How to make your ski brand stand out

[As with all posts on The Future Is Here, this is a live work-in-progress. As soon as you publish something like this, people pop up with — "but you didn't mention…!" So if that occurs to you, please tell us and if appropriate we'll add. Email!]

Skiing is one of life's great experiences. Slipping, sliding, whizzing and whooshing down a mountain covered with snow, in the crisp, sparkly air is one of the best things you can do. (Full disclosure: I've skied since I was 10 or so — I learned in Scotland — and used to be a ski guide, for Thomson and Crystal.) 

Reminds me of a slope near Auris-en-Oisans. Steep, usually empty, hard-packed early in the morning, and a lot of fast fun.

Reminds me of a slope near Auris-en-Oisans. Steep, usually empty, hard-packed early in the morning, and a lot of fast fun.

Skiing hooks people — because it scores maximum points in the 5-star Experience Rating system, which benchmarks any experience against 5 criteria: flow, mastery, awesomeness, relatedness, story. Think about it. When you ski: 

  1. Flow: you're in flow, in the moment… hanging on for dear life, or just mesmerised by the views. This is one reason why people love ski weekends: it's easy to forget work when you're hurtling down a mountain. (5/5)
  2. Mastery: you're pushed, challenged, often at the edge of your ability (5/5)
  3. Awesomeness: there's something about those high altitude, haut montagne experiences that touch us. They're physical, so our bodies feel good. There's something about the size of the mountains, the steepness of those couloirs, the endless skies (so different to the caged sky at home in the city) that remind us of our place in the universe. Skiing can be emotional too. (5/5)
  4. Relatedness: we ski with friends. And if you're one of those crazies who skies alone — don't, by the way, it's dangerous — you're still a skier. You belong to the skiing gang. (5/5)
  5. Story: that time you wiped out in a white out? That jump you didn't mean to do? That jump you did make? That time you saw a marmotte? That through-the-trees red run beneath the fog? That place you went for lunch and thawed out? (5/5)

So if skiing's so great already, what can ski resorts/ski companies do to stand out? In order to entice people to go to their resort/book with them, there are a few tried and true ideas.  

  1. Think like a competitor — be better

    1. Stand out through better service
    2. Make the experience more pleasant
  2. Think like an editor — curate 

    1. As well as giving people in general reasons to choose you, target specific customer segments and give them a reason to go NOW
    2. (editors always ask these two questions: "why should we cover this story?" and "why should we cover this story now?")
  3. Think like an experientialist — amplify the 5 elements of the Experience Rating

    • Give people more opportunities to: 

      1. be in flow

      2. get a sense of mastery

      3. be touched by something awesome

      4. spend quality time with friends

      5. gather great stories — and tell them too

Lots of ski resorts/companies are doing their best to follow steps 1, 2, and 3 for winter season 2016/17.

What follows are some stand-out examples I've come across.

Enhancing the experience of the mountains

There are plenty of gimmicky, one-off experiences. We're not knocking them. (In my seasons in Courchevel and Alpe d'Huez, I loved parapenting, and night time skiing after too much cheese fondue and white wine.) But people are here, primarily, to ski. So we think the best thing is not to add bells and whistles, but to enhance what's already there. If we were talking about the cake, the icing is all well-and-good, but it's the cake that matters. (Pushing the analogy? Hope you get the point.)

"We completely agree — experiences make the difference!" says Sara Roloff, communications manager for UK & Ireland at Switzerland Tourism. "That's why we are working on an experience finder for our website and have launched the platform #inLOVEwithSWITZERLAND  where we gather all the great experiences our guests have on their holiday."

The obvious way to do this is also expensive: newer, better lifts, especially ones that solve bottlenecks that leave people queuing for ages. For example:

  • The new ‘Les Envers’ chairlift in La Plagne
    • "Continuing to improve skier flow out of Plagne Montalbert, 2016/17 sees the launch of a brand-new six-seat detachable chairlift, the first of its kind in a ski resort. Features include an attractive “light” look for the departure and arrival stations, redesigned curved seats and better passenger safety and comfort with innovative safety bars. Capacity: 2,400 people/hr, with maximum capacity of 3,000 people/hr at full speed."
  • The Flexenbahn
    • A new state of the art gondola lift, costing 45 million euros, will connect the Austrian ski resorts of Lech, St Anton and Stuben for the first time. It will create one of the world’s best ski areas with over 305km of ski slopes served by 87 lifts.

