Ski Resort Marketing Sans Snow

The Reno/Tahoe area is currently experiencing one of the driest winters on record, with 1.5 inches of snow recorded thus far in the 2011-2012 season. The typical November to April average is 170 inches. And after last year’s 599 inches of snow—marking Tahoe’s 12th snowiest winter on record—the dichotomy has become all the more apparent.

With 18 area ski resorts within an hour’s drive of the Reno-Tahoe International airport, and California ski resorts reporting 7.6 million visits to major resorts last season totaling $700 million in direct visitor spending, the lack of snow up until now has been unsettling. Having had several out-of-town friends who have now either postponed or re-directed their winter ski trips elsewhere, I’ve begun to wonder: how have the ski resorts been handling this “marketing catastrophe?”

According to a recent article in the Reno Gazette Journal entitled “Resorts make do without the snow,” even though the ski business over the holidays was down 45 to 50 percent and there’s scarcely been enough natural snow to make a snowman, area businesses are remaining optimistic. Despite the fact that competing ski resorts in other states are offering such promotions as free skiing at their resorts with the purchase of a Tahoe area ski resort life ticket, and regardless of the  fact that the region remains a world-class, year-round tourism destination, it’s no secret that the region is now starting to lose certain visitors to competitors due to circumstances outside of its control. Just read some of the Facebook posts on the ski resort pages where potential visitors to the region seem to all be asking the same question: when can we expect snow?

Below is a brief overview for how some of the area ski resorts are waging their battles in light of this “crisis,”  all of which seem to be taking a classic, proactive approach by not only listening to and empathizing with customers, but through offering a wealth of real-time information, interactive online campaigns, videos, alluring photos, incredible discounts, and more.

Northstar Ski Resort, Truckee , CA and Heavenly Ski Resort, South Lake Tahoe, CA:

On January 9th, Bill Rock, COO of Northstar California and Pete Sonntag, the GM of Heavenly Mountain Resort issued a joint statement to their season passholders entitled  “The Power of Snowmaking” which was posted to the Northstar California Faceook page, complete with a graph illustrating which ski resorts are making the most snow in the region.  They write: “It’s no secret that natural snow has been hard to come by this year and we know that has been a disappointment for many of you.” By beginning with a disarming statement, they lure readers in to hear more about the details of their snowmaking efforts and finish with a cheerful “see you on the slopes.”

Furthermore, a joint video entitled “Letter to the Guests of Tahoe” was produced:

With 30 percent of Heavenly open, the resort is discounting lift tickets when purchased seven days in advance to draw crowds. According to their Twitter page, which is highly interactive and filled with real-time updates to their nearly 6,900 followers, “no other mountain compares to the inspiring scenic beauty, varied terrain and rockin’ nightlife at Heavenly” … and they seem to be incorporating these benefits into their strategy with a focus on local events in South Lake Tahoe and interactive online campaigns. For example, their Facebook page is currently running a “Heavenly Angels” contest, which serves as a nice distraction from the weather scenario and promises a free trip to Heavenly complete with the chance to be part of a photo shoot for an upcoming ad campaign. Similar to the Victoria Secret Angels, who wouldn’t want to be a Heavenly Angel? In order to obtain additional information about the contents, one is prompted to like Heavenly’s page. The resort also hosts a blog complete with up-to-date articles, videos, photos and more to keep visitors current on all the latest happenings at Heavenly.

Mammoth Mountain, Mammoth Lakes, CA:

In early January, the CEO of Mammoth Mountain wrote an open letter to his employees about the current situation, which you can read here. In the letter he not only reacts to the situation with transparency, but discusses his findings after talks with “scores of guests over the past two weeks” as well as with “heads of major resorts in California, Utah and Colorado.” The letter is written in a friendly and open-ended tone.

