As an anecdotal datapoint, radio ads do work sometime. About 8 seasons ago, when I finally decided to get back into skiing, the radio ads Sunday River ran nearly every morning on Boston rock stations (WBOS to be specific) encouraged my choice and also made me decide to drive the extra distance to try them out. I liked what I saw, including the peak-to-peak skiing without the Killington craziness, and they became my regular area for the next 5 years till we moved to Colorado.
Did they have a Purple Cow? Maybe not, especially since ASC owned them. Though I think Lisamarie might suggest that their Perfect Turn program in its early years is what made learning to ski enjoyable. The dedicated "first-timer" building, orientation video, instructors helping with boot fit and rentals rather than "go to the rental shop and then meet your instructor at lineup" was a big improvement. Sunday River did the whole Perfect Turn "experience" much better than its sister resorts Mt. Snow and Killington did - perhaps because the Rivah was ASC HQ at the time.
Portillo, from where I'm writing this in the Living Room of the grand Hotel Portillo, is itself one big Purple Cow IMHO. The skiing is great, yes, but it's really not that huge an area compared to some, and with no new snow in 3 weeks now it's rather crunchy out there. Yet the experience has been a total blast: the cruise ship-like atmosphere (Felipe the Social Director - shades of Julie on the Love Boat), the same dining seatings every night with waiters who get to know you and your tastes (Hola Senora Lisamaria, cafe y fruita hoy?), the 4 meals a day, the free games, films, ballet, disco, bar bands, board games, getting to know the other guests. Rather unique in the skiing industry, at least from what I've seen. I'd absolutely love to come back again. Even as a paying guest, if Lisa can't swing another guest presenter deal. North of $4000 USD for a couple at regular rates - yet it feels totally worth it.
How do our "regular" areas that are not isolated, all-inclusive resorts create something unique? I don't know, but improving the guest experience significantly, getting people out of long rental and lesson signup lines, encouraging learning as a means to enjoy and be thrilled more (rather than "rent some equipment and 'do' a hard trail out of control), and the overpriced crummy food that's nearly universal on-mountain - these are all areas that need to be better if we want to attract and keep people.
Perhaps areas with unique terrain can push that. Maybe even in packages - as much as I'd worry about overpromising, a "Beginner to Bowls" ski camp week with intensive daily lessons combined with guiding could be a salable package for a resort that has blue-black or ego-black bowls. A place that actually has good food and unique dining options on mountain and at the base (and I'm not talking Enzo's or Jack's nor Border Burritos or Ten Mile Station's buffalo chili here) could promote the excellent and healthy and affordable dining options.
Heck, a "Welcome to Skiing & Riding" section of the main base lodge that just had repeating-loop videos about how to navigate the experience would help make the entry to skiing easier. We all know this, but the average non-skiing, reasonably affluent non-skiing family doesn't have a clue about:
- Lift tickets are not the same as Lesson tickets
- Lift tickets don't go on your jacket zipper.
- There is a Responsibility Code (printing it on napkins doesn't help much)
- Don't tuck your (non-stretch) ski pants inside your boots.
- Wear one pair of socks.
- Yes, there are bathrooms on the mountain (my daughter was worried about this the first time we took her skiing when she was a mid-teen)
- Here's the map of the resort.
- Please don't "reserve a table for the family" in the lodge/cafeteria all day long (you hear that all you Stowe Soccer Moms?)
- Lessons are fun because you can ski more interesting trails sooner and safer.
Think of those videos you see on the plane prior to arrival on an international flight when coming into Dulles or Munich or similar. There's a quick orientation to what forms you need, where you go when you de-plane, how to clear immigration, etc. I still find that helpful when arriving at an unfamiliar airport, even though I'm a reasonably experienced traveler. Imaging that suburban family wanting to try skiing, attempting to figure out all the places they need to go and what they need to buy, when they arrive for the first time at the typical resort.
Or maybe Americans mostly just don't want to do anything participatory anymore. The theme park "experience" replaces the true experience. In which case let's enjoy the ski areas while they still can afford to stay open.