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Marketing High-End Instruction

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
Whay have area Ski Schools ceded the high-ground to various independents?

In my last thread (First lesson in a decade) at least two pros (or I think they were both pros) referred me to clinics such as those given by the Egans, DesLausriers, etc.

That is something I am very interested in, and if there was greater availability of such things, I would have done them years ago. At the beggining of this season I decided to map out my strategy for the year. I got out my calendar, the phone and a pen. I called the people I wanted to ski with, and collaborated on dates. We planned two group trips to Austria (first and last weeks of March). With that done, I began filling in the rest of the calendar. Thanksgiving was reserved for boot-fitting at GMOL. I wanted to get in one high level clinic before going to Austria and I was hoping to bring my brother with me on that one. I looked up as many outfits as I could find. I had some contact with Xtreme Team and was interested in doing Targhee in early December, but somehow contact was lost after Sept. 11. I looked for alternatives in January or early Feb., but didn't find anything that would work for me.

What was astonishing was that none of the Ski Schools I looked into offered anything of that nature (OK, not entirely true, Snowbird had something, but on bad dates). I looked at Aspen as I could have stayed with some friends there, but there was nothing on the website, and the girl I talked to on the phone said that my only choice would be to do group lessons each day, or hire a private instructor (for 4 days, all day, in Aspen! How much would that have cost?) I think you guys are really missing out here. You could fill your schedules with this stuff and I think the apetite is here and you don't know it.

Thinking back to the few times in the past couple of years that I have even contemplated taking lessons, I think of XTeam this winter, Egans Couples Clinic at Okemo last year, and Doug Coombs clinic a few years ago at Jackson Hole (the year he got kicked off the mountain). I can absolutely guarantee you that if JH still had Coombs leading clinics at JH, I'd go every year. He still does clinics of course, but logistical reality starts to intrude when you are talking about two weeks in the Chugach or La Grave or Verbier (although there's always next year, and La Grave may happen).

I think there is an opportunity here, you guys seem to have some good skiers working there, so why not actually use them to dram in customers.

I'm thinking of the Aspen ad that I saw about 500 times this year. It's a bunch of pictures of night life there, there's the girl smooching the camera (which kind of freaks me out) and a sushi roll, maybe some old west buildings, but I don't even remember seeing a skier there. If area management wants you to generate revenue why don't you get to have ads?

You guys need to seize the high-ground. It's like car manufacturers that have "image" cars such as BMW's M-cars which don't represnt a large number of sales, but do represent the image of the brand and promote the whole brand.

Here's the lesson/clinic I want:

I want to go to a nice mountain with big terrain (Jackson will do nicely).
I want some really good instructors there.
I want other skiers there who would like to rip as well.
I want to learn not only to ski better, but also skills such as avalanche awareness and searching.
I want manufacturers reps to be there so I can try new skis throughout the week (Volkl V Explosiv looks fun)
Maybe a kick-ass bootfitter could consult with those who need his help and instructors could also point out those who need his help.
Nice weather and deep powder would be a plus.
I want to have a lof of fun (I always do, so I think you can deliver on that one).
Decent value for the money would be good.
Celebrity instructors would be a cool draw but are not necessary. Seriously though, how much would it cost to bring out Plake? A guy that loves to ski as much as him would make the whole thing that much better.

There could also be a 3-day mini-camp version of the same thing.

It would also be nice if you held the Women's Clinic at the same time so my wife would have something to do. I'd travel solo though if you don't.

Who can offer this for me? Next year would be nice.

Don't forget there are other clinics you can do too; Couples Clinic, Women's Clinic, I beleive LM suggested a Fear Clinic. You really could have a full schedule.
post #2 of 13
epic, you make a good point here. Have you ever looked into Jackson Hole's camps?

Here are a few links, these may be what you are looking for. Well, they are almost exactly what you are looking for!


post #3 of 13
Thread Starter 
Hmmm... I don't know if they offered that this year. If they did, I must have missed it, or had a date conflict, 'cuz it sounds perfect.

SSDs - do you have this? If not why not?

As I was driving home I was thinking of the "Halo effect". I think I could be what you call an early adopter. Everyone in my office knows that I LOVE skiing as much as my Maine Coons (a lot). When they have any question about skiing, they ask me. Two other office denizens took long ski trips this year. Care to guess where they went? A: Austria. I think that most people that would attend a camp like that are people like me who will be referring people all the time and thats pretty valuable to you (and it's not like you lose money on the clinic anyway).
post #4 of 13
I did the 5 day Advanced Ski Clinic at Squaw Valley a few years ago and it was excellent. Try to get in Steve Day or Tim Reeves class.


