Spend the extra money for the “on-season”

So here’s what we know. It snowed so much during this time 20 years ago that every single lift was turning, every single worker was working and the marketing people were telling people not to come here. The great snow along with the jacked-up and now classic Free Ski marketing plan brought in close to 9,000 skiers in one day. Don’t look for those numbers, in people, snow or running lifts, anytime this week.
Here’s what else we know. Down at the county seat this past Tuesday, there was a debate taking place in the County Commissioners’ room as to what to do with a newly discovered $200,000 in the Tourism Association budget. That money must be spent on marketing. In what would likely be considered an unusual show of partnership in the last couple of years, ski area executives bonded with TA executives to suggest a plan to the commissioners that would put that money to use. Just a display of such cooperation is showing a new, good trend throughout the county. We know that’s a good step in the right direction.
Under the outlined plan, the money would be used to promote all four seasons. During the discussion, there was some talk of using the funds to try to attract people here in the “shoulder seasons.” May and October were specifically mentioned.
Not to be too cynical, but most of the winter is starting to feel like a shoulder season. Parking is abundant most days, lifts lines non-existent, there’s always a seat on the bus and an open table at the restaurant or bar.
Summer might be feeling a tad crowded, at least downtown. July is off the hook. Why anyone goes to the Post Office that month is beyond me.
May, October and November have some good qualities but pretty much can suck. Attracting people here to experience a fall blizzard in late October or the wonders of mud in early May when it is 33 degrees out and raining will just make people angry.
Let’s try to be honest with our situation. Summers are growing and the primary reason may be consistent 100-degree days in Dallas and wonderful 75-degree days on the Snodgrass single track. We should keep pushing that message. Here’s my latest billboard idea on that front. Put a split billboard along the most clogged, steamy freeway in Dallas, Baton Rouge, Kansas City or wherever. On one side, display a real-time live cam of a baking downtown Fort Worth parking lot. On the other side, broadcast a live cam of Paradise Divide with a reservation number. Then, hire more people to answer the phones in June, July and August. Simple stuff.
Winter is in decline from a tourism perspective. We need to figure out what will draw people here instead of some other ski resort with more terrain and better access. Numbers could help fix so many of our issues. The product here needs to be polished and then money spent to attract people.

So, let’s look for a way to get back on track during the times we are supposed to be busy. I like the energy of people walking the streets around Christmas and New Year’s. Spring break used to be packed with families and college kids and visitors speaking foreign languages. People energy feeds on itself. More people visiting here means more things to do for everyone. It adds to the character, the atmosphere and yes, the fun.
In the half dozen jobs I’ve held here over the years, there was an exciting rhythm to knowing we would have some huge weeks of work and make bank, then a few slower times to play. The off-seasons, now known in politically correct speak as shoulder seasons, were periods to rediscover the desert or the beach or the benches along Elk Avenue.

You know, I admit skiing right onto the lift during a powder day is nice. Having the feel of a private country club ski area is convenient. But it doesn’t pay the bills and after a while, it feels hollow. I like some outside energy buzzing. There can be a balance.
No one wants this place to accommodate 9,000 skiers a day every day. It was a challenge for one weekend 20 years ago with the best snow coverage ever for the early ski season. But it wouldn’t be bad to get back to a time where the Christmas-New Year’s weeks and March spring break is actually hopping with tourists. When you can count on some activity in February and long weekends in January.
So if the TA has an extra couple of hundred thousand dollars lying around, don’t automatically go with the old mindset of having to fill in the shoulder seasons. Look around and evaluate the real situation. Don’t be embarrassed to use the money to draw people here during the “on season.”

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