Lack of snow has Colorado ski resorts touting what they do have, not what they don’t |

Lack of snow has Colorado ski resorts touting what they do have, not what they don’t

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
Ski and snowboard instructors gather their students for a lesson at Snowmass Mountain at Base Village on Saturday morning.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

ASPEN — If you are new to skiing or snowboarding, then come check out Colorado’s bunny slopes, one of the best things going on this season at the state’s ski areas.

That’s one of the messages being touted by ski-area PR and marketing types during a season that so far has been plagued by a dearth of snow. In other words: Promote what you can, not what you can’t.

“What we’re doing here is concentrating on the guest experience when they are here,” Aspen Skiing Co. Vice President of Communications Jeff Hanle said late last week. “We’re not going to go out and push some kind of snow message that inaccurately portrays what we have.

“But we still have a lot of people here, and what we’re concentrating on is giving the best experience we can.”

This season’s conditions on Colorado’s ski mountains have challenged those whose area of expertise focuses on seducing travelers rather than repelling them.

You won’t hear them singing the praises of a 20-inch base, but you might hear them laud what else their ski areas or towns have to offer.

For Aspen Skiing Co., that means pushing Ullr Nights at Elk Camp in Snowmass, where guests can snowbike, take in a snowshoe tour and eat s’mores by the bonfire. The new Breathtaker alpine coaster also has generated some good buzz for the ski resort, not only from Skico, but also from Colorado Ski Country USA, the marketing arm for most of the state’s ski resorts (minus the Vail properties).

“This year has been a big year for mountain coasters,” CSCUSA spokesman Chris Linsmayer said. “Those are exciting things for folks looking for something to do that maybe isn’t skiing.”

Along with Snowmass, Steamboat Resort and Copper debuted alpine coasters this season. Purgatory also plans to open one later this year, while Vail and Breckenridge offer the thrill-rides, as well.

Meanwhile in the Aspen area, on-mountain events still scheduled are the U.S. Grand Prix, which starts Wednesday, Jan. 10, at Snowmass Ski Area, and the Winter X Games at Buttermilk from Thursday though Sunday, Jan. 25 to 28.

Bill Jensen, partner and chief executive officer of Telluride Ski and Golf Resort, is in his fifth decade in the ski industry. Having endured the winter doldrums of 1976-77 and 1981-82, Jensen said the winter of 2017-18 — despite those unsightly rocks and grass peeping out of the snowpack — is considerably better because of snowmaking technology.

“The ski areas have responded,” he said. “Most all of the Colorado ski resorts have invested heavily in snowmaking. And one of our challenges is that we’re all so close to the sport and we chose to live in Colorado and live in a ski town, so the local expectations are significantly higher than someone on vacation.”

Also a cyclist, Jensen said he makes annual trips to Europe for road trips.

“I’ve gone on four-day rides in the rain in Europe,” he said. “Nobody in Colorado in their right mind would do that.”

Yet visitors want to seize whatever opportunities they cannot get at home, Jensen said.

Skico’s Hanle offered a similar view.

“The thing I keep telling people is that if you go on a South Pacific surf vacation and there’s no surf, you’re still on an island on the South Pacific,” he said. “People coming to ski and ride, they’re coming for a break and vacation with family and friends, so you can still do all of those things.

“We still think that as a community we are blessed with all of the things we have to offer in addition to skiing. We’re looking to push out that message.”

Jensen is scheduled to speak Wednesday at a Telluride hotel in what an event advertisement describes as an open discussion about a “winter (that) has created uncertainty not seen in more than 40 years.”

Telluride opened Dec. 7 — two weeks behind schedule because of the paltry snow conditions.

Another mountain operation opening two weeks late was Sunlight Mountain Ski Resort in Glenwood Springs. The laid-back ski area opened Dec. 21 with one run, which accounts for 75 of the mountain’s 680 acres. That sole run, as of Saturday, Jan. 6, remained the mountain’s only skiable terrain.

“Instead of trumpeting powder days, we are really starting to cater our messages to the beginners in the sport right now,” said Sunlight’s Troy Hawks, the resort’s director of marketing and sales. “It’s the perfect time to learn to ski and snowboard.”

Colorado Ski Country’s website — featuring such blog headlines as “Little Snow, Big Fun” — also is promoting January, which annually is “Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month.” Those type of marketing messages will get the most attention until the next snowfall.

“When we get the snow we like to talk about it,” Linsmayer said, “and that hasn’t changed.”

Controlling the message with an upbeat tone, rather than focusing on snow conditions, is an obvious strategy, but one that requires thought.

“(The weather) is out of everybody’s control,” Hanle said, “and everybody understands that. It’s the (snowmaking) crews that make this a great experience. I’ve had more people compliment our groomers and our ski patrol.”

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