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Snow sports

How Evan Reece made Liftopia part of the snow sports landscape

Liftopia sells lift tickets for more than 250 ski areas in North America, including Keystone in Colorado.
AP
Liftopia sells lift tickets for more than 250 ski areas in North America.
Liftopia
Evan Reece

Evan Reece, one of the co-founders of online ski area ticket seller Liftopia, remembers the first time he pitched his fledgling business venture to a ski resort.

He was working at the travel website Hotwire, where he was overseeing hotel pricing for what he called some “fun markets,” such as Salt Lake City and Park City in Utah, and Aspen and Vail in Colorado, and he had relationships with many in the ski industry.

So he took a casual approach, just making inquiries along the lines of “hey, if I proposed this, what would you think?”

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“The response was, ‘I’m amazed no one’s done that before,’ ” said Reece, who visited the Globe recently and provided some fascinating insight into how Liftopia works and how it’s become such an important part of the snow sports landscape.

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He said resorts were a little gun-shy at first about signing on, and his initial inquiries were met with some skepticism because areas had seen grandiose pitches before that never came to fruition.

But in the end?

“We identified that the industry would benefit from doing things differently,” Reece said.

Thus began a business that has changed the game for both skiers and resorts. Liftopia offers skiers discounted lift tickets while giving resorts a way to attract more customers and also predict how busy they might be on any given day.

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“We always said from the beginning,” said Reece, “if someone does this better, then we would applaud them, because it’s fundamentally good for the industry.”

Reece, who is from Topsfield and learned to ski in New England, teamed with Ron Schneidermann to found Liftopia in 2005. The company, based in San Francisco, has seen steady growth, going from just two employees the first few years to more than 50 now. Reece is the CEO.

Reece had never run his own business prior to starting Liftopia, but now, in addition to Liftopia’s main platform aimed at customers, it also offers software to ski areas to power their own online marketplaces. More than 100 ski areas use Liftopia software to sell lift tickets online.

A lot of factors are at work when it comes to pricing on Liftopia. About 60 percent of the more than 250 resorts on Liftopia use Liftopia's pricing model, while others set their own rates. All resorts on Liftopia provide input about themselves that informs the software powering it.

“The model looks at consumer demand over the past 10 years, in terms of how many people are searching for tickets, and then we look at demand response, which is how many of the people that look for tickets actually buy,” said Reece. “And then it throws out price points for every day of the season. This is just the starting point.”

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When and how much the prices move is based on response. If the first 20 tickets available at an introductory rate sell quickly, more become available, but at a higher rate.

Cause and effect is monitored closely and, as can be expected, reams of data and analytics go into the decision-making process within Liftopia.

“Before they were selling online and booking a certain amount in advance, they wouldn’t know how busy they were going to be until they counted the cars in the parking lot,” said Reece. “Which a lot of resorts still do.”

It is not totally automated. Circumstances unique to an area are accounted for by Liftopia’s staff, and the pricing model can be adjusted.

What’s next? Liftopia’s agenda includes using data gleaned from sales and web traffic to improve the user experience, incremental improvements to its website, and helping resorts sell their summer products.

“We want resorts and customers alike to be proud of Liftopia being a part of the industry,” Reece said.

A few other interesting things about Liftopia:

 If you know you are going skiing, buy now. The deal is not going to get better. Liftopia’s entire value proposition is based on the sooner you are willing to commit, the more you will save.

  About 22 percent of Liftopia customers own season passes somewhere. Reece attributes this to skiing/snowboarding fanatics who set a baseline for their season at one location, but seek both variety and good value when they decide it’s time to hit the road.

 Liftopia’s no-refund policy on some tickets does have a few exceptions — if the resort does not open and if the window rate is dropped below what you paid on Liftopia. But bad weather comes with the territory, so be prepared to ski in the rain if you bought a no-refund ticket.

 The average time before a ski trip that people buy on Liftopia is around 15 days.

Follow Matt Pepin on Twitter at @mattpep15.