Utah looks to siphon skiers from Colorado
As if low snow, persistent winds, competitors’ cut-throat pricing and mediocre air access this season weren’t enough to worry about, another problem looms for Aspen.
The 14 ski resorts in Utah are preparing a marketing blitz to boost their skier and snowboarder visits by 25 percent in 1999-2000. They aim to capitalize on the snowballing amount of publicity surrounding the 2002 Winter Olympics.
“We can come of age here,” said Kip Pitou, president of Ski Utah, a marketing consortium of that state’s resorts. “There’s not a great deal of awareness of skiing in Utah right now.”
That’s changing – rapidly. Salt Lake City and the surrounding resorts have become the darlings of the ski industry media since their selection to host the games.
Utah has often been the forgotten little brother of California and Colorado when it comes to skiing. The state was slower to embrace snowboarding and add high-speed chairlifts, Pitou acknowledged.
The resorts in Utah are making up for that lag with a vengeance. Although only Snowbasin, Park City and Deer Valley are Olympic venues, several Utah resorts are scrambling to make improvements to take advantage of the spotlight.
Last summer alone, 11 new lifts were added at four resorts, according to Pitou. In a recent article in Ski Magazine, writer Charlie Meyers reported that Utah resorts plan to spend a collective $200 million on improvements in the next four years.
The new lifts helped boost the uphill capacity of Utah ski areas as a whole by about 20 percent this season.
“We have one of the youngest lift infrastructures in the country right now,” Pitou said. “The point is, I think we’re ready.”
To increase its share of skiers and snowboarders, Utah needs to get them from other states. Ski Utah hopes to tap into the markets of customers traveling to California and, you guessed it, Colorado.
“We’re going to go after the market wherever it exists,” said Pitou, a former marketing executive with K2.
It takes fewer marketing dollars to lure existing skiers and riders than it does to create new ones, he noted.
Utah has tremendous potential for growth. All 14 ski resorts combined for about 3 million customer visits during the 1997-98 season. That will increase to about 3.2 million this season, according to Pitou. Ski Utah hopes to hit 4 million next season.
To put that in perspective, the four ski areas in Colorado’s Summit County typically combine for more skiers than all of Utah. They draw about 3.5 million visits annually.
Colorado resorts as a whole have logged close to 12 million visits per season.
The Aspen Skiing Co. will hit between 1.3 million and 1.4 million visits this season.
Skico officials are well aware of the threat Utah poses. Skico President and CEO Pat O’Donnell said the Olympics will do two things – attract customers and workers.
He anticipates the chronic employee shortage in Colorado resorts to be even more severe during the 2001-02 season. Seasonal workers will want to be around the pomp and pageantry of the international spectacle.
“I think that’s going to rear its head, for all of us,” he said.
Colorado resorts might be powerless to deal with that issue, but O’Donnell is lobbying his colleagues to come up with plans to offset the Utah ski industry’s sudden stardom with customers.
He wants Colorado Ski Country USA, the ski areas’ trade association, to come up with a marketing plan to entice skiers who check out Utah to venture over to Colorado. The Skico separately will also make such plans.
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