[ April 18, 2002, 04:00 PM: Message edited by: AC ]
post #5 of 13
You could fill your schedules with this stuff and I think the apetite is here and you don't know it.
I agree that the appetite is there, epic, but for some reason most are convinced that upper end skiers will not take lessons--probably a survey told them that or maybe it's just a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I have found that many upper level women skiers love a weekly group format. The weaker members often take privates to catch up to stronger members in the group--so as not to hold the group back. I would be hard-pressed to say whether the group or the lesson is more important--I would say the group members, including the leader, and the lesson plan, including conditions, contribute 50-50 to their satisfaction with a given session.

In my experience (and being a woman, there is some bias), I would say the upper level ski school program is five times more likely to bring in women than men.

One reason I think resorts like to have the Xtreme Team Clinics or Jeannie Thoren bring their road show to the mountain is they bring high-quality business to the resort--people who fly in, stay, eat, and spend money in the shops.

The high end lesson business that my school does is almost exclusively with locals. The mountain guide business is almost exclusively with visitors. If they can't pass a skills evaluation, the out of bounds tour can be converted to a private lesson.
post #6 of 13
Definitely a "self fulfilling prophecy". However, know your market and your mountain. Ott, Pierre and others work at 600' knolls...the tirols of the plains. The great instructing partner of highbrow programs is the mountain...ergo the success of Super Ski Weeks at Taos for 40+ years, Squaw, Whistler et al.
It is hard to raise the bar when the greatest fear factor is the whooshing sound of an unexpected bus door at 4:30.
That being said, I take seriously and listen well to your admonishment to create a product for those over level 7 folks! A consumate pro can teach high level prep stuff to anyone anywhere...even if it is going reeeaaaaaalyy slow on the flats!
post #7 of 13

How about Mike Hattrup if you can't get Plake. Crystal Mountain WA has a steep camp and a womens ski camp. I have seen the steep camp classes out skiing some tough stuff. This is from their website.


Mike Hattrup's Steep Skiing Camp

An annual favorite! Explore Crystal's most challenging terrain with freeskier Mike Hattrup, who grew up learning to ski at Crystal and our top coaches. Participants gain a better understanding of what good skiing really is while improving their own skills. Each camp has limited space and you must be at least an advanced skier. Three days of instruction, complimentary continental breakfast, K2 demos, video analysis and early evening presentations. Sponsored by K2.

Steep Camp registration for the 2001-2002 winter season is closed. Check back in the fall for information on next seasons camps.

Tracy McEwan Gibbon's Women's Camp

Join Northwest native and former U.S. Ski Team member Tracy McEwan Gibbons as she and our top women coaches work to improve your skills and increase your confidence while having lots of fun. Complimentary continental breakfast, demos by Rossignol, video analysis and afternoon presentations are all included each day. Space is limited so sign up early. Sponsored by Rossignol and Sturtevants Sports.

Women's Camp registration for the 2001-2002 winter season is closed. Check back in the fall for information on next seasons camps.

These camps are for adults, ages 18 and over. For information or registration materials please call (360) 663-3030 or email us at lessons@skicrystal.com.
post #8 of 13
Great post, Epic! I too have long suspected that there is a market out there for high-end skiing camps. And I'm also frustrated that most resorts ignore this segment in their ski school offerings. As you say, even if it isn't an enormous profit center in itself, a good program like this gives a resort exposure and its reputation trickles down to the rest of the operation.

Keystone's Mahre Training Center, for which I worked for 15 years or so, was once such a program. While we formed groups for lower and intermediate levels too, we accomodated groups at the highest levels. Most high-level groups tended to focus on racing, as you might expect from the association with Phil and Steve Mahre, but sometimes we would get top-skiing groups with all-mountain motivations. And that could be a fun week!

The MTC often ran simulataneously with a Women's Week camp, for the reasons you brought up. The camps made little money directly, but add in the lodging, dining, travel, lift tickets, day care, and occasional condo or trophy home purchased by MTC regulars (happened quite a lot!), along with the reputation and marketing opportunities of the association with the Mahres, and the camps were a huge success!

Unfortunately, those "other" benefits can't be directly measured, so Vail has downplayed the MTC since taking over Keystone. They still run the camps at Keystone, on a more limited basis. I'm not sure how they are going. I suspect that it is still a pretty good program, but I think it has lost a lot of its luster and excitement. Stephan Hienzsch (sp?), its founding director, left several years ago to persue other opportunities.

Anyway, I think there is an opportunity out there! I suspect that the answer probably lies still in independent ski schools, or "semi-independent" programs like the Mahre Training Center. Thanks for the ideas!

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
post #9 of 13
Thread Starter 
Bob - I used to have a poster of the Mahres above my bed (and one of Tamara McKinney too) when I was a kid. I haven't heard much about their camps, but it sounded like more of a race camp, and also dare I say, like it targeted older people? Just my perception. If that's not what they targeted it at, then I think their marketing effort missed the mark. BTW - I think you can measure the halo effect. That's close to the sort of thing that I do for a living although in your case it may be a little late now. If you don't gather the data as you go along, you're gonna have a real hard time getting it now.

