Ski Resorts and Snow Reports and Social Media: A match made in heaven?

19 01 2010

Howdy, Katie Van Sant here, of Extanz.com fame.  As those who read this blog know, here at Extanz, we’re always keeping an eye on trends and creative ideas in the social media sphere. My attention, therefore, is always

(and naturally) piqued when the conventional media looks at the use of social media in sectors in which I’m personally active.  Last week for example, NPR ran a story about how ski areas have been inflating snowfall data on weekends to attract skiers. While this news wasn’t much of a shocker, this next part was fascinating: ski areas that were reporting data on the popular iPhone ski report app and that had good iPhone reception (for skiers and riders to send instant condition updates) had reduced their snow report inflation due to the instant backlash by the ski and snowboard community. Yet another example of how social media is democratizing the dissemination of information across industries. These days, I too look to my iPhone for the snow report at Steamboat rather than calling the snow report hotline number I’ve had memorized since I was 6 years old.

This news made me wonder about the rest of the social media platforms – you know, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr etc. – and whether they were now being leveraged by ski areas and their customers to a similar degree. Ski areas are perfectly positioned to leverage social media because they have loyal customers like you and I, who are enthusiastic about sharing their activities on the mountain and staying up-to-date on snow conditions, competitions and events. Little did I know how much the ski areas already knew this…

So, which of the major North American ski areas do you think are taking advantage of social media’s opportunities to best connect with their community? Let’s take a look. I identified the top ski areas, compiling the top 2010 ski areas as identified by the perennial ‘best ski resorts’ reports by Skiing Magazine and Outside Magazine.  Now, I’ll acknowledge this list leaves out some of the best local and regional ski areas – Bridger Bowl, Mt. Hood Meadows, anywhere in Alaska – but we have to start somewhere. Next, representation and community engagement across social media platforms were measured.  During a recent social media presentation, Vail CEO Rob Katz brought up a key point that was taken into consideration when ranking these resorts: videos. As all you skiers and riders out there know, we spend Fall getting amped up for ski season at Warren Miller and Teton Gravity Research ski film showings. A number of other factors were considered as well in order to rank the ski areas (i.e. one resort may have had more Facebook fans, but another’s Twitter and YouTube presence trumped the Facebook fan count):

  • Facebook fans,
  • Facebook fan engagement through ‘liking,’ commenting & posting, posting pictures & videos,
  • Twitter followers & activity,
  • YouTube presence measured by subscribers, views & videos, and
  • Quality of engagement on behalf of the resort (as opposed to super enthusiastic, unprompted fan postings).

And….now for the drumroll…

The Top 10 North American Ski Resorts Utilizing Social Media are:

  1. Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia: 26,059 fans, 405 fan photos, 7,856 followers, operating their own video site (rock stars!)
  2. Mammoth Mountain, California: 19,366 fans, 217 fan photos, 3,504 followers, 19,308 YouTube views
  3. Vail, Colorado: 10,049 fans, 12 fan videos, 3420 followers, 297,059 YouTube views
  4. Breckenridge, Colorado: 10,042 fans, 9 fan videos, 3,806 followers, 353,085 YouTube views
  5. Jackson Hole, Wyoming: 10,573 fans, 299 fan photos, 23 fan videos, 2,771 followers, 344,602 YouTube views
  6. Keystone, Colorado: 9,706 fans, 93 fan photos, 4,276 followers, 16,576 YouTube views
  7. Bear Mountain, California: 11,984 fans, 209 fan photos, 1,180 followers, 682 YouTube views
  8. Sugarloaf, Maine: 10,946 fans, 24 fan photos, 1,739 followers, 89,000 YouTube views
  9. Jay Peak, Vermont: 9,706 fans, 237 fan photos, 1460 followers, 44,198 YouTube views
  10. Sunday River, Maine: 7,460 fans, 49 fan photos, 1,706 followers, 319,591 YouTube views

With an honorable mention: Steamboat Springs, CO: Steamboat can’t get it’s social media act together with two competing Facebook and Twitter sites, but between the 2 sites (admittedly, there’s overlap), Steamboat has 11,286 fans, 151 fan photos, and 1,918 followers.

