[Last winter in a nutshell: Ski resort visitor numbers were down 15 percent nationwide, ski and snowboard gear sales dropped 12 percent, and snowfall was at near record lows. In this five-part interview series, called Snow Business, we talk to the people in the snowsports industry who are coming up with innovative ways to keep their businesses thriving despite the crummy winter. Stay tuned next week for the fourth installment: A Colorado ski shop owner who's gotten creative to generate new business.]
Last winter's dismal snowfall translated into decreased skier visits around the U.S.: In Colorado and Vermont, skier and snowboarder visits were down 11 percent from average annual numbers; Utah was down 10 percent. But get this: Despite an uncharacteristically dry winter in Jackson Hole, Wyo., which saw only 65 percent of average snowfall, the resort was able to rack up 479,000 skier days, the resort's second best season ever and just shy of the record. How was Jackson Hole Mountain Resort able to achieve this in a season when even the national media took note of the dry conditions across the West? ESPN Freeskiing recently sat down with Jackson Hole's Chief Marketing Officer Chip Carey to find out.
Never in the company history have the numbers come back from being so far behind at the end of Christmas. Like everybody else, our snowfall was 35 percent below average [after Christmas], Colorado was 40 percent down. We were all in the same ballpark.
Television, print, online -- the major media story in the country was "there's no snow." Never has Jackson Hole or any other resort I've been involved with been able to overcome that type of inertia created by an outside force. So I was amazed that we were able to overcome that. The key was having better communication vehicles than we've ever had. It's day to day, hour to hour. We were able to demonstrate we had snow by using a lot of visuals in the social media and digital realm. We were on it, for every flake of snow.
Social media at JHMR has a strong presence in a number of hubs, but the key ones that really helped were Facebook and YouTube. Facebook gave us an instant vehicle to reach a large number of people and Jackson Hole gets more YouTube views than any other ski resort in the U.S.
This was also the year to hit up the email database -- not just random emails but emails to targeted and segmented lists, talking to them in first person. What someone regionally might be getting and what someone in New York is getting are probably pretty different. The sophistication in the databases is head and shoulders above what it ever was.
Our regional overnight business was up 31 percent. The "drive market" has the ability to go look at the weather. They are tuned into what's going on in the mountains. It's our job to be proactive with that as marketers.
In reality, we do little traditional marketing. Yes, JHMR does inserts into vertical publications, but not frequently and our print ads are more about branding than being tactical. We look at it as trying to reach aspiring skiers and active families. That's really the focus of those. A couple years ago we had the two women sitting, drinking a beer with their feet up. But in the background you saw Corbet's off in the distance -- what made Jackson famous.
Your communication has to be relevant. Content is always king -- it's the hardest part of any media. But the beauty of it is it's usually in short spurts. We keep the messages pretty targeted and specific.