New lifts are a good idea — but of course that hardware isn't cheap. And what you're doing is eliminating bad experience, rather than creating great experience. It should be a hygiene factor.

Another good idea that's making tracks (see what I did there!) is ski touring…

Ski tours

"Ski touring — with nights in refuge huts , sleeping under the stars always pretty magical — is seeing huge growth, as the ski market ‘matures’ and looks for new challenges and stays current with fitness trends," says Richard Lumb, director, Kaluma Travel. 

There's some quantitative evidence of the rise in ski touring. See this article in Forbes from 2015: Skiing's Hottest Trend Is An Uphill Battle, which refers to a 2013 article in Colorado’s Post Independent which said “Touring equipment is the fastest growing category in the outdoor sports market.” Also, the SnowSports Industries America called alpine/AT (alpine touring) convertible boots “one of hottest items” in the marketplace with a one year sales leap of 27%. 

"The equipment is telling it’s own tale," says Lumb. "Touring bindings used to be only sold at specialist mountaineering retailers, now it’s going fairly mainstream. So many more people have had off piste opened up to them due to ski design, so this is the next step to be able to guarantee/earn the privilege of fresh tracks now that everyone can access the easy to reach the powder. Norway specialists that we talk to seem to be fully booked every season. 

Here are some great examples of touring:

1. Ski safari with Neilson

  1. New… for RED RUN skiers (note: this is back-country off-piste ski tour)… in the Dolomites, Italy… six-day tour… to explore 1,200km of piste with a fully qualified ski instructor…

  2. "staying in traditional mountain refugios along the way. While the accommodation may not match some of the high-end chalets clients are used to, the experience itself will more than make up for that."

    • NB: in a time of experientialism, the meaning of luxury changes. High-end is old hat. The status you get from a luxury chalet with its own hot tub, cinema etc is increasingly diminished as me-too chalets catch up. In this era of every increasing material abundance, the way to stand out, to get status, is through experience not stuff. Experience — and the story it gives you — is all.
    • Other examples of this include: 
  3. Guests stay in the three-star refugios and get buffet breakfast and dinner each day; their luggage is taken from place to place for them.
  4. 2 packages in 2017 for skiers:
    1. The Classic tour, with shared dormitory style rooms and facilities (available January 21, February 4 and March 4 with 12 spaces on each date)
    2. The Deluxe tour which offers private rooms and en-suite facilities (available on January 7 and 28, and February 11, also with 12 spaces on each date).
    3. From £1,325pp based on a two-adult stay for seven nights, including half board and flights from Gatwick or Manchester.
    • NB: this is a great example of "lean startup" / "try it and see" / innovative positioning. If it works, Nielsen can offer more next season. It also positions Neilson as an innovator that cares about ski tours. Since ski touring is "in", people who think about ski touring (even if they don't book one of these tours) will see Neilson in a positive light.

2. First up

  1. First tracks at Serre Chevalier
    1. Get up the slopes before everyone else, by opening the resort’s slopes with the ski-patrol team.
    "Be the first on the slopes and enjoy an early morning snow cat ride, a stunning sunrise and a delicious breakfast with local specialities in a cosy mountain hut, followed by a descent on virgin slopes – simply the best way to start the day!  The two huts to choose from in 2016/17 are Col Alt in Corvara (tickets just €28 including snow cat transfer and breakfast) or Las Vegas, San Cassiano (€25, inc. snow cat/breakfast).  Book directly with each mountain hut: Las / Col Alt:"

3. Norway's new Arctic Haute Route


Norwegian exploration travel company Hurtigruten has created a (frankly compelling) new 3-day ski tour — "the chance to explore some of Norway’s secret slopes and thickest powder", and see the Northern Lights… "A guaranteed feast for the senses and a once-in-a-lifetime experience!"  

  1. Taking inspiration from the legendary Alpine Haute Routes, the new three-dayArctic Haute Route, travelling between Bodø and Tromsø, offers skiers and snow-boarders the chance to experience the remote secret slopes of northern Norway. From Lofoten to Vesteralen, MS Nordstjernen will host the ski adventurers along the majestic Norwegian coastline, exploring new destinations every day. Our experts will be on hand to guide guests to the summits of the most beautiful peaks. Not only will skiers take in the stunning surroundings, but they could also be lucky enough to witness the spectacular Northern Lights during their journey.
    Anthony Daniels, Head of Sales, UK and Ireland said; “We are delighted to offer our guests the chance to ski above the Arctic Circle for the first time. We know our guests are seeking truly unique experiences and the new Arctic Haute Route not only satisfies this, but also gives customers ‘ultimate bragging rights’ amongst their friends when they return home. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that only the Hurtigruten Explorer programme can deliver.”
    In addition to the ski tours, the Arctic Haute Route voyage also offers excursions such as sea eagle safari, deep-sea fishing or kayaking at an extra charge should guests wish for a change of scene from the slopes.

