Vail secedes from state ski association
VAIL ” Vail Resorts dropped out of Colorado’s ski trade association yesterday and created the biggest flap in the industry since the Aspen Skiing Co. pulled a similar maneuver 13 years ago.
Vail Resorts withdrew its four ski areas ” Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone ” as members from Colorado Ski Country USA. Since Vail is the 800-pound gorilla of the state ski industry, the move was akin to California, Texas and New York seceding from the United States of America.
Vail Resorts’ four ski areas combined for 5.32 million skier and snowboard rider visits during the 2006-07 winter, the latest statistics available. They accounted for 42 percent of all skier visits in Colorado.
Tom Jankovsky, chairman of Colorado Ski Country’s board of directors, said Vail Resorts left over philosophical differences about the association’s operations.
“Vail Resorts had some disagreements. They wanted it run a little differently,” said Jankovsky, who is also general manager of Sunlight Mountain Resort in Glenwood Springs.
Colorado Ski Country USA is a 45-year-old organization based in Denver. It had 26 members before Wednesday. Now it has 22.
Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz issued a statement that said the company wanted the trade association to concentrate on public policy issues and re-evaluate how it spends marketing dollars.
“We had hoped to be a catalyst for positive change, but unfortunately, a number of the other members did not agree with our vision and we were unable to resolve these differences,” Katz said in the statement. “We intend to maintain a very cooperative and close working relationship with Colorado Ski Country, regardless of the status of our membership in the organization.”
Kelly Ladyga, Vail Resorts director of corporate communications, said Vail Resorts wanted the make sure the marketing funds were spent efficiently and didn’t duplicate efforts by individual resorts or the state government’s Colorado Tourism Office. For example, newcomers curious about skiing in Colorado might well start by visiting the tourism office’s web site at http://www.colorado.com. Vail Resorts questioned if it was necessary to duplicate efforts to reach that market segment, Ladyga said.
All the funds that would have gone from Vail Resorts to the Colorado Ski Country marketing program will still be spent on marketing ” now on Vail Resorts’ ski areas, Ladyga said.
“We just reached a tipping point, if you will, on how we are marketing the industry,” she said.
While Vail Resorts said it remains as committed as ever to marketing Colorado to tourists, some observers said the move fractures the ski industry. Losing the biggest financial contributor to the association will result in less marketing clout for the state ski industry, said Jerry Jones, a former ski industry executive and current consultant based in the Eagle Valley.
“The state of Colorado is really losing,” Jones said. “Utah may love that.”
The state’s smaller ski resorts, which don’t have big marketing budgets, will be hurt the worst if Colorado Ski Country cannot make as much of a marketing effort, Jones said.
Colorado Ski Country promotes the state ski industry as a whole. It let individual resorts duke it out over getting skiers to their slopes once they were interested in Colorado.
Colorado Ski Country typically pieces together its marketing plan in April and May, then pushes the “go” button in June after its annual membership meeting is held and the budget approved, said David Perry, senior vice president, mountain division for the Aspen Skiing Co. and the former president and CEO of Colorado Ski Country in 2000-02. Vail Resorts’ split from the association will force it to adjust its marketing plan.
“It definitely will have some impact on our budget,” Jankovsky said. Colorado Ski Country doesn’t disclose how much its members pay for dues. It is based on a complex formula that depends heavily on resort revenues.
Perry said Colorado Ski Country still has a critical role to play, but Vail’s departure is “significant.”
“I can’t see any way that it’s positive,” he said of Tuesday’s developments.
Intrawest is now the member with the most skier visits and, theoretically, makes the biggest contribution. The Skico is next in size.
Intrawest owns Copper Mountain and Steamboat Springs ski areas and operates Winter Park in a partnership with the city of Denver. It logged 3.13 million skier visits in 2006-07.
The Aspen Skiing Co. had 1.44 million skier visits in 2006-07 at its four ski areas.
This isn’t the first time a major resort split from the state association over marketing. Former Aspen Skiing Co. President and CEO Bob Maynard cut ties in spring 1995 after the association refused to change its marketing strategy.
The Skico was about as influential then as Vail Resorts is now. There weren’t so many ski areas concentrated in the hands of Vail Resorts or Intrawest, so the Skico was a big player as the owner and operator of Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk.
Pat O’Donnell, Maynard’s successor, re-enlisted the Skico in Colorado Ski Country the following year.
“It survived back in ’95 and it will survive again,” Perry said of the trade association. The Aspen Skiing Co. is satisfied with the job Colorado Ski Country is doing, said Perry. “We don’t really have any issues with the marketing,” he said.
But he acknowledged, from first-hand experience, the trade association is often in a difficult spot.
“It’s extremely difficult to keep all the resorts satisfied. Their business interests are often at odds with one another,” Perry said.
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