Travel

Ski resorts harness the power of social media

Ski resorts evoke images of log cabins, wood-burning fires and rustic décor --not Twitter, iPhones and Wi-Fi. But today, these once-Arcadian enclaves are transforming into the social media hubs. 

From the rolling hills of Stratton in Vermont, to the steep inclines of Vail, Colorado, ski resorts across the country are harnessing the power of social media in unique ways.

A More Memorable Experience

So much of a vacation is the memory of it, and photos play an important role in shaping that memory. Over time, the endless lines, the overcooked food, the curmudgeon airline hostesses slowly fade – but the photos are framed, relived and remembered.

With this in mind, Vail Resorts (which owns six of the most popular ski resorts in the country. In Colorado: Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone.  In California: Heavenly and Northstar.) launched EpicMix, a social media app that enables visitors to document and share the highlight of their vacation.  And it is revolutionizing the way skiers document their trips.

Here's how it works: Professional photographers, scattered across the mountain, document scenic photos of skiers making their runs. These images then automatically go to the visitors' online account accessible via desktop and mobile, so visitors can then easily share these images. There's no need to wait in a long line or deal with a bulky CD-rom.  

Gone are the days where skiers stop, dig through their pockets and pose for photos. EpicMix cuts out  those pesky photo-op interruptions.

And here’s the best part: EpicMix is friendly to the less tech savvy; it doesn't even require a smartphone. Instead everything is tracked through their lift ticket. 

EpicMix even integrates with Facebook and Twitter to automate status updates. That way, visitors can easily share stats, photos and accomplishments with friends and family, easily, conveniently – and hands free. In addition to its photo-sharing features, the app has a foursquare-esque capacity to reward customers for exploring new areas of the resort.

Vail communications director Amy Kemp describes EpicMix as “a revolutionary way for skiers and snowboarders to capture their vital information of their ski day or week or season.”

In 2010 alone, roughly 100,000 guests created EpicMix accounts, it is getting good reviews. Sean Brownlee, an avid Vail skier says, “I have really enjoyed my experience with EpicMix, not always perfect lift history but my pass is under my coat, close to my iPhone. My pics were always there [in my account]. Now we can share our photos for free and buy them reasonably.”

Skier Davis Murane agrees, but says EpicMix can cause tourists to opt for better photos instead of better ski conditions. “It’s great except it takes away the spirit because some people now make decisions based on vertical feet not best snow.”

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Power of Social Media 

Taking pictures or video with greater ease is one thing, but getting it out to the skiing community is something that resorts are looking to encourage. Nothing sells a ski resort better than a single Facebook post that goes viral. 

At the Cable Communicators 2009 Forum Vail CEO Rob Katz said, “Video sells our product incredibly well – and it’s a huge differential for our vacation versus almost any other vacation you're going to take.”

With that in mind, he's hoping that EpicMix will help capture and share people's own 'ski-porn' -- death-defying feats caught on video.  

In general, resorts are taking a hard look at ways to boost social media. Through social media sites, like Facebook, resorts can easily track who's talking about them and connect directly with potential consumers.  

Zahan Billimoria, media director at Jackson Hole in Wyoming says, “A large part of social media is telling our own story, in our own words. It allows us to communicate with the consumer directly, without any media filters.”

Jackson Hole is currently the number one ski resort in terms of total page views on YouTube – a success which Billimoria says is directly accredited to the resort telling their story through videos on social media.

At Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine social media is a powerful force says communication director Ethan Austin. "Social media provides a channel for us to communicate directly to our guests 365 days a year."

Many visitors gravitate toward social media to share their experience – but there are other uses as well.

One use is an activist platform, where patrons can voice complaints on new fees and changes. Josh Stern, a regular at California's Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort says, "It's always fun to share your experience. But, I was drawn to the page so I could voice my opinion about charging for parking at the Village."

Social media has also been helpful in relaying practical information, such as weather, snow conditions and emergency situations. In 2010 a female skier took a slip on the slopes at Vermont's Stratton Mountain Resort. She needed ski patrol assistance and live-tweeted the entire experience. In the end, she was unharmed – but Twitter played a critical role in alerting ski patrol of her need for help – and evolved into a humorous, almost-snarky account of her wipe out and recovery.

While Stratton declined to release the name of the Tweeter-in-distress,  Nazli Kfoury, social media director for Stratton Mountain says, "I ended up in a charming dialogue with her. She had nothing to say but kind, funny and encouraging things about Stratton’s ski patrolmen and social media platform.”

Skiing has always been a social sport, but social media hasn't always been a huge priority for resorts.  Now that's changing with ways to bring skiers together in ways that have never been imaged before. And it is also building a larger, more loyal, more satisfied consumer base.

"Social media has strengthened Stratton customer loyalty. For each person who likes, comments on, shares or retweets a post – on their own volition – there is a captive group of their friends, interested and invested in what their friends post, a group we may not have reached without the benefit of social media," he said.