4. On/off-piste

The thrill of off-piste, without the inherent commitment and danger. For when you've mastered on-piste, but you're not quite ready for the big, next step.

  1. Serre Chevalier has Brut de Neige

    1. "the excitement of off-piste, without the risks.  The challenging ski runs andnatural ungroomedsnow give a unique downhill experience: rediscover authentic, old-school skiing! The big advantage of Brut de Neige : all runs are safety and avalanche checked to offer you the best skiing experience."

  2. La Plagne has "no more grooming on the Glacier"

    1. "Due to demand, the Glacier de la Chiaupe, at 3,250 metres, is getting a whole new look. It will no longer be groomed – instead, skiers will enjoy five natural runs that are safe but ungroomed, called ‘Pistes Natur’. This will mean a natural descent on powder snow that is more of a challenge than a groomed run for those with ski experience."

  3. Avoriaz's Stash is safe off-piste for parents and kids

    1. is a free-form ski area that is mix of off-piste and snowpark, aimed at "parents and children from intermediate to advanced level wishing to ride backcountry and freestyle together."

    2. It's a "large expanse of un-groomed snow it is ideal for trying out wide turns in powder snow. These slopes wind in and out of the trees in the Lindarets forest and are punctuated with hidden wooden obstacles all around the circuits that skiers stumble across when hurtling down a ‘secret passage’. You have to ski or snowboard down the same slope many times to discover all the concealed modules"

5. Smarter skiing

The thrill of heli-skiing… at a more affordable price. A small tour company called Eleven, which believes that "Life is about the experience", offers a day's cat skiing in a place called Irwin, because "Irwin is only 10 miles from the town of Crested Butte, Colorado, it receives three times more snow than the town itself. At an average of 600 inches per year, Irwin is considered a powder mecca, often compared to Alta, Utah and the Canadian Rockies".

Appealing to specific groups

Answering the question: why come to our resort? The answer seems to be: you'll not only get great skiing, you'll get extras that appeal to you.

Note: we don't believe that it's ultimately the attraction that pulls people in, but the people that the attraction attracts.

Ski + art

  1. Kunsthalle Arlberg 1800
    1. This is the highest-altitude arts centre in Europe… The Telegraph has suggested that "Exceptional concerts, new artistic endeavours and inviting chalets could help Austria's Alberg 1800 become the cultural centre of the Alps"

    2. Designed by the Austrian architect Jürgen Kitzmüller and built at a cost of €26 million, the gallery and concert-hall complex is an aesthetically ambitious concrete structure partially concealed within the mountain on which it stands, incorporating an acoustically outstanding auditorium, its undulating walls clad in carefully calibrated strips of reverberant pine and capable of accommodating 200 people. (“A milestone” in the design of venues for chamber music, Andreas Grossbauer, chief executive of the Vienna Philharmonic, calls it.)

      It’s curated by section.a, the art agency that, for example, oversees the Austrian pavilion at the Venice Biennale, the gallery will follow a similar policy of nurturing up-and-coming artists. An existing artist-in-residence programme will also be expanded, the result of which are forming an ever-evolving permanent collection of works and installations. It’s early days, but in cultural terms Arlberg 1800 has the potential to become the Aspen of the Austrian Alps.

  2. New Alpen Art Concept Store in Val Thorens
    1. The Alpen Art concept store is a 200m² lounge area for photographs, paintings and everyday art objects plus limited edition pieces. + "gourmet café, with surprising combinations such as coffee duos and tea and cheese + yoga classes every Wednesday morning + children’s library corner

Ski + festival

  1. Music
    1. Chamonix Unlimited
      1. For hip, DJ-loving Millennials. Vice sponsors it. That sort of sums it up.
    2. Swing On Snow Winter Music Festival – 19 to 26 March 2017

      1. The Swing on Snow 2017 music festival, now in its 12th year in a row, offers a mix of traditional folk music with jazz, soul, pop and classical music. The bands play on the numerous ski slopes on the Alpe di Siusi in the morning, in the mountain huts at lunchtime and then in the villages of Castelrotto, Siusi, Fiè and Tires in the evening.

