Thursday, December 1, 2016

Ski Hill Happenings

Colorado Capers!

8 inches of new snow on Nov 29 at Copper Mountain - Photo by Tripp Fay, courtesy of Colorado Ski Country
Utah is Open! 
Park City Opening Day - by Eric Hoffman (Courtesy of Park City Mountain) - Since then they have had 30 inches more snow!!
Brighton Resort, Utah after Nov 29 mega storm

Launching last Friday with Brian Head Resort and Brighton Resort, Snowbird and Park City Mountain followed suit on Saturday.  “The beauty of working with Mother Nature, is that no two winters are ever the same,” says Nathan Rafferty, President/CEO of Ski Utah. “Some years we open early and some are a little delayed, but Utah’s snow never fails and the season is long.” 

Snowbird Opening Day
Getting ready to open at Brian Head
Full Opening Schedule:
Alta Ski AreaFri Dec 2
Deer Valley ResortSat Dec 3
Eagle PointSat Dec 17
Nordic ValleySat Dec 10
Park City: Open
Powder Mountain Resort: Dec 2 (night skiing Dec 1)
Snowbasin Resort: Fri Dec 2
Solitude ResortFri Dec 2
Sundance ResortFri Dec 9

If, like me, you're going to ski Utah this season, you might want to download the new, improved Utah’s Official Snow Report app, for up-to-date details on openings, storms, 'Monster Dump' alerts and events. 

Japanese Joy
Here's another photo article on skiing Japan in case you're thinking of going there this season: 

Lake Louise Ladies

Lake Louise by Dan Evans (Courtesy of Lake Louise Ski Resort)
Action from last year's Winterstart World Cup at Lake Louise -
Photo by Chris Moseley (Courtesy of Lake Louise Ski Resort)
With the Ladies' Downhill at Lake Louise tomorrow and Saturday and the Super G following on Sunday, it seems an appropriate time to write about those other Lake Louise ladies who run the show!   

What could be more enviable than growing up at Lake Louise and being heirs to one of the world’s top ski resorts? Imagine being Princesses of the Pistes with a powder playground as your back yard. This is the legacy for the Lake Louise ladies, the second generation of Lockes – Robin and Kimberley – who are being groomed to take over the family business when parents Charlie and Louise relinquish the reins.

“Kim and I are ‘officially’ co-Vice Presidents of the company,” says Robin Locke. “Our business cards say ‘Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Affairs’. This being said, our titles, we feel, are a bit arbitrary and really, are for very official capacities, only, such as for our bankers, for example. We are more ‘Jills of all trades’ - at least we aspire to be.”

Backside of Lake Louise by Dan Evans
(Courtesy of 
Lake Louise Ski Resort)
Of course it’s not just the ultimate ski bum dream. With any ski resort comes huge responsibility, a full year-round work schedule and the need for a forward-thinking blueprint, constantly evolving with new inspirations in order to keep abreast and ahead of the competition and in sync with the clientele. “We are leveraging our extensive and complementary experiences outside the ski industry and we are working, we feel, very well together as partners with an eye to learning everything that Charlie does – both for Lake Louise Ski Resort (LLSR) and his other companies,” Locke explains. Dad’s business interests range from ranching to oil to property and finance.

Since Robin Locke started working full time for LLSR in 2010, she and Kimberley have been immersed in the business both from “the top down and from the bottom up”. Tasks range from annual business planning, and capital expenditure-related decision-making, to front-of-house experience learning about every department. They get involved in lodging, dining, bathroom renos, creating design concepts and hiring contractors. And, at the busy Christmas Holiday season, the family puts up the dazzling decorations and helps with selling tickets, flipping burgers and greeting customers in order to facilitate seamless flow for peak period crowds.

As well as learning the routine ropes, the Locke ladies have to keep an eye on constantly morphing trends in the winter sports industry. One of the subjects under scrutiny is the average age of skiers. “The global ski industry, and the Canadian one in particular, is a mature one, and thus we have all been keenly interested - especially recently - in skier demographics,” Robin Locke says. “Challenges relate to an aging skier population - and an increasingly dynamic, evolving and competitive landscape - but the industry is responding. For example, LLSR has a super senior pass for $20, and we sell many more of these than you’d think.” Lake Louise also promotes nostalgia with its interpretive heritage photos around lodges, retro events, a growing seniors club, and Throwback Thursdays, a retrospective of photos and videos posted on social media.

The Lockes at Lake Louise Torchlight Descent Party
In order to mitigate the aging skier trend, she says, operators are diversifying, offering myriad activities rather than depending on just ski tickets to ensure a sustainable year round business model. “Investments are directed toward making ski areas more attractive to skiers/snowboarders, certainly, as well as making our areas attractive to non-skier counterparts. To be sure, the vacationing family is demanding a fuller menu of possible activities. LLSR is participating and reacting to the extent possible given the regulatory constraints of being in a Canadian National Park.”

Industry-wide, however, there is a drive to create new skiers, says Locke: “One market we will be focusing on going forward is ‘new Canadians’, who are ‘lower hanging fruit’. Emerging markets are excellent opportunities to tap into as well, and we are working on attracting these with our regional, provincial and federal partners. Finally, we pride ourselves on being a family-friendly resort; we have amazing programs, services and ambiences for kids, and we see our efforts to this regard working – we do seem to have a very young market, in the last year or two especially, whom we hope will become lifetime LLSR loyalists.”

