Much like travel websites that match customers with deeply discounted airline tickets and hotel rooms, the idea of dynamic Internet pricing for lift tickets is moving forward at Liftopia (liftopia.com).
Entering its second year of operation, the company's concept is simple: Resorts are willing to drop prices to lure customers during non-peak times, and plenty of people are willing to lock into pay-in-advance deals if it means significant savings on a day of skiing or boarding.
Although based in San Francisco, Liftopia has New England roots. One of its founders, Evan Reece, grew up in Topsfield. He learned to ski in the afterschool program at nearby Bradford, and was a member of the Masconomet Regional High School ski team. After graduating from Colby College, he ended up working for California-based Hotwire, one of the first online travel discount websites.
The concept for the business was born when he and a colleague wanted to make a trip to Tahoe and were "joking about finding discounted lift tickets online."
Reece, 29, and associate Ron Schneidermann soon realized their brain spark was no laughing matter. With the financial help of family and friends, Liftopia began operation last year with seven resorts willing to take a chance on their "merchant model" business plan. Like with any new technology, Reece said mountain operators "responded to the idea conceptually, but getting people to actually jump on board was somewhat of a risk."
Reece said he had to prove to resorts that Liftopia would generate business. He also had to offer lucrative enough discounts so customers would feel they were getting a bargain.
Now, after a year of experience and a website redesign, Liftopia expects to offer special pricing from 50 mountains nationwide. Customers can narrow their choices by requesting prices for regions, resorts, or dates. The quotes will fluctuate depending on a number of variables, but the key factor is that Liftopia partner mountains have the flexibility to adjust pricing as they please.
For example, a mountain might be willing to slash lift tickets by 40 percent for a slow weekday in January if you're willing to lock in that discount rate right now. But the best deals are not always advance purchases: Let's say you want to ski this weekend, but both you and the resort operators know that snow cover is sparse. That same mountain might be willing to reduce prices on a moment's notice depending upon Mother Nature, posting immediate reductions just to boost volume on a day when business would otherwise suffer.
The only drawback is that in exchange for significant discounts, consumers must give up their right to back out of the deal. All lift ticket purchases on Liftopia are final and cannot be canceled, exchanged, refunded, or transferred.
Liftopia's local offerings are currently limited to a handful of resorts in New Hampshire and Vermont. But, Reece said, "I actually believe New England is the best region we're going to have."
He reasons that the Northeast is ripe for success because of its large urban population base within a reasonable drive of many resorts. Plus, he added, "New England skiers tend to be a lot less snobby with regard to weather and snow conditions," meaning they are more conducive to day-tripping if the price is right.
When asked if he thought that another inherent New England trait - being cheap - would help Liftopia, Reece laughed and said, "I've been trying to find a tactful way to phrase that. I guess you could say that New Englanders recognize value. We don't like to waste money."