  2. Themed festival
    1. La Plagne's Subli'Cimes is… weird, wild, wacky, and fun. There's interactors — see our report The Future of Experiences for more. From 3-15 April, there are 6 different themed experiences at the top of 6 lifts. 
      1. BEAUTY & DELIGHT: at the top of the Bécoin chairlift (2,350 m) — manicure or makeover in the mountains at the world’s highest beauty salon, dress up as a Burlesque dancer (frills, face masks, feathered fans and even La Plagne nipple tassels are provided), or sunbathe in the solarium. Men can sample a selection of shaving treatments, and children can have their face painted and try out some temporary tattoos.
      2. TRAVELLING EAST TO WEST: at the top of the Grand Rochette gondola (2,505 m) — the Grand Rochette gondola is transformed into a Trans-Siberian train: the station staff will be wearing traditional Mongolian dress, the cabins will be decorated with props from the east, and guests might even find themselves sitting next to cashmere goat. At the top, encounter Bactrian camels and Tarpan horses, join in with old-style games, sample typical eastern dishes, and take part in a creative camel-wool workshop.
      3. YETI LAND: at the top of La Rossa chairlift (2,380 m) — the abominable snowman in Yeti Land – at the top of Champagny-en-Vanoise – complete with snow sculptures of stupas and rainbow-coloured prayer flags. Enter the Yeti’s giant grotto if you dare… Inside, children can make their own yeti footprints and scary masks. Outside, balloon benders, bouncy castles and face painting await.
      4. ADRENALIN: at the top of Roche de Mio gondola (2,700 m) — Experience a brief sensation of weightlessness on the bungee ejection, try free-falling from a bucket lift onto a huge-inflated mattress, and summon up the courage to try water-skiing. Those wanting to keep their feet on the ground can always dance to the booming beats created by a selection of skilled DJs.
      5. ZEN ALTITUDE: at the top of the Arpette chairlift (2,385 m) — Slide out of your ski clothes and into a barrel sauna or bubbling Jacuzzi, alternatively, swing in the hammocks sipping herbal tea. And why not experience a Tai Chi session or seated Amma massage from the talented students of Montpellier school of Physiotherapy? (Complimentary changing rooms, showers and towels are available, swimsuits needed. Barrel sauna and Jacuzzis open daily from 10.30 am to 4 pm.)
      6. LAND OF MYTHS, LEGENDS & MAGIC: at the top of the Fornelet chairlift (1,970 m) — Exit the chairlift and enter into an enchanted realm: be entertained by the ‘sprites’ juggling fire sticks, and be amazed by ‘Merlin the wizard’ as he performs an incredible array of ‘spells’ that will delight young and old. Before leaving, jump onto the colourful carousel and enjoy spinning round, making the most of the panoramic vistas of the Alps.
      7. All 6 sound run, right? All this, and you get to ski in La Plagne ;-)

    Interactors in St Moritz

    • Some hoteliers in St. Moritz launched #stmoritzsurprises a few years ago. Their aim was to surprise guests during their stay with a special unexpected experience. One thing they did was to send a butler in a tuxedo on the slopes who served champagne to the guests queuing at the lifts or greeted persons arriving at the train station with a glass of champagne. 

