Best/Worst 2015 : : General

Best Overall Integrated Campaign:
Aspen Snowmass, Colo.


Aspen Snowmass’s Mind, Body and Spirit campaign was invigorating and emotionally charged. Leaning on Aspen’s history, it harkened back to 1949, when the town first made a play to attract intellectuals and artists to a different way of life. The idea of disconnecting and being inspired by nature is still relevant today, and Mind, Body and Spirit struck that chord through the eyes of local celebrities including X Games champion Gretchen Bleiler, freeskier Torin Yater-Wallace, and author Walter Isaacson. The use of various formats—video, print, billboard, etc.—to extend the reach of the campaign made for a successful and elegant product. The print ads featured in Freeskier magazine garnered the top spot for reader’s choice advertisement recognition. —MR

Best Event as a Marketing Tool:
Vail/Beaver Creek, Colo.

As a Utah native, the 2002 Olympics were bittersweet; the experience in person felt a world away from that broadcast on the TV screen. The Vail/Beaver Creek World Championships, held in February, couldn’t have been more different. Incredible TV coverage aside, locals were treated to free events, free concerts, surprisingly well managed (and communicated) parking and logistics, and an atmosphere that was many times better than the one in the living room. Events like this are always hard to quantify in terms of marketing, but the experiences they delivered both virtually and in-person were right in the line with the high-level brands Vail and Beaver Creek have worked so hard to achieve. The resorts and community swung for the fences by hosting the event, and the result was a grand slam. —GB

Best Small Ski Area Pass:
Freedom Pass

All great marketing comes in the context of resources, which is why I love the Freedom Pass. A simple $50 season pass add-on, this partnership between New Hampshire’s Black Mountain, Dartmouth Skiway, Granite Gorge, and McIntyre, Bolton Valley, Vt., and Ski Ward, Mass., gave skiers unlimited access to all partner mountains and combined some of the most successful elements of pass products that had been orchestrated by resorts ten times their size. Some of the small areas lacked the ability to fence their offer and relied on the honesty of their close skier community to not game the system, which worked. An increase in pass revenue, solid coverage in news outlets, and a successful brand came of an effort that will only get better with time. —GB

Best Season Pass Innovation:
Ridiculous Pass, Snowshoe Mountain, W.Va.

Circle a three-hour drive radius around Snowshoe Mountain, and what major cities do you reach? Not one. But extend to four hours, and you’ll find Washington, D.C., Richmond, Va., and Pittsburgh. In other words, Snowshoe skiers don’t sneak up to the mountain before work on snow days, when they come, they almost always stay the night. This is where the Ridiculous Pass—a $209 unlimited season pass sold for just two weeks each spring—truly shines. Skiers and riders in major markets can’t pass up the deal, which drives early-season revenue. But because it can only be used in tandem with lodging, it drives massive amounts of ancillary spend as well. The pass easily could have been included in previous editions of Best/Worst, but in its third season, it returned with clever tweaks and a huge wave of buzz that made it a shoo-in for this year’s list.—GB

Highest-Pressure Early-Season Pass Promotion:
Bolton Valley, Vt.

To attract the 18-25-year-old market in an oversaturated region, Bolton Valley needed to set itself apart. Enter the Ski Bum Pass: A retro idea that rewarded guests for making an early decision. The product offered a competitive advantage—its well-devised timing got people locked in before traditional pass deadlines. Using multiple tiers of pricing rather than a set deadline for a price to expire—and not telling the public how many passes were available per tier—added a sense of urgency that forced guests to make an on-the-spot decision. Buyers that were able to lock in a good deal got bragging rights, adding a viral factor.—SR

Best New Skier Lesson Promotion:
Wachusett Mountain, Mass.

To a beginner, skiing can be perceived as challenging, but this great marketing campaign focused on the easy and positive. Most of us know what the text shorthand “BFF” stands for (Best Friend Forever); at Wachusett, however, it means “Bring a Friend for Fun.” Building on the national initiative, Wachusett used tongue-in-cheek humor to upsell different lesson packages while introducing new people to the sport. Packages were priced as Bring a Friend: $100, Bring a Good Friend: $125, Bring a Great Friend: $150. Who wouldn’t want to be a “great” friend? By using language familiar to Millennials and GenXers, Wachusett knew it could better attract a larger audience.—SR

Best Recognition of a Hidden Opportunity:
Gunstock, N.H.

