Sunday, September 23, 2018
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Hire a midget!

While not the most politically correct thing to say to the general manager of the ski area, that is the advice I bellowed to Ethan Mueller as he left our “meeting” at a certain outdoor patio last spring. He couldn’t seem to leave fast enough.
I was referring to the publicity move made in the 1950s by the owner of a major league baseball team who had hired a “little person” to bat in a game, knowing that the opposing pitcher wouldn’t be able to hit the strike zone. It drew a crowd and by the way, it worked. The 3-foot, 7-inch dwarf walked in a game in 1951 and was pulled for a pinch runner in front of a sell-out crowd. The people loved it. The same owner, Bill Veek, was always looking for ways to fill his seats. He came up with gimmicks like “bat day,” fireworks at the games, exploding scoreboards and outrageous door prizes.
Hence my point to Ethan: Crested Butte Mountain Resort needs to think (and act) out of the box. It’s not enough anymore to claim to be a top-tier North American ski resort. Given terrain expansion at other areas, a decline in our air service, the (in my mind) quiet base area atmosphere, the ability to eat up too much terrain too fast with high speed quads, I was suggesting CBMR needed to look for ways to attract people to come back. They’ve always been able to get people here but it’s getting them back that was the struggle.
So let’s rehash the discussion about season pass prices. It has been suggested by interested community members that given the changing economics of ski area business, our pass philosophy is stuck in a 1980s template. The argument goes that since people can now affordably purchase “Epic Passes” and “Super Passes” that give customers access to multiple resorts across the west for a fraction of the cost of a CBMR season pass, we need to pull back our customers. Those who like skiing Crested Butte would in theory pay $500 for a season pass and use it to drive or fly here more often if they held such an affordable treasure.
The business theory is that once you have a customer willing to pay for a season pass, it ties them to your area. They spend ancillary money (on lodging, hamburgers, cocktails, ski lessons) at “their” resort. The ski company would get the contact info to Tweet, email, Facebook, blog and YouTube those clients. The idea is to go out and own your market. Make it affordable for the family in Montrose and GJ to come here and experience the mountain. Go get Salida and Alamosa and Santa Fe. Get that family from Houston to fly up here three times instead of two.
    
And most important, when your clients get here, make it interesting. Make it different from other ski areas. Hire the midget!
Off the hip ideas we’ve perhaps considered during brainstorming sessions and happy hours:
*I’ve suggested an outdoor entertainment focus beneath the great white tent. Create an outdoor lounge that is unique amongst winter resorts. There are ways to make it warm enough and cool enough to draw people to the base area. Such a draw can positively impact all the businesses up there. Make it something that tourists remember and talk about when they get home. Couches, music, lights, ski movies on the ceiling. Give people a story to share…about us.
*Make Wednesdays in January and February your non-profit day. Charge 10 bucks and give half the money to a nonprofit. Donate it to an organization people can relate to, whether it is cancer research, veteran’s services or children’s causes. Let people associated with the nonprofit ski for free.
*Come up with a way people can ski two hours for $40. Or ski just the Red Lady Lift all afternoon for, say, $35.
*Give stuff away that people want. So on Tuesdays at 3 o’clock announce that some lucky skier on one of your lifts will find a $100 gas card on one of the chairs that is running. My guess is people will find the time to be skiing at 3 o’clock on Tuesday and perhaps then go find time for an après ski cocktail at 4 o’clock. That’s revenue generation.
*Partner with Telluride and/or Irwin to offer high-end skiers a true Western Ski Experience package. Give people who can afford an expensive ski vacation something memorable. Expose those high-end clients to authentic western towns, great food at locally owned restaurants, unique guided skiing and fun characters. Make Vail and Breckenridge boring.
*Partner with Monarch on some weekends for the budget client. Maybe it’s a three-day weekend with two day passes here and one at Monarch for a really good price. Charter a bus from the Springs or Denver to bring in families on a budget who want to expose their kids to the sport. Those are future clients. Ski trips aren’t cheap but the sport is addictive.
*Become the official mountain resort of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Fly out the summer bike athletes who race here in August and promote a week for people who might want to meet them up close and personal in a cool mountain resort. Let those who love bike racing meet and greet and hang out with their heroes. Raise some money for charity and cross-market your seasons. Let the biking heroes connect with Crested Butte year-round.
*Be real. Stop throwing out single-day lift ticket prices that put CBMR in the Aspen, Steamboat, Vail atmosphere. We really don’t have the terrain, services or attitude to compete with those monsters. Price yourself for what you are…an authentic, cool, small to medium sized ski area with interesting steep terrain. But we also have a really cool town and lots of friendly people who make people develop a connection to the place. Connect the people to the place to increase volume. That will help everyone’s bottom line.
Good grooming and a salad bar in an old Warming House isn’t enough to get people to return. It might get people talking about us, but not enough to get them back if there are easier, bigger places to go.
Make this place interesting again. Find ways to put a smile on people’s faces and get them to share a story…and bring back some of their friends. Don’t just think out of the box…create a new box. Hire a midget!
Ethan didn’t respond to my request at that first meeting last spring…but I do give him credit for picking up the tab before hurrying away. I also give him credit for the company’s wonderful expansion of summer bike trails on the mountain and adding some summer life to the Base Area. Now, it will be interesting to see if this crew can think of other ways to address winter life and fill the chairlifts. It is time for something bold.

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