Michigan Ski Resorts: Who’s Doing it Wrong?

Hate to break the news, but many of our local ski resorts are basically bowling alleys with snow.

The economy stinks, so luxury sports like skiing/snowboarding are going to suffer a bit, but that’s not all. The service & experience at many of the ski areas here is just not that awesome anymore. Over at his blog, Jon Tollefson called out the Midwest ski resorts. This struck a chord with me because I’ve had the same discussion with people at every resort bar.

[W]hat are you doing to show that we should come to your hill? I don’t see you at local events. I don’t see you promoting your parks. I don’t see you doing anything other than propping up on a trash hill and blowing 4 months worth of ice out of the year.

Truth. Several of them actually are converted land fills. But the problem is worse than just the inflated pass pricing.

  • Pine Knob sets up the exact same park every year with the same kickers and the same rails and the same bombed out landings.
  • Mt. Brighton deals us the same crappy cafeteria with that hideous dark wood paneling and falling-apart picnic table benches and video games from 1984 that don’t work anymore.
  • Mount Holly runs a pretty decent comp at the end of the season and they change up their park and make it fun for once but the park never looks like that when you’re there on a random Wednesday, and their overall park vibe is the weakest of the Detroit-area resorts.
  • Alpine Valley, the only resort not near a major freeway, declined to participate in the Shell lift ticket discount program the last two years. Their park is usually on point but compared to the competition that doesn’t say much.

Before you accuse me of sipping the Haterade, there’s plenty of Michigan resorts that are doing things right.  Take a weekend and visit one of them for a change.

It’s not just for kids

In fairness, they have some deals for kids, and school ski clubs help fill the void, but the resorts aren’t making their bread and butter on these deals. So maybe you fan the flames and get these kids interested in skiing or snowboarding, but you abandon them the minute they can’t get those $15 midweek lift passes any more. So they stop coming to your mountain every week because they can’t afford it any more.

Next thing you know, it’s been 5 or 6 years since they’ve been on planks and the love is gone and for most of them it’s not coming back.  It almost happened to me.

Adults = Après = $$$

The skiing and snowboarding gets us in the door, but they make their money when we pony up for the après, so they need to do something to get more adults out on the slopes more often, even if that means nominally cheaper lift rates or creative discounting. Because adults don’t bring backpacks full of juice boxes, instead we buy a few rounds of beers at the bar — that’s where the margin is for profit.

Some ideas:

  • Kids ski/snowboard free with a full-price adult lift ticket.
  • Would it kill you to do more demo days? We don’t get any of those around here. I know it’s not entirely the resorts fault, but it’s like they’re not even trying.
  • Something other than NASTAR races on every weekend day, so more freestyle comps. Even am-jams you don’t need to go get Nick Visconti to do an appearance.
  • Something like a “league” night, if you register 4+ people in advance you get a 50% discount on lift tickets.
  • News flash: most of us have day jobs. Extend your “Two for Tuesday” deal beyond the AM session, make it buy-one/get-one all day Tuesday and all day Thursdays.

Summing it up:

Anyone who can afford to ski or snowboard can certainly afford not to ski or snowboard. Bottom line is that if you’re not giving people a great experience, they’ll find somewhere else to spend their money.

You’re the ones with the budget go hire someone who can figure out how to get people to your mountain. It’s your call.

All four of these resorts are  also in serious need of new websites. I’m willing to help if they’re willing to make a commitment to their customers.


4 thoughts on “Michigan Ski Resorts: Who’s Doing it Wrong?

  1. Excellent post! I think we all have had this discussion and/or thought about certain ski hills, what they are doing or the lack-thereof to receive my business.

    In Jon’s post http://www.jonathantollefson.com/2010/midwest-snowboard-season-pass/ he talks about the ungodly high prices for season passes at some places, while also touching on horrible day rates. What isn’t being covered here, and I do believe you picked up on it, resorts and ski areas DO NOT make their money on season pass holders.

    The majority of season pass holders, myself included, who are not property owners, are essentially sponges. I would be willing to bet that the majority of the individuals who purchase season passes will stretch it to the max.

    The question for me is similar to Jon’s post – how can you justify charging what you do for a season pass? It’s pure economics and has nothing to do with the amount of vertical feet and terrain they bring to the table. It’s because they are in close proximity to a major metropolitan area and decide that what they are charging is a ‘fair’ price for those who live and ski/ride in the area. I am with Agnarchy on this and calling your bluff. I am not saying lower your prices completely, but why not offer some other opportunities to keep people engaged in your area?

    It’s all about the experience that I have had at your area. Provide me with an awesome experience, give me memories and a reason to come back and hands down – yes, I will pay whatever you want me to in order to have that same experience.