    Ski + gourmet

    1. Sommeliers on the slopes— in Alta Badia
      1. "Following three trial days in 2016, ‘Sommeliers on the Slopes’ is confirmed for its first full season, with six dates announced for 2017. Each day will see groups led by an expert ski guide and sommelier, combining ski itineraries with wine tastings of some of South Tyrol’s best wines.  Aiming to highlight and teach participants about the region’s best wines, the event will take place on six dates in 2017: 19 January, 26 January, 9 February, 16 February, 9 March & 16 March, including beautiful skiing sessions on the slopes of Alta Badia, combined with tastings of some of the most refined wines at some of Alta Badia’s most beautiful mountain huts.  A ‘Sommelier on the Slopes’ day costs just €25 per person, to include four tutored tastings."
    2. Gourmet hut tour — also in ALTA BADIA
      1. "Returning for its ninth year, ‘A Taste for Skiing’ is back for the 2016/17 season, with this year’s theme ‘Top of the Mountains’ seeing chefs invited from the best ski resorts worldwide.  Taking place in the beautiful mountain huts on the slopes of Alta Badia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the heart of the Italian Dolomites, each chef will work alongside one hut to create a recipe and their dish will feature on the menu for the whole winter season.  Starting on 11 December 2016 with the Gourmet SkiSafari, A Taste for Skiing will be on offer throughout the winter season." 
        1. GOURMET SKI SAFARI: Sunday 11 December 2016
          "A Taste for Skiing officially kicks off this season on Sunday 11 December with the Gourmet SkiSafari – a day packed with great food and wine, at 2,000m altitude, in the heart of the Dolomites.  Offering arguably the ski season’s best value gourmet day on the slopes, tickets cost just €40 per person and enable participants to ski from one hut to the next and taste the chefs’ creations for the first time, with the added bonus of several of the Michelin starred chefs being present to greet skiers in person and share the story behind their dish.  Tickets include up to four dishes, each served with a matching glass of wine, with participants free to choose which huts and dishes to visit." 
          "For those who prefer to keep things local, Alta Badia’s annual ‘Roda dles Saûs’ takes place in 2017 between March 12-19, a weeklong festival in the huts of the Sana Croce skiing carousel dedicated to the traditions of Ladin cuisine.  Famed for delicious dumplings, pastries and soups especially, during the festival visitors have the opportunity to taste Ladin dishes not usually featured on menus, choosing which to try at each hut." 

    Ski + kids

    1. Dog-sledding for kids
      1. Supervised and instructed by a professional musher in Champagny en Vanoise, 8-12 year olds can now become apprentice mushers, learning the basic techniques on a sled pulled by one or two dogs. See for more.

    New apres-ski and "other than ski" ideas


    1. Bungee ski jump

      1. near La Clusaz (since 2009) and in Tignes (since 2014)

    2. Adrenalin creator, driving simulator
      1. The new Driv’Inn in Val Thorens has Four high-performance Ellip6 driving simulators, including a motorcycle simulator. Simulator drivers can try out the Alain Prost Val Thorens ice-driving track + a  British motoring club” style bar. Private hire available on request for birthdays, seminars and hen and stag dos.
    3. Fatbikes

      1. With their very wide, under-inflated wheels to give great grip and control, Fatbikes are a big hit in La Plagne. This season sees the offering expanded with more bikes and longer opening hours ensuring there is a great choice of downhill or touring biking options after the slopes close.

    4. Zip-lines

      1. La Plagne: Twice as steep as the average zip line (16% gradient), the ‘Supertyro’ stretches from Plagne Aime 2000 to Plagne Centre and offers a clear view of Mont Blanc, zigzagging through trees and the whole valley on the descent. Duration: 30/40 seconds approx. Drop: 140 m. Speed: 80/90 km/hr. Length 600 m. 

      2. Val Thorens: A glide over 1300 m, 1 minute 45 seconds, from the 3 Valleys peak at 3230m, at the top of the Bouchet chairlift in the Orelle resort over to the Val Thorens crest at 3000m, faster than 100 km.

    Tech to share

    In today's connected world, our lives are increasingly like the news: it there isn't footage, it didn't happen. (Which is a shame in many ways, but let's leave that for now.)

    1. Share my slalom

      1. Serre Chevalier has a "Videozone" where you ski down a piste, it films you and you not only get to see it on the big screen — like a race skier — you can also share your video on social media.
    2. Drone footage to share
      1. In Verbier, you can be filmed by a drone
        1. The drone is a Hexo+, which I first came across in Las Vegas and reported on back in May 2015 
        2. "This gets shared on social media again and underlines the snowsports and fun image of Verbier." — Sara Roloff, comms manager, Tourism Switzerland
        3. But it's expensive: more than £150 for a half-day. Note: we think this is missing out on a great (viral + word of mouth) marketing opportunity, and that resorts would do well to lend these things for free to create marketing footage.
    3. Gamify skiing, compete with your friends, and everyone
      1. The Epic Mix app, which works in 10 North American resorts like Vail and Breckenridge, gives inside info on everything from snow conditions to lift line waiting — so will appeal to the app-using generation, who expect apps like Uber and Waze to waste as little time and avoid as many possible delays as possible. Epic Mix also makes it easy to track your skiing, and then compete with friends — who's gone fastest, covered most distance etc. Brilliantly gamifies skiing. The guys at Gamification in Tourism would be proud.

    If you work at a ski company, bear in the mind that the best place to look for ideas is NOT in the ski industry. Do that, and you could end up a copycat running a me-too brand. Better to look beyond your vertical market.