Let’s say you’re sitting in yet another marketing meeting when a bunch of freeskiers running on three days of no sleep and copious amounts of alcohol roll up to your resort. Do you call the police or roll out the red carpet? When Freeskier’s infamous Road Trip Challenge video series came to town, Gunstock’s marketing team did the latter, recognizing that these hungover park rats were part of the magazine’s most beloved tradition. Bill Quigley and his team hooked up the skiers with hot food and custom park features, earning the resort multiple shoutouts (the only resort to receive such praise) in Episode 4, and calling their mountain the best of the trip. Did I mention the video now has 20,000 views? —GB

Best Call for Alcohol:
Northstar, Calif.

It’s no secret that the West Coast struggled with snowfall this winter. Luckily, Northstar had a back-up plan: offer a complimentary champagne toast to all of-age skiers and snowboarders every day of the season. Each afternoon at 2, the toast at the summit of Northstar proffered celebration of winter, regardless of current temperatures. This small gesture made every day a celebration. —MW

Best Separation of Powers:
Elk Mountain, Pa.

Seniors and college students can be like oil and vinegar, especially at a small ski area. For upwards of 20 years, Elk Mountain has been offering Senior Tuesday and College Wednesday, and in doing so has improved the experience for both demographics by keeping them the heck away from each other. Hundreds take part on a typical midweek day. Sometimes longevity and simplicity pave the road to success in both skier experience and ticket sales. Any time you can encourage like-minded folks to ski together, you create community and skiing friendships and encourage repeat visitation.—AK

Best Parlay of Snowmaking into Marketing:
Wildcat Mountain, N.H.

After the largest single snowmaking investment in its history, Wildcat went toe-to-toe with Sunday River and Killington in the early season race to open. Wildcat didn’t win, but it got major points for being in the game. This newfound snowmaking power was combined with a targeted, limited-time rollout of a frequent skier card that doubled as a bring-a-friend ambassador mechanism. Wildcat being “open for skiing” while promoting entry loyalty product and season passes during the Boston Ski Show was an architectural step forward that took serious teamwork. The snowmaking investment made it possible, but the willingness to combine it with greater focus on pass product timing, scarcity, and messaging allowed the ski area to enjoy the fruits of its labor.—AK

Trashiest Ad:
Hermitage, Vt.

These might have been wildly effective. They might have delivered more ROI than anything in this entire article. I have no idea. My issue? I just can’t grasp the conversation that resulted in putting your uber-luxury brand on trashcans. Maybe there’s logic in the juxtaposition. They are pretty good looking trashcans, I’ll give ’em that.—AK

Worst Communication:
Cherry Peak, Utah

Cherry Peak isn’t just Utah’s first new ski area in 30 years, but the closest area to my alma mater, Utah State University. After seeing multiple hints from the marketing team that an opening day announcement could come at any time, I stopped by the area during a Thanksgiving trip to check in on their progress. Instead of a resort ready to open, I saw a bullwheel laying in the parking lot, a half-built lodge at the base, little natural snow, and no sign of a functioning snowmaking system. Recognizing they likely wouldn’t open this year, I waited for their communications to reflect this reality. And waited. The opening day hints carried on into January, as Cherry Peak continued to make season pass sales its core message. Finally, on Feb. 7, the area admitted it wouldn’t be opening until the 2015-16 season. Skiers were disappointed, trust was lost, and any momentum the area had gained came to a grinding halt—all of which could have been avoided with just a bit of honesty and transparency.—GB

Most Lucrative Plunge into Frigid Water:
Waterville Valley, N.H.

Waterville chose a “cool” way to have some fun while raising money for its adaptive program. The second annual Cold Turkey Plunge into Corcoran Pond kicked off the Thanksgiving holiday season. People could participate as individuals or a team and, depending on the level of funds raised, earn a Plunge t-shirt, sandwich, an Empowered bracelet, lift tickets, and gift cards. I liked that it’s different. It gets people excited about the cold prior to the season and provides support to a non-profit organization.—SR

Deepest Discounting:
Cypress Mountain and Mount Seymour, B.C.

Things on the weather front were downright disastrous at the five ski areas within a half-hour drive of Vancouver. The “big three”—Grouse, Mount Seymour, and Cypress Mountain—never got more than half their terrain open the entire season. So some created deep discounts on next year’s passes to keep their regulars on board. Cypress offered an 80 percent discount on next year’s season’s passes, while Mount Seymour, which was hammered by a challenging 2013-14 as well, offered a whopping 88 percent reduction. Grouse Mountain offered its passholders a variety of perks, including a free zipline tour, but no discount on next year’s pass. Which left some folks, predictably, grousing.—ST