Wow! Clearly, Whistler Blackcomb is blowing everyone else out of the water, even the ski areas run by Vail Resorts (Vail, Keystone, Beaver Creak, Breckenridge, Heavenly). As you may know, Vail Resorts implemented a much covered social media strategy this season, shifting 80% of its print advertising budget to social media and other short-lead mediums. Its resorts are showing strong results in the social media sphere, but the results are often community driven, i.e. these resorts are maintaining their social media sites, but not engaging their communities on the level other Top 10 resorts are. Interestingly, Heavenly, the largest U.S. ski resort, doesn’t even rank in the Top 10. Remember the ski videos? Vail Resorts took this info and ran with it, garnering YouTube views only matched by Jackson Hole, the long-time leader in ski videos.

So, is Whistler’s dominance driven by the looming 2010 Winter Olympics? OR do people just really love Whistler? What do you think?

We’ll ponder the ‘Olympic Effect’ in upcoming posts and see what else is going on at the nexus of social media and the ski industry!

Thanks to tim_in_sydney and toetoe for the great pictures.

Katie

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18 responses

19 01 2010
Jonathan

Interesting post! From the resorts you have mentioned, I think Jackson Hole, Whistler and Aspen/Snowmass (not mentioned) are the doing the best job engaging with users on the social web. There is a lot more to social media than #’s, but that convo. is for another time.
Not only has social networking forced the larger ski resorts to keep it honest on the snow reporting side, but it is now opening up new opportunity for the resorts to connect with users on a whole new level – engaging with people while on resort, leaving the guest with a great experience.
If ANY ski resort thinks they can trick skiers into thinking they won’t find out the truth on ski conditions, they are surely mistaken. Just notice how the latest NorthFace iphone app is integrating live tweetstreams into each resorts page, or the new augmented reality ski conditions iphone app by RTP – users know more about conditions before the mid-morning ski report is even launched.
As far as getting skiers and riders amped for the season, social media is definitely giving a boost to everyone. check out the Facebook app Aspen/Snowmass is running – a creative and original app to build awareness and buzz around something as simple as a monster halfpipe.

Jonathan

20 01 2010
Katie Van Sant

Thanks Jonathan. You’re right – there are a lot of great, creative things ski resorts are doing in terms of community engagement. Like you said, there’s a lot more to social media than #s and I definitely took that into account. I actually thought that in addition to Jackson and Whistler, the California resorts (Mammoth, Bear Mountain) were doing the best basic engagement (responding to fans, asking questions, retweets and reposts etc.) out there. We’ll be looking deeper into social media activities of some of these ski resorts in the coming blogs and the great apps (like Aspen/Snowmass) that are coming out – stay tuned!

20 01 2010
Sugarloaf Today

One thing to note – many ski areas have “unofficial” message boards and social media that often have more accurate, less marketing oriented condition reports.

Sugarloaf has the “unofficial” Sugarloaf Chat at http://www.sugarloaftoday.com/chat/ which is much more useful to locals than the official posts, which tend to pump up snow fall totals.

Users often upload photos and videos the same day they ski or ride!

Bring on the Snow!

20 01 2010
James

I second what Sugarloaf Today is saying about social media outlets not covered in the above article. As an example, I think Steamboat has possibly the richest online community of any in the industry right now. Fans and the resort are all sharing stories, videos and photos in a rich online environment. Facebook and Twitter integration are there as well. Check out My.Steamboat.com and see if you agree. (Disclaimer: I run that site)

20 01 2010
Katie Van Sant

Thanks to Sugarloaf Today and James. You’ve hit on trend I saw across a number of resorts when I did my analysis with your comments on social media sites hosted by ski resorts. And yes, this activity was also considered when ranking resorts. For some resorts we saw this activity gradually reducing as ski resort communities continue to move towards the ‘main’ SM sites and on others the activity is going strong.

