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FutureNow Article
Friday, Nov. 9, 2007

Why I Nearly Flaked on the Season Pass

By Melissa Burdon
November 9th, 2007

Last winter, when I made my temporary move to Salt Lake City, I started researching the local ski resorts. The mountains surrounding the city are known for having some of the world’s biggest and lightest powder snow. I was convinced by the customer reviews I’d read online that were written by local ski bums from Utah.

Time and again, I read and heard reviews about the Snowbird resort having some of the most challenging terrain, coated by the area’s best powder. So when I finally got a chance to ski Snowbird’s Cottonwood Canyons trails for myself, I quickly turned into a raving Snowbird fan.

I was set on getting a season’s pass for the this year. And after reading reviews like this one from CitySearch, my excitement about the upcoming ski season reached fever pitch:


Depending on the characteristics of — or our level of attachment to — the must-have thing du jour, we all buy in different buying modes to match our feelings about it. I typically purchase commodities in a more Spontaneous mode, but I take my ski season very seriously, and my search for a good deal on a Snowbird pass turned into a Methodical review of various resources to find the ultimate deal. I took my time and I read everything I could before I pounced.

Although I knew I wanted a season’s pass, I had a hard time justifying the steep price Snowbird was asking ($1,149). If the season let me down with only a few big snow days, I could be kicking myself for risking that much money.

As the summer came to a close, I got a little anxious about my upcoming purchase. Around this time, I heard a radio ad about “Sniagrab,” an annual sale run by the Sports Authority a local sporting goods chain called Canyon Sports. They were offering discount season’s passes to Snowbird. I don’t recall them specifying a sale closing date, but when I called Canyon Sports (shortly after hearing the ad), I was let down when I heard I’d missed the sale by one day. Maybe it’s my fault that I missed their sale, but the ad was vague and I had still acted quickly. It made me feel stupid — as dumb as that sounds.

Chances are you won’t catch me in a Canyon Sports any day soon.*

Unwilling to give up my quest for a deal, I searched for “snowbird seasons pass” at Craigslist. Believe it or not, there was a woman who posted a 10-day pass because she’d recently broken a bone and wouldn’t be skiing this season. She was selling it at a discount because she obviously needed to give the buyer an incentive to purchase from her, rather than go directly to the source. But since I was planning on skiing more than 10 days, I continued my search.

I sent an email to my local friends, asking if any of them had a connection to help me out. To my delight, I received a reply from a snowboarding friend. He encouraged me to join the Velocity Sports club in order to get a discount at Snowbird. Velocity’s an exclusive club, so in order for me to join, my friend had to sponsor me. He was only allowed to sponsor one person annually. There was also a $40 membership fee that I had to pay upfront. I signed up and paid my dues but this still didn’t guarantee me a discounted season’s pass. Before I had a shot at one, they made a limited promotion available to existing members who have been members for over a year. So I waited and waited for a reply.

After two weeks without a reply, I sent them a follow-up email. They told me I would hear back from them in a couple of weeks. When three more weeks passed without a reply, I decided to email again. That same day, I received a phone call from Velocity Sports, telling me that the promotion was now open to me but I had only two days to take action.It’s a good thing I didn’t miss the promotion (like I had with the Canyon Sports promo). It would’ve been nice to have gotten periodic updates from Velocity about the promotion. Then again, maybe I would have never even heard from them had I not been really good at nagging! Regardless, they came through for me in a big way, and I got my season’s pass for $799; a $310 savings (after membership fee) over buying directly from Snowbird.

No matter where they decide to buy a product, 64% of customers regularly do their research online before they go for it. In this case, there were a few multi-channel influencers (i.e., the radio ad, craigslist, in my buying decision process, but only the consumer-generated media (i.e, the customer reviews and word-of-mouth) had a positive influence on where I actually bought the thing.

The bottom line: It seems the local skiing/snowboarding community is more involved in finding and offering good deals for Snowbird customers than Snowbird is itself.

What do you think? Am I just griping, or should Snowbird consider being more involved in the community in order to better harness their marketing potential?

[Editor's Note: See comments below. Our sincere apologies go out to everyone at Canyon Sports. Although it seems the Sports Authority chain -- not Canyon Sports -- has the Sniagrab Sale, there's too much confusion about who Melissa called. Did she call Canyon Sports, and they answered her about a different sale that just ended? Who knows? Still, it seems there's a whole lot of ski marketing fog to break through in Utah. Either that, or Melissa needs to stop multi-taking when she drives. :) ]

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Comments (10)

  1. Melissa, by your own admission, Snowbird is already the most popular resort in that area. They stand to gain more if the specials are not advertised too much. Visitors would then buy their tickets directly from them at a higher price.

    Perhaps, if they were not so popular in the first place, they would benefit more by marketing their advertised deals.

    What do you think?

  2. Nishi,

    Thanks for your comment. You’re absolutely right that Snowbird is one of the most popular resorts in the area amongst ‘locals’ and advanced tourists who know where to find the powder and better terrain on the mountains. Snowbird offers a great product, therefore they’re receiving the highly valuable consumer reviews naturally. The problem is that Snowbird is losing the opportunity to create deeper connections with these locals who are the ones writing these reviews, and who are essentially their walking advertisements. Are they losing some of these locals to other resorts because these people are more loyal to the community then the resort?