Nord - Hattrup!!! That would be awesome! I think I'd actually rather ski with him than Plake. He seems to have more off-piste credentials - kinda like Doug Coombs, who is at the top of my list. Maybe I need to make a trip to Washington.

Since starting this thread I have also gotten a PM or two on the subject. It seems that some of the SSs have planted a flag on the high ground. Now they need some fireworks. If nobody but the hill's locals and regulars know that you have taken the high-ground, you could just fall right off.

How about this idea - the Ski University (or cSki College). I am thinking of Aspen, and Vail here just because their guys post here a lot. Let's say you have 1000 instructors at your ski school. Why not take 40-50 really great ones (sounds like you have talent to spare). Take these 50 guys and gals and put them in their own building with their own staff and let them build a "post-graduate" curriculum. Market it to people who have "graduated" from the traditional Ski School and you have the Ski University. Give 'em their own unis too. Ideally you could have a demo center attached. You probably wouldn't even have to own the dempo center, a local vendor could run it, or you could partner up with a manufacturer.
post #10 of 13
That is a very good idea, epic. I hope someone takes it to heart.
post #11 of 13
Just a thought (to create a stir). But how much money does an extreme style skier spend at a mountain per day compared to your average couple?

They both buy the same lift pass.

Average Joe and Joanne probably spend more per night on accommodation since it’s their annual holiday. Stop for an extended lunch and if the weather is less than perfect probably end the day early. They may well enrol in a group lesson each day, which, if it’s busy, contains 12 students to the 1 instructor. They may not have been to this location before so probably buy souvenirs and miscellaneous crap that we wonder what could possible be going through our minds when we bought it. In other words while they’re not skiing they’re in the village spending money.

Compare that to your serious skier. They possibly skimp on accommodation since they ski so often (maybe even stay with friends, how often have I read people saying that on this forum). If they’re anything like me they will skip lunch or have something real quick because … hey there’s snow and the lifts are open. Souvenirs? Yeah riiiight! Basically don’t spend any more than you have to or you won’t be able to come back next week. As for lessons, yes maybe, sometimes.

Many places I go to are basically at or close to capacity in peak season. So if you were marketing a place, what group of people would you try to attract? Why do you think many large places (ok the ones I am familiar with) target the mountain as a “resort”. In general I think the people who manage these resorts really don't give a stuff about skiing. It’s all about bed/nights and what the average spending is per bed/night.

Also bear in mind that while we, as skiing enthusiasts, are probably attracted to more difficult terrain, many people are actually put off by that. I personally went through this where my ex-girlfriend (a very nervous skier) specifically didn’t want to go to Treble Cone in New Zealand as it positions itself as a place with more difficult terrain. …notice she’s an ex

While you may not agree with my observation, and I also wish it wasn’t true, sadly I think it’s the way it is. Like many pursuits, the passion tends to be lost once corporations become involved.

BTW Don’t heap crap back on me. If you don’t like the way it is write to the mountain management. I also don’t like paying a small fortune to stay the night, 10 bucks for a hamburger of dubious animal origin, waiting 15 minutes in a queue, and I’m quite content to ride T-bars and the Pomas my northern friends find so quaint. But hey, you want 6 pack high speed detachables and heaps of groomed terrain? Somebody has to pay for these.


post #12 of 13
I'd suggest that this will definitely work - if there's a high ethical standard with the instructors. I used to hear one too many instructors bragging about faking their knowledge to X guest who was a really good skier - possibly as good as the instructor.

SS mgmt couldn't have cared less - but one less guest was ever going to take a lesson. If you're marketing to highest-end skiers, you need to be able to ski above the cert-3 standard, at a guess. That measures competence, not expertise, which is what you need to convince that kind of student that you're worth it.

Possibly why most of the praise here is being reserved for the Mike Hattrups ...
post #13 of 13
I have worked at several areas, which offered different "Signature Programs", such L-T Flores "Breakthrough" program at Aspen. Down in NZ, we offered Margaret McIntyre's "Feldenkrais". It was sold out. The demand for this type of program is there, but the margin to the skischool just doesn't justify it.

But if there wasn't a market, Doug C, Eric Des, and all the others wouldn't be in business!
Granted, the area has to have the facilities, the terrain, the snow to make something like this happen. How many people would go to train gates with members of the US Team, and get feedback from their coaches? You'd be beating them off with a stick!

All the ski areas need to do is take the leap of faith, and stick with such a program till it gets up and running. Many have started programs, and killed them after one season. "Didn't get enough participants". More likely- didn't get enough advertising! Let the word get around. Did Doug C's program become an overnight success? Nobody even knew who he was! But with perserverance, his camps are quite sought after.

Just like any new program, it has to have time to take root. People need to find out that they exist! Then, once the reviews start coming in, look out! Here they come!

But I agree, the caliber of the leaders must be of the highest standard. I was quite intrigued with the observation that " L3 only measures competency, not expertise". I think that hits the nail on the head. If the level of expertise isn't happening, neither will the reviews.

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