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Snow conditions? Facebook, Twitter monitor in real time

By Eric Wilbur
Globe Staff / November 15, 2009

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No snow in the city might lead some people to think there isn’t much of it in ski country, either. Tom Daly, Waterville Valley general manager, has always kidded with his marketing staff that he would like to see a virtual billboard in downtown Boston that would show live video of the conditions 130 miles north.

“It’s snowing here,’’ Deb Moore, marketing director, said Daly has told them. “I want people to know that.’’

Daly’s wish is moving closer to reality. Social media tools are giving skiers and riders a new set of pipelines for condition updates.

In the past the only way to get that information before arriving at a mountain was to call the resort’s snow phone. Today Twitter and Facebook let skiers communicate in real time with fellow enthusiasts without having to rely on the resorts’ spin.

“It adds another layer or two to an industry that has been derided for its snow reports,’’ said Steve Wright, Jay Peak’s vice president of marketing.

Social media’s instant access provides powerful tools to help skiers and riders plot their days - and change plans at a moment’s notice. Now, skiers can learn about fresh tracks, lift closures, or cafeteria lines simply by joining in on the chatter with their mobile devices.

The rapid emergence of Twitter, in particular, could have a dramatic impact on the ski resort industry. Jen Butson, public affairs director at Ski Vermont, noted that the trade group’s Twitter followers have increased more than 14 percent since June and that New England resorts are embracing its potential.

“We think that it’s going to be one of our most powerful tools for getting people the conditions on the mountain,’’ said Jeff Wise, Stowe’s director of marketing.

Twitter showed what kind of impact it could have last month, when on Oct. 14 Sunday River became the first resort in the Northeast to open. An announcement by the Bethel, Maine, resort posted on Twitter went viral within seconds. Quicker than ever, the resort got its message out, without the use of traditional advertising or e-mail.

“The response was huge,’’ said Darcy Liberty, Sunday River’s director of communications. “This is the year we will utilize it for pretty much every aspect.’’

While skiers will be able to download new mobile applications this season from Stowe and Ski Vermont, it may be the North Face’s version of Snow Report 2.0 - the outdoor apparel company’s iPhone conditions application - that emerges as a game-changer. The North Face integrated live Twitter feeds from resorts and users alike into the snow reports, giving people the opportunity to converse with others about the validity of an official conditions report. These conversations can foster a community of knowledge and recognition among skiers and riders.

“Skiing is such a subjective experience,’’ Wright said. “You’ll find the people that you trust and pay attention to them.’’

And the industry will use social media not only to sell their product, but also to create a closer relationship with consumers.

“It’s different in the sense that we don’t contain as much promotional information as we would on our website and e-mail communication,’’ Wise said, noting that Stowe’s new mobile application will include up-to-the-minute updates. “The social media communication is more along the lines of real-time information about what’s happening at the resort and less marketing speak. Our goal is to have a way that people rely on for accurate and relevant information about what is happening at the resort on a day-to-day basis.’’

Resorts use social media to announce lift ticket or lodging deals, post that day’s photos and videos, hold contests and giveaways, or simply engage in a discussion about a current event.

“You’re not casting a wider net, you’re casting a specific net, and that can be very effective,’’ said Tom Meyers, Wachusett’s director of marketing. “The beauty of social media is that the customer is showing an interest and a particular desire to get more information on a regular basis. Unlike traditional media, the social media has been a useful tool for us to get the message out to that core group.’’

Resorts know they need to understand their audience and what they want to read, see, and hear.

“It can be done wrong,’’ said Thomas Prindle, Wildcat’s director of marketing and sales. “You can’t fool anyone. They’ll quickly turn you off if your message is ‘sell, sell, sell.’ ’’

On that note, resorts have been hesitant to use social