    I agree with you 100% that Snowbird should not actively advertise their SEASON PASS deals to the tourist/visitor market. These deals wouldn’t appeal to these folks due to the fact that a visitor wouldn’t get their money’s worth for a 7 – 10 day ski vacation.

    I’m more concerned about Snowbird understanding who their different customers are and speaking directly to their needs. The locals who are looking to ski 25+ days per season should be treated differently then the tourist. Because there are strong relationships in this community between locals, it would make sense for Snowbird to find out who these people are, collect their information (email, address) and offer direct promotions/deals to these individuals.

    Instead of creating a relationship with velocity sports, where I know that I can count on getting a great annual deal on a seasons pass, Snowbird could have created this relationship directly with me.

    As a side note, two of my friends who were receiving these same deals through velocity sports previously, decided not to buy a season’s pass this year to Snowbird. They said that they’re going to keep their winter open this year to give the other resorts a shot again. They’ve seen some great deals to other resorts for locals, and have been collecting 2 for 1 passes to other resorts.

    I wonder if these people would be going back to the drawing board and checking out the other resorts again if Snowbird had created the direct relationship with them that I’m talking about.

  3. Very good shopping scenario! It made me think that as we write scenarios for our personae, we sometimes make them too simple to be real. We underestimate the tenacity of a shopper in Methodical mode. Maybe there’s a Maniacal Methodical mode…a subset of extreme skiers and snowboarders!
    Ultimately, Velocity had to acquire that season pass from Snowbird in some manner. So, the resort is in fact doing something (invisible to the general public) to enable the local fan base a means to get a season pass exactly like you did.
    And, it ties you to a group of like-minded Snowbird fans…or Sniagrab fans, etc. BTW…that sale is a Rocky Mountain annual tradition for over 50 years and as a newcomer, you simply haven’t tasted the kool-aid of the local rabid transactional shopping cult.

    Did you figure out how they came up with the name Sniagrab?

  4. You’re right that Velocity had to acquire that season pass from Snowbird at some point. Do you think that Snowbird was the active participant to seek out Velocity sports as a marketing tool to attract the locals? Or do you think that they were just giving in to a shouting community who was begging for a good deal?

    I’m pretty sure that Snowbird doesn’t have exclusive rights. Velocity sports offers deals and promotions on many things in the extreme sports world. Velocity doesn’t necessarily tie me only to other Snowbird fans, but they do tie me to other extreme sports fans. If the extreme skiing/boarding locals are heading over to The Canyons this year and calling that the best resort, guess where I’ll be going next year? Chances are that will be the next promotion Velocity will offer.

    Snowbird hasn’t actively pursued my business so if I don’t have a relationship or special connection with Snowbird and they aren’t reminding me that they have the best terrain and powder and they aren’t offering me a local promotion, what would keep me loyal?

    Snowbird could have been proactive about creating that relationship directly with me and the other locals. Instead, they are letting the community decide where the best powder sits. From the few conversations I’ve had with locals who have had Snowbird passes for the last several years, it seems that these ‘once loyal’ Snowbird fans are now testing out the different powder again to see for themselves if there is something else better out there. Perhaps Snowbird was a little too passive?

    Sniagrab is ‘bargains’ backwards. I’m not that much of a newcomer!

  5. LOL. Even though it seems gimmicky, I like the word because of the sound it makes. As anyone who’s heard the radio or TV ads knows, it’s pronounced SNEE-uh-grab.

    It evokes several mental images, especially when used in the context of a ski sale. SNEE rhymes with Ski, and feels like an action verb. Of course, Grab evokes a kind of frenzied sale.

    It surely wasn’t in their minds when they started, but I think that’s why it continues to work year after year.

    You should interview Snowbird’s marketing people to see what they are actively doing to create community among skiers.

  6. I would like to know what your season rate is for 78 year olds thanks

  7. I liked reading your article in all, but one key factor was missed. You said you heard a radio ad from “Canyon Sports” advertising for these passes, along with their “Sniagrab” sale. As a present employee of Canyon Sports I know we don’t sell any seasons passes or even have any pre-season blowout sales. Maybe You should look into your facts a little more before bad mouthing a reputable ski shop. As far as the whole “SNIAGRAB” thing it is associated with Sports Authority, formally know as Gart Sports.

  8. Ryan and Canyon Sports folks,
    Sorry if I wrongly accused you of having the Sniagrab sale with the seasons pass discount. It’s been awhile since the radio ad and finding out that I missed the sale, so it’s possible that I mixed up stores. If it makes you feel better, I bought a pair of used powder skis from Canyon Sports a few years back! We’ll remove the radio ad part of the story. Thanks for making me aware of this mistake.

  9. That’s some good information about Velocity Sports club. I’m interested in joining, but how do I get sponsored?

  10. I applaud your for being tenacious in your quest in gaining a seasonal pass that is discounted (and at that price, it is certainly worth it.) I would give an eye and tooth for that pass and used skis from Roxy. I do not know if this is true also with the world of extreme sports, but in the business world, big companies like Coca cola and other major brands have delegated the task of managing small stores to their distributors. These distributors can use the funds in whenever they see fit, or whomever they want, as long as the company earns. So maybe that is what is in between with Velocity and Snowbird.

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Melissa is a Senior Persuasion Analyst at FutureNow.

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