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What news media companies can learn about transformation from ski resorts

By Kathleen Coleman

S-R Media

Spokane, Washington, USA


Those who love to improve their minds don’t necessarily need marketing enticements and product improvements to continue reading a newspaper.

Those who love to click into skis and boards don’t necessarily need marketing and mountain or service improvements to continue pursuing their sports.

Ahhh, but human beings are human beings, after all, and everyone needs a nudge or reminder now and again to get re-energised about something we’ve always loved, no?

Take skiing areas. Back in the day, one had to tromp, sweaty and troll-like, from lower parking lots to the main lodge in ski boots, toting skis and boards. Think of Oompa Loompas (without the orange skin) trudging in a staggered line, posture hunched from lugging skis and poles on their shoulders.

Ski areas have upped the ante with better customer service and appeal beyond the mountain.
Ski areas have upped the ante with better customer service and appeal beyond the mountain.

Resorts got wise to this and dolled up skier-toting commuter vans with their logos, bright paint, and comfortable seats — the better to increase skier time on the hill or in the lodge buying food and drink.

Speaking of food and drink, many lodges used to allow visitors to arrive with sack lunches and coolers, offering them seating in all parts of the lodge. Now visitors can still bring their own grub, but they are sequestered in less prime areas of the lodge.

Prime areas are saved for those who now order off of menus that used to be limited to things like hot dogs and chips, hot chocolate, and stale red licorice rope. Now you can order breakfast all day, pizza, burgers, hot dogs, cheese fries, baked spuds, craft beer on tap, or Kokanee beer from its own glacier on tap.

There are third-party activities like sleigh rides, moonlit dinners on the mountain, and dog sledding. There are Kleenex dispensers on the hill in handy places along with plentiful trail maps and friendly mountain hosts. There are beginner and advanced terrain parks, and there are places to dump (sorry, leave) your kids so they can bond with other little snow-sliders.

Other service-minded entrepreneurs came up with the “ski butlers” concept, where at Park City, Utah, region resorts, skiers, and snowboarders are treated to concierge service. The ski butlers will fit skiers in their rooms, deliver their equipment, and pick up the gear when the trip is over. 

And the end of the ski season used to basically mean switching to your rock skis and wind-shells, and maybe bringing along a small hibachi in your rig to celebrate the last day of the year with some low-key parking lot tailgating.

Ski areas now know they have to step up their game with “wife carrying” and mannequin-flinging contests, pond jumps, and decorated refrigerator-box races to celebrate the last day on the ski hill. 

What can news media companies gather from all of this? OK, so maybe not reporter-flinging contests. And I highly doubt someone from the newspaper would come to my house and read copy to me every morning.

But we can’t rely on love and habit alone to carry us along.

In addition to well-sourced stories written by professional reporters and edited by smart and cautious editors, we must find ways to surprise and delight readers to keep them coming back — and keep them feeling good about their decision.

Let’s surprise customers by periodically taking a look at our typeface for readability. Let’s make sure our design is intuitive and that our headlines don’t overly date our profession (as a favourite Stephen Colbert segment on professions losing new graduates noted, “print journalism, along with alchemy and boot-blacking”).

Let’s keep our classic comics, but let’s look for new ones to appeal to different audiences and at new features to follow trends. (I was stoked to learn that our features editor recently bought a bi-weekly colouring page for adults, and she laughed when I told her I’d seen one on Facebook that had colouring pages with groovy, script-y curse words that shall remain unspecified here.)

Let’s allow our Web sites (at least our entertainment Web sites) to accept non-traditional advertisements that are native and cool, such as the full-screen takeover I saw for the “True Blood” season premiere on a Los Angeles Web site, featuring blood dripping down the screen.

Let’s not make our readers figuratively carry their own skis, for heaven’s sake, slogging through 50 inches of copy that should have been a photo and a long cutline. If readers want to meet and greet your editorial page editor, let them. If customers want to be treated with kid gloves, then why not do it?

It could be all downhill, in a good way, if we make some customer-friendly changes and additions.

About Kathleen Coleman

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