Whitehorn Lodge by Chris Moseley
A more sophisticated indoor product is also in demand nowadays, with guests wanting higher quality day lodges, finer and healthier culinary experiences, modern washrooms, etc. “In the last two years, for example, we have refreshed the two day lodges at the resort which were the most outdated – Whitehorn Lodge and Whiskey Jack Lodge,” Locke says. “We have similar investment projects scheduled every year for the next five, and beyond that – during what we call the jumping off period to our ‘Long Range Plans’ – we aspire to significantly alter the experience at Lake Louise in keeping with evolving trends and guest expectations.”

Automated ticket office at Lake Louise - photo by Louise Hudson
With skiers requiring a quick, easy and convenient experience from home to hill, eliminating hassles is also a priority for Lake Louise which works closely with the village community as well as the Bow Valley area and the province to coordinate travel, transport and lodging. Another plus for Lake Louise is its commodious topography which means no annoying flats or uphill slogs for skiers and snowboarders. “The entire design of the ski area is predicated on principles of convenience, speed and ease of access,” Locke explains. “The base area is ultra-convenient and user-friendly, with all facilities readily apparent and accessible in one central location. Access from local hotels is extremely quick and easy, with ‘lobby-to-lift’ times typically averaging about 10 minutes. ‘Parking-lot-to-peak’ time is also unrivalled – with no access lifts to contend with, and with main lifts’ lower terminals just steps from the lodges, another frustrating bottleneck more common to other areas is eliminated.”

Cell Phone charging at Lake Louise
- photo by Louise Hudson
Lake Louise is also up to date with technology, boasting direct-to-lift cards, debit-loadable passes, efficient IT systems for purchasing and rentals, as well as Wi-Fi, recharging stations for phones, and computer terminals – all vital in the era of social media. In fact, since the advent of social media, customers have become important marketers, says Locke. The resort is focusing on improving guest experience in order to encourage positive word of mouth: “When an unhappy customer can broadcast his or her negative experience to hundreds or thousands in a second - or vice versa they will boast the quality of our products and their happy experience, here, in real time to their networks with similar urgency - what we offer, and our service, becomes that much more important than ever before.”

Lake Louise by Dan Evans (Courtesy of Lake Louise Ski Resort)

The Lockes deem marketing and social media the most dynamic challenges for the ski industry: “The jobs of our marketers are that much more difficult, too, in this dynamic, digital world where customer purchasing habits and expectations are constantly changing and more demanding – for example, direct online booking is more pervasive, therefore SEO, content marketing and social media are more integral,” says Robin Locke. This makes marketing and sales more challenging, with real time response the fundamental key to success.

There are many more mediums to juggle, too. While grassroots and guerilla marketing-type endeavors still resonate, traditional PR and media relations remain important, says Locke. “It’s not yet appropriate to totally abandon traditional advertising, and the constantly evolving online and analytical world is of course now paramount as is social media, which itself is constantly changing and one of the best places to reach and hear from (i.e. engage with) current and potential customers.” Lake Louise was an early adopter of social media and in the 2014/15 season one of the first resorts on Snapchat. They employed a dedicated social media guru to keep with the latest trends online and useful platforms. They are also exploring sophisticated methods of tracking progress and benchmarking online platforms where skiers and snowboarders are interacting and making purchase decisions.

Lake Louise by Dan Evans (Courtesy of Lake Louise Ski Resort)
Learning something new is an increasingly important part of vacations nowadays. As part of a commitment to education and enrichment, Lake Louise creates educational programs and installations in order to deliver key conservation and heritage tourism messages to visitors to Banff National Park. LLSR also invests in and supports Go International, an international exchange program focusing on culture, nature and conservation. There are Avalanche Awareness, Outdoor Education and Backcountry Skiing courses. In winter, they offer Ski Friends Winter Heritage tours (free of charge) and snowshoe tours which combine activity with tidbits on the area, animals, geography and history. And in summer there are interpretive hikes and a Junior Ranger Program as well as an Interpretive Centre. 

In terms of ethical consumption and sustainability, Lake Louise is in a unique position with more stringent practices required than at most ski resorts. “Operating within Banff National Park UNESCO World Heritage Site is a special privilege that demands the highest-levels of environmental accountability,” says Robin Locke. “The Lake Louise Ski Area was the first ski area in the Canadian Rockies to introduce an Environmental Management Department, which oversees ‘green’ operations and projects, including cutting-edge water conservation, waste management and energy-saving endeavors, delivery of interpretive programs and the supporting of staff in graduate level research.” Other initiatives include green groomers, eco-upgrades to snowmaking, water and energy conservation in lodges, efficient lighting and heating, recycling, community clean-ups and an established Corporate Social Responsibility Program. Future plans include improving public transit, lower-emission chairlifts, more eco-efficient snowmaking and resort-wide energy consumption.”

Locke Family at Skoki Lodge
Health-consciousness is another important thread to the resort’s forward planning: “Going forward we are certainly cognizant of the fact that our demographic is more and more health conscious, and in recognition of same and to appeal to that, we have been working with our partners on related ideas such as the upcoming ski and yoga retreat and we have also been discussing various other ideas such as yoga/health and wellness retreats at Skoki Lodge,” Locke explains. Already the resort promotes health among personnel with its staff gym, offers discount days to encourage locals into sport, donating proceeds to athletic scholarships, supports the village ice hockey rink, and is continually upgrading mountain food service to include healthy, vegan and gluten-free offerings.

LLSR has put diversification front and foremost with its new desk in the main daylodge as well as a large outlet in the village mall. Entitled Experience Lake Louise’ the service provides booking and information for activities such as snowmobile tours, heli hiking tours, heli snowshoeing, heli skiing, cat skiing, dog sledding, tubing, guided snowshoe tours and sleigh rides, complete with customization options.
Paradise bumps at Lake Louise

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