spgThis ski season I’m using the Mountain Collective pass, which gets me to days of skiing at four great resorts, 50% off lift tickets thereafter and lodging discounts. Eight ski days for only $349—awesome. The beauty of this pass is that it includes a diverse selection of resorts under different ownership including Aspen/Snowmass, Jackson Hole, Alta and Alpine/Squaw Valley. For people like me who don’t like to commit to a pass limiting you to just one resort, this is the perfect pass. Redemption of the pass is fairly straight forward in that you bring in a printed ticket to the ski area ticket office where you are issued a lift ticket.

With the precedent for this type of cross-resort pass, I see an opportunity for a similar type of pass, only driven by the Starwood hotel chain, which has several resort properties in ski areas across North America. In particular potential resorts include: Whistler, Steamboat, Vail, Aspen, Deer Valley, and Mammoth. While this may be less attractive to Aspen and Vail in that it’s competitive with the Mountain Collective and Vail’s Epic Pass, it still opens up a huge marketing opportunity for the resorts in that it would access SPG’s huge national customer base. The revenue split to the pass itself could be modeled after the Mountain Collective pass.

So what’s in it for Starwood? Hotel bookings. There are typically a ton of options when it comes to ski lodging from independent rentals by owners to hotels. A pass with an SPG lodging discount and perhaps some add-ons such as a free breakfast or a spa credit could lure skiers to resorts where Starwood is present.

Now imagine bringing in another existing SPG marketing partner, American Express, which offers an SPG credit card. The partnership would give Amex an opportunity to market the SPG card to pass holders and would further extend the marketing reach for the pass.

The structure for an offering like this is in place. Many of the hotels already offer packages including lift tickets, so it then becomes a matter of taking the relationships to the next level.


Photo credit: EpicMix

I love to ski. In a good year I’ll get to the snow three or four times a season, enjoying a dozen or so days in the mountains. There are plenty of better skiers out there than me, but I am fairly aggressive on the mountain and will go on pretty much any run in bounds. I am heading to Aspen this weekend with a non-skiing friend, and I would like to connect with other skiers who will be there at the same time. But how can I do this? Somewhat frequently I find myself in similar situations where due to various reasons I do not have a ski partner at my same skill level. I have found jumping on a snowboard to be a decent equalizer for skiing for more intermediate skiers, but if I really want to rip down the mountain, I’m on my own. On the flipside I know there are other mixed level groups of people with people in the same situation in terms of varied skill levels—this is where social networking technology can intervene.

Skiers need a way to efficiently connect on the mountain with other skiers at their skill level. If a website, or ideally a mobile app could serve as a matchmaker, this functionality could be a great user acquisition tool. Here’s how it could work in the best case scenario:

Users would enter their skill levels, available dates, and location into the app. If there is a match right away, the app would highlight those users and you could direct message that them via the app. There would be a listing by location that can be searched for other skiers in the same place at the same time. You could also set up push notifications to tell you when a new match enters the system. Of course, this would all be built with Facebook integration so you could see if you and your match know people in common. There could even be privacy settings that only allow you to be seen by people within a certain number of degrees of connection to you—friends of friends, etc. You could enter your information prior to your trip or right on the lift on your first run of the day.

So what’s the revenue model here, and why would a company want to do this? There wouldn’t be any direct revenues associated with this feature, but this would be a compelling reason to download an app with other monetization channels. A couple initial examples that come to mind: Liftopia and the EpicMix, by Vail Resorts. Liftopia’s app includes snow reports, ski conditions and sells discounted tickets and lodging to many ski resorts. Since Liftopia’s business is all about e-commerce, the cost of acquisition is likely fairly high. A high utility feature like this could be a great draw to pull in qualified leads for their primary sales offering.

EpicMix already has Facebook integration and links you to your friends that are also on the app, so it’s not a huge stretch to allow people to opt-in to sharing their trip timing and skill levels as mentioned above. Not only could this help with adoption of the app, but it’s a potential differentiator for its resorts. Consider the scenario a group wants to go skiing and there’s one odd person out in terms of skill level—could be much better or much worse. If this group is deciding between Northstar (a Vail Resorts property in Lake Tahoe) or Alpine Meadows, a competing nearby resort, the ease of meeting up with compatible skiers could tip the decision in the favor of Northstar. This may be unlikely to the most important deciding factor of resort choice, but it could be influential.

Skiing is a social sport. You might spend as much if not more time sitting with others on the lift as you do on the mountain. Someone needs to build this feature. Who’s going to make it happen?