away from that myth that skiing is cold, it’s dark outside, it’s something you have to be really hardy to do.”
Marketing professionals from both resorts travel to the Front Range in the months before the season starts, but the marketing and advertising never really ends. A-Basin relies on social media and keeps it light and funny to attract visitors.
“We lower the price barrier,” she said. “We keep it as affordable as possible.” The resort prides itself on its relaxed vibe, she said.
“We have fun here,” Saia Isaac said. “And we portray that fun in our marketing. We just launched on Instagram the adventures of a stuffed beaver who lives inside the ski shop. We’re showcasing his adventures on the mountain.”
They’re always keeping price at the forefront of their marketing, she said.
“Every day, you can get a discounted ticket on our website,” she said. “We have a three-day pass that is seriously discounted. And we’ve added amenities that show we understand what our visitors want — we’ve made it easier to buy tickets, made it easier to drop children off for ski lessons. And we’ll always keep it light-hearted and fun. That’s what it’s all about — skiing is fun.”
But it brings in serious cash. Winter snows bring skiers, but which resort they choose depends on many factors, says Mueller. Ski resorts influence the decision through aggressive marketing campaigns.
“We use social media; we advertise on radio and television both in Denver and Colorado Springs,” she said. “This is a market that we need, so we really run the gamut as far as advertising. We have ads on Pandora, and we reach out during the off-season with visits to ski shops and to sports stores. It’s never too early in the season to have people thinking about your resort.”
Just — stop
And Woodland Park has a message for all those cars driving through the city’s historic Main Street on the way to ski resorts: Stop.
Don’t stop coming, just take a break in town.
“We are really starting to market to Colorado Springs residents in the winter time,” said Carol Lindholm, program manager for the office of economic and downtown development. “It’s our first year to really try to get people to come up the pass and stop here.”
Woodland Park is marketing the city to the Springs, not only because of its proximity, but also because of the traffic volume from the Springs that flows through the city.
“We’re telling people that you don’t have to go far to get away,” Lindholm said.
“You can drive up the pass — it’s a beautiful ride — and have lunch, go for a hike, snowshoe in Mueller [State] Park. If you want to be in the mountains, we’re the closest drive.” The city also advertises holiday events and its peaceful atmosphere.
“It’s quiet here,” she said. “It’s a great place to relax. After hiking or mountain biking, stop for lunch, visit the Dinosaur Museum. There’s a lot more to Woodland Park. People just don’t realize it as they’re driving through the city.” Compared to the glitzy ad campaigns and flashy photography of the ski resorts, Woodland Park’s approach is low-key, says Lindholm.
“We’ve never really done much during the winter months,” she said. “Summer is our time. But this year, we thought we’d try to attract more people from the Springs.
Summer is also the busiest tourism season for Colorado Springs, but the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau doesn’t hibernate in the winter, says Chelsy Offutt, director of communications.
“We shift our focus from leisure tourists, which is what the ski resorts are looking for, to more group business,” she said, “the destination weddings, class reunions, conferences. That’s our winter focus. We have such mild weather here, it’s hard to attract people who want to see snow and do snow sports.”
But that doesn’t mean the CVB doesn’t work to get a portion of those out-of-state visitors, she said.
“We do put it out there on social media that visitors can fly into Colorado Springs and take the back way to the resorts, avoiding I-70,” she said. “And we want them to stop, of course, spend the night, see some of our attractions before they head up to the ski resorts. We think we’re a good location for families to visit to see more of Colorado than just the resorts.”
Winter tourism isn’t the CVB’s main focus, she said.
“We don’t have a chunk of marketing dollars we spend to reach those visitors,” she said. “With our budget, we have to choose where to market very wisely. Since summer is our busiest season, we put our focus there and on the group meetings. We do very well there.”
While the Springs looks outside the state for tourists and conference visitors, resorts and cities keep marketing to the city’s residents to bolster ski visits and retail sales throughout the state. And for A-Basin, whose season started last month, there’s no time like the present to pitch the resort.
“The weather’s beautiful; the snow-making at night is going really well,” Saia Isaac said. “It’s going to be a great season.”