Squaw Valley Ski Resort, Olympic Valley, CA and Alpine Meadows, Tahoe City, CA:

Similar to the strategy that was undertaken by Mammoth Mountain, Andy Wirth, President and CEO of Squaw Valley Holdings recently addressed season passholders in the form of a newsletter to dispel any rumors and/or myths about closing down, as well as snowmaking in general.  In fact, on December 30th, Wirth was interviewed on CNBC about the situation here.  Following the interview, a  newsletter was sent out to Squaw and Alpine season passholders (Squaw recently acquired Alpine) on January 7th. A copy of the newsletter is viewable here. Throughout the newsletter, Wirth gives his perspective on the situation, as well as a thorough overview of weather pattern history and forecasts. He ends on an optimistic note, stating: “We anticipate, based on current forecasts, the high pressure ridge to the west will break down in mid to late January, which in turn will open up the corridor for significant snowstorms coming into Lake Tahoe.” He ends with a strong finish, driving home key ski resort benefits.

Mount Rose Ski Resort, Reno, NV:

In addition to pushing deals and information about ski conditions via their web site, through email blasts, and social media, Mt. Rose is focusing on word of mouth, testimonials, photos, and videos as opposed to additional advertising this season to get the word out about the pleasurable conditions up at the mountain. According to Kayla Anderson, PR/Web Manager at Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe, “All of the people who come here are impressed with our grooming, snowmaking, and general conditions, so we’re just really trying to get that word out.”

Similar to some of the other ski resorts Facebook pages, Mt. Rose’s page is filled with information regarding current conditions, photos, videos, discount packages, and more. In lieu of snow, the resort is offering a few great deals include $10 lift tickets for teens and kids valid any day through January 20th. The post online daily specials here to entice people to come by and visit any day of the week.

In short, Mt. Rose is looking to the future when it comes to making the most of the mountain. In 2010 the resort opened a brand new, 8,000 square foot lodge and they are currently proposing spending $23.5 million on improvements that would make it more appealing to novice skiers and snowboarders.

React, Research, Respond, Remorse:

When faced with a crisis, it’s important to remember the four Rs of  “react, research, respond, and remorse.” From a blog post entitled “Crisis Communications In Depth: The Four Rs,” Fleishman Hillard’s Justin Goldsborough reminds us how these four “Rs” can keep you on track and put you in position to maintain the best relationship possible with your influencers and customers in light of a crisis.

In closing, I would be curious to know: has the lack of snow affected your winter plans this season? And, have you seen any other creative marketing efforts worth noting from the local resorts?


  1. As assistant manager of privately owned hotel condos at Reno Luxury Resort (rooms located inside the Grand Sierra Resort) we have found it very hard to fill our rooms for lack of visitors to the nearby slopes. This time of year the bulk of Reno’s tourism is based on skiers/snowboarders from out of state and the lack of snow has really been hurting our local economy. Advertising has been very challenging we have been offering special deals to draw guests to the hotel but without the snow ads have been quite fruitless.

  2. Katie – Thank you for your insight. That’s dissapointing to hear that your business is in fact being directly impacted by the lack of snow. According to the RGJ article I referenced, business is down across the board but most (if not all) of the resort owners sound quite optimistic for snow in the near term and hopefully this will all just be a distant memory before we know it!

  3. Heavenly and Northstar do have the best snowmaking capabilities in the country. So, your beginner to average rider or skier actually wouldn’t notice much of a difference than if it were a big snow year. No tree riding or powder, but beginners and average recreational riders wouldn’t be doing that anyway. Both Northstar and Heavely have tubing areas operational. Plus! There are a bunch of ice skate-able lakes here in the Tahoe area that you usually wouldn’t be able to access due to snow! Bring on the tourists! There is still much fun to be had! Oh, and Kirkwood always does a good job of pumping skiers and riders up. The past week they have had an airbag to do huge jumps into and rumor is that they are bringing it back soon! That should be a huge attraction!

    • Kendra, thanks for stopping by. I am so glad you did because I can’t think of anyone better to provide some detail on the topic! I didn’t realize that Heavenly and Northstar have the best snowmaking capabilities in the country, but that makes sense. Is Kirkwood’s airbag unique to Kirkwood and is the airbag in place due to lack of powder as a substitute for a “landing pad?” I wonder if they’ve been posting any videos of that? I also didn’t know about the skate-able lakes … but you bring up a good point that there are plenty of other things to do up at Lake Tahoe aside from snow sports.

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