Based on all the innovative ways resorts are using social media to engage their community, we’ll be having many more conversations about all the great tools out there (like Steamboat’s helmet cams Big Sky’s BSPN – Big Sky Powder Network). James – maybe I’ll see you on the slopes!

20 01 2010
Yann Ropars

Woot! love the comments – James, thanks for the phone call last night as well and glad you’re joining the public space here. It’s social media after all.

This short and preliminary study is certainly a partial view of what the total ‘online activity’ of those brands represent, nevertheless it one interesting view of how the different resort have adopted the ‘main’ social media platforms to engage with their community and the outside. Forums were the pre-existing platforms and the Ning community set up by Steamboat sounds promising.

The idea behind this post is to look at those from an inbound marketing perspective; forums cater to existing communities but would not offer a great avenue to inbound-lead generation like Facebook, Twitter…etc.

We’d love to interview you guys if you’re available for upcoming posts! Be in touch. yann @ extanz.com 970-222-6891

21 01 2010
Marc-Oliver

Hi Katie,

Could you tell us a little bit more how you did the measurement, what tools you used and what methods?

Thanks :-)

22 01 2010
Katie Van Sant

Hi Marc-Oliver – thanks for your interest in the process. As I mentioned above, I pulled the top ski resorts from Skiing and Outside magazines which resulted in a list of 37 North American ski resorts. I then combed through all the the major social networking sites & the ski resorts’ websites to understand the each resorts’ social media efforts. In addition to numbers, I looked at the quality of engagement e.g.Whistler is great at engaging the community with posts & questions & responding to fans whereas Aspen/Snowmass has a very active fan base but is fairly unprompted by Aspen who mainly posts news & announcements. I also looked at the activity on iPhone apps & took note of unique/creative ways resorts were engaging with their communities. Hope that’s useful!

There are some smaller resorts doing great things as well and we’ll be looking at their activities.

9 02 2010
Jeff Hadley

Hi Katie.

Thanks for the study… it has helped me prioritize the resorts that I am targeting in the promotion of my very recently launched site at http://www.snowtweeters.com.

It seems that any measure of social media usage at a given resort should include the tweeted information by resort area businesses. I’ve however discovered so far that few resort area businesses are using Twitter to promote themselves. That is, the main objective of my site is to increase the quantity and quality of resort-specific tweets, which I hoped would include more than from the resort itself. Btw, it also includes a “meet-tweets” service that makes it easy to connect with other skiers/riders who are already planning on being at a given resort on the same day (to meet someone new).

Thanks again for the information.

Jeff

24 09 2010
Marc-Oliver Gern

Hello Katie,

Thank you very much for your respond. Do you mind sharing the links or names to/for those 37 ski resorts in NorthAmerica? Did you create some sort of powerpoint slide deck? I would be happy to build on that, cause I am writing on a new article for my blog where I look at new opportunities for ski resort websites as they are “left behind” a little bit due to facebook, twitter, apps and such.

Thanks

PS Are you on Twitter?


Marc-Oliver Gern . LOVING MOUNTAINS!
http://marcoliver.tumblr.com
http://blog.flip-digital.com
http://twitter.com/HelloMarcOliver
Cell: +1 604-902-1196
(Vancouver/Whistler, BC, Canada)

24 09 2010
Katie Van Sant

Hi Marc-Oliver – thanks for your interest. You’ll be able to pull those resorts from the Skiing and Outside magazine article I referenced. Apologies – I don’t have them in a handy format to quickly pass along. No powerpoint – this blog is it. Hope it’s helpful. You’ll find me at @kvansant. Can’t wait for the snow to fly!

23 01 2010
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Nice App I will download it! Thank you for ur Information.

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7 09 2010
Neil Smith

I think social media is a good way of promoting any snow sport related site. However my opinion is purely theoretical I’ve never tried social media practically.

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