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Resorts try to attract midweek skiers

Midweek skiers to resorts such as Okemo in Vermont find they have the place almost all to themselves.

photo courtesy okemo mountain resort

Midweek skiers to resorts such as Okemo in Vermont find they have the place almost all to themselves.

If you’re strictly a midweek skier in New England, the marketplace is your bonanza.

Uncrowded runs, practically nonexistent lift lines, and a slew of discount deals on tickets and lodging make a day (or two) on the slopes tough to pass up — if your schedule allows you to swing it.

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Trouble is, not everybody’s life is that flexible. That’s why ski resorts hire marketing managers.

Yet despite 80 years of trying to crack the code of filling slopes on a Monday-through-Friday basis, no one has come up with a game-changing way to make midweek skiing an easy sell.

“If we could figure out midweek winter, and then that May to October thing, we’d be golden,” quipped Bonnie MacPherson, director of public relations at Okemo Mountain Resort.

“Nobody has the magic bullet,” agreed Bill Cairns, president at Bromley Mountain Resort.

It’s not as if resorts aren’t trying. Here in New England, skiers who shop around can find two-for-one deals for every day of the week that doesn’t start with an “S.” Larger resorts with lodging properties practically give lift tickets away if you book a midweek room. Mid- and smaller-sized mountains offer various discounts to locals and residents of certain states on certain days. Some ski hills let you pay by the carload, while others come up with creative promotions that tie the cost of a lift ticket to sports scores, the weather, or the spin of a prize wheel.

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“Midweek has always been our ultimate challenge as marketers in the ski industry,” said MacPherson. “Other industries face that as well, and we’ve got to look to those industries as models. Like how do airlines fill seats during down times, and how does Disney do it? What’s golf doing? We’re always looking at other industries across the board to see what they’re doing. So far it doesn’t look as if anybody’s really come up with the holy grail of answers, so we all just keep plugging away, trying to make those midweek visits more attractive by changing the price point, by adding more value.”

Okemo’s Midweek Madness is emblematic of an industry trend toward dynamic pricing. The longer you stay the more you save, MacPherson said, with lift and lodging packages bundled with discounts on shopping and dining.

“That’s where we see the most growth potential, the most opportunity for increasing that bottom line and making it better,” MacPherson said. “That’s where we really have the room to grow.”

Bromley is only 20 miles south of Okemo in Vermont, but its marketing approach is entirely different because it caters more to locals and day-trippers.

Cairns said Bromley’s business upticks on Tuesdays (two for one) and Fridays ($15 per kid when an adult buys a regular ticket). The mountain also hosts a midweek local innkeepers’ race series, after-school learning programs, and high school racing.

“So, the $64,000 question is, do any of those things really make money?” Cairns asked, rhetorically. “No. But they help fill the slopes. In our case, we’re looking for good word of mouth about the conditions.

“It’s really difficult to get people to leave work when they’re already time-starved to head to the slopes on a given Tuesday in January. We put the full amount of effort in, we groom just the same as we would on a Friday night for the weekend as on a Monday night for a Tuesday. It’s full-service skiing, and I do that because I want people to come here and say, ‘Bromley gave a first-class product.’ It builds that loyalty, you hope. But it’s very hard to measure.”

MacPherson said that while competition is great for consumers, resorts should consider marketing the midweek experience more collectively.

“We’re looking at the broader picture,” MacPherson said. “Obviously, we hope they come to Okemo. But we also hope that they come to Vermont. In fact, we just hope that they think to come skiing.”

Across the border in New Hampshire, Waterville Valley is an interesting hybrid from a midweek marketing perspective. Its self-contained village and abundance of lodging stamp the resort as a ski-and-stay destination. But Waterville has established a presence in recent years with innovative midweek promotions aimed at day skiers. According to marketing and communications coordinator Pete Sununu, the resort is in the process of reconsidering how to best go after midweek customers.

“This year we’ve really scaled it back,” Sununu said. “Last year we tried a lot of very aggressive deals. Most of them didn’t work. I know people keep an eye out for Patriots Tuesday and Temperature Tuesday. We do have a loyal following for those days. (The dollar amount of a lift ticket is equal to the amount of points the Patriots give up the previous Sunday; after football the Tuesday cost is based upon the predicted low temperature.)

“You can’t do $10 tickets every week. But if you can get them to fluctuate between $10 and $40, you’ll get people who say, ‘Every week the ticket is cheap, I’m going to go.’ And then you get people who say, ‘I’m going to wait for when it’s $15.’ That’s kind of where you grab a few extra folks, the bargain hunters who shop around.”

Sununu said the emphasis is shifting to getting midweek skiers to consider spending several days via package deals.

“We want people to experience the Valley,” Sununu said. “We really kind of want to make it a place to spend not just six hours on the slopes, but a few days. Kind of settle in and get away. We’re certainly not giving up on the midweek customer just because we’re not doing [as many] daily deals to get them here. We just don’t know that a cheap lift ticket is necessarily the way to do it.”

Apparently, no one else knows, either.

“The way to grow Monday through Friday business has been talked about since the 1930s and ’40s,” Cairns said. “What’s the next big thing we could do to get people here midweek? It’s hard to say.”

However, the Okemo marketing department does have one rule of how not to court midweek customers.

“We don’t use superlatives and we don’t ever tell people to skip school or work to come skiing,” said MacPherson. “But they always do. It’s inevitable.”

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