Sunday, October 24, 2010

Jay Peak: a marketing guy's dream, or nightmare?

Can the old and new coexist at Jay Peak?
On my recent trip to the Jay Peak area, I had the good fortune to sit down and chat with Steve Wright, the self-proclaimed "marketing guy" at Jay Peak. Steve's official title is Vice President of Sales and Marketing but when you sit sit down to talk with him, he definitely seems more like the marketing guy than a resort VP. Dressed in Carhartts and an open-necked shirt, Steve greeted me warmly in the waiting area of the Jay Peak admin office, clearly quite up for our meeting. Oh, and by the way, if you want to find the most old-school decor at Jay, head over to the administration offices. Dark brown panelling, that funky 3-D stucco, a collection of Jay posters and one lonely, uncomfortable sofa in the waiting area. I felt as if I had been tele-ported back to 1974. Let me assure you, the money is being spent outside the offices. Thankfully, we quickly headed into his lair, a very cozy office, complete with a vintage pair of Line skis, decaying orange Lange boots and random stuff everywhere. An office after my own heart.

So how does SBR, a humble independent ski blogger, get to sit down with the VP for an hour's worth of random discussion about our favorite mountain? It wasn't that hard, really, I sent him an email and asked. As others have commented, Steve completely "gets" social media, which includes bloggers, forums, mainstream magazines, on-line magazines, FaceBook, Twitter, etc., etc., and he is happy to reach out and talk. So talk we did, with a wide-ranging discussion that included Gordon Lightfoot (his dad is an old pal of Gord's), the Grateful Dead, the passion of Jay Peak skiers and the great conundrum of marketing (and developing) this hill: how do you keep the authenticity of the place, respect and preserve the passion of the avid Jay skier/rider and still have a ski resort that is relevant and profitable in the 21st century? Good question.

The big issues came up and here is the synopsis: the new hotel is scheduled to open in Dec. 2011, the waterpark in March 2012. What's the biggest improvement for the regular skier? Probably what they won't see, a massive investment in snowmaking, focused primarily on beginner and connector runs. The great lift realignment? Walter the consultant has been hired, wind testing starts now, construction starts in June, 2011 - we will be sitting on the rearranged and new lifts next season. Parking? Well, that might might be a bit tricky this winter (read between the lines: get to Stateside early). The future of Stateside Lodge: stay tuned. New lift ticket technology: pass in your pocket, no problem! For the full scoop, click here. Somewhere in the conversation, Steve commented that in a career spent in the ski industry, including 10 years at Killington, he has never experienced anything like the commitment and passion of Jay Peak skiers and riders. At this point, I thought, yeah, he does get it. There is hope.

Be prepared to join the Snowbaru and park here!
I got to the resort a little early for our appointment, so spent some time wandering around the construction site formerly known as Tramside. Pickup trucks were everywhere, construction trailers all over the place, temporary fencing blocking all the usual pathways, massive trenches dug in the ground between the lodge and the Flyer, and not a lot of obvious parking. And skiing starts in month, or less, I thought. These guys are effed. You would think this scenario would be the marketing guy's nightmare but apparently, not for Steve. He and his team seem to have turned this into an opportunity, engaging people on-line to comment on the "look and feel" of the new waterpark; making it clear to me that the EB5 funding, so critical to this development, ensures that all workers come within a 90 minute drive (as in, they are locals); theming the new Jay Peak magazine (I got an advance copy) to feature core skier values, Northeast Kingdom lifestyle, local economic benefits, the passing of Hotel Jay and some frank challenges to the haters, complainers and skeptics out there.

I would sum up their attitude like this: we are doing our damnedest to keep this mountain alive - if you don't like it, go somewhere else. And that somewhere else won't be Jay Peak. Get it?


  1. Great post, SBR. I interact somewhat regularly with resort marketers and wish I met more like Steve Wright. I feel at times like the "sport of everyone" is slowly turning into the "sport for the rich" but when you hear about a marketing guy like Steve that just gets it, a little bit of hope is restored :) Great post and info, keep it up.

  2. Not only does SteveW get it, he's gotten it for a long time. I remember over five years ago on First Tracks! ... Steve would engage, take direct criticism head on, and maintain a respect at all times. Social media only works if you are holding a conversation. You can't treat it like paid advertising.

    Jay is going through a transition similar in someways to way my home mountain (Gore). Because Jay is private (vs public) it's happening a lot faster, of course. Change is always hard for the oldtimers (me!) to handle. I think Jay will be okay. They'll always have some of the best skiing in the East.

    Great post SBR.

  3. Hey, Gregg and Harvey: Thanks for the feedback and thanks for paying attention!

  4. Looking forward to the full interview.

    I've been a fan of Steve for a while, and always liked the way that he engages with people on the internet. As Harv mentions, he talks to you as a skier, not a "target audience" (even though that's who we are).

    For an example of how not to promote your ski area online, check out this marketing disaster out west.

  5. Do they really "get it"? Seems like the more they do things that have little/no positive impact on their loyal following, the more they keep telling people about how much they care about their loyal following. Water Park, Luxury hotel, conference center, snowmaking on beginner trails...doesn't get me psyched. Ohh and they raised the in-state season pass by a huge amount this year, surprise surprise. and I was told all the devleopment was necessary to keep rates from going up...