    With that, the argument of ski area improvement comes up. To your point, the park is the same, lodge is the same, rental gear, the same. Now, I understand some of this is also based on economics and they have a business to run. Money in vs. money out – I get it. Why not make a couple improvements here and there? These don’t have to be super costly either. Bootstrap it, ask your users what they want to see next season. Pick a few of those ideas, use social media and cast a vote.

    Whether you like it or not, users (skiers/riders) are steering the direction of your area anyways, so why not engage with them and let them decide? If you’re not engaging in social media – get with it! It’s not hard, you don’t have to be an expert, just simply have a conversation with your users and open your eyes – you might learn a thing or two.

  2. It kills me to be a local at one of the southeast Michigan resorts. I go back for one real reason, its the only economical solution for me to ride. I simply cant go anywhere else to ride 5 days a week. And for those dedicated to riding, that is the problem.

    The other part that breaks my heart is to see, from a consumers perspective, such potential and how truly simple it would be for some major improvements to be made. I ride almost exclusively park. There is no reason for me to have to go home every night and ice my knees because the landing are flatter than a desktop. I have worked on the parks and I do understand how difficult it really is to properly build one, but take that initiative and your jumping your competitors by leaps and bounds! The people are willing to make that extra 15 minute drive for it, I promise.

    Last season I spent at least two days a week (Saturday and Sunday) taking 30-45 minutes of my own riding time to dye the lips. I used my own dye, and for the most part my own sprayer or jugs. I bought 4 little, maybe 1.5 ounce bottles of food coloring for 1.29. One bottle did the whole park (lips and landings) once. You can get a 1 gallon jug for 9.99 (I just looked it up) and you’ve got dye for 85 days if my math serves correct. Pick up an old used chemical/fertilizer sprayer at a garage sale for 5 bucks tops and for less than the price of one of your (inflated) lift tickets your not only making your parks more enjoyable and fun, but SAFER!!!!!

    Another note on parks, there is absolutely no reason I should be hitting the grass in a thigh deep hole after one of your boxes. Trust me, I’ve been there, it DOES get that rutted out. With a park rake/shovel and two people to trade off so one doesn’t get too tired ( I really am trying my best to make it as easy as possible), it takes 25 minutes to fill, pack, rake, and hand shape that lip/landing. Yet another thing, from a riders perspective, that makes your parks more fun, enjoyable, and again, SAFER.

    Just a couple of very very simple (CHEAP!) ideas a local rider would like to see.

    Its obvious that in these rough times there are still enough people willing to spend their hard earned cash on a wintertime luxury activity to stay in business. However, why just exist when you could flourish? Implementing such simple ideas as these ( and this is only a park riders prospective, GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR CONSUMERS for other fantastic ideas, they after all are the ones using your facilities and can tell you what they’d like to see) will not only draw more return customers, but more first timers as well. My whole point being, its the little things the metro-area resorts can begin doing to improve business and their resort’s reputation.

    To Agnarchy’s point of :
    “[W]hat are you doing to show that we should come to your hill? I don’t see you at local events. I don’t see you promoting your parks. I don’t see you doing anything other than propping up on a trash hill and blowing 4 months worth of ice out of the year.”

    I completely agree. Don Thomas hosts a rail jam in conjunction with Otsego. In a few weekends I plan to attend The Chicago Ski and Snowboard Expo. Its sponsors include the likes of Shanty Creek Resorts, and Boyne. Now, something that large of scale is not a necessity, but hold a contest on a random Friday night, sponsor a Pre-season jam, etc.

    I see some of these things being done, but not on a scale that they need to be in order to reach the masses that need to be targeted. GET ON FACEBOOK with a legitimately operated page. It has over 500 million users, there are people there looking to connect with everything happening in the skiing/snowboarding world. As Jason ^ pointed out, and I second, become more in touch with your consumer base and they will be more willing to hand over their cash.

    And finally, just some numbers, take them for whatever you want, or nothing at all.

    Mt. Holly/Pine Knob dual season pass = $705.00 (if bought in December)
    Vail conglomerate season pass* = $629.00

    Mt Holly/Pine Knob skiable acres = 185 acres
    Vail Mountain alone = 5289 acres


    That means that (for Vail only) your paying 12 cents a skiable acre
    It also means that for MTH/PK your paying $3.81 a skiable acre

    *Valid, WITHOUT ANY BLACKOUT DATES at Vail, Beaver Creek, A-Basin, Keystone, and Breckenridge resorts in Summit County, Colorado and at Heavenly Resorts in the Lake Tahoe California region.

    Interpet those as you will, or ignore them completely as I am aware that it could be unfair to compare the mecca or North American skiing, Summit County Colorado, and the Midwest, but there might be something in there of value as well.

    -Just one’s thoughts,

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention shredding gnar snowboarding blog » Michigan Ski Resorts: Who’s Doing it Wrong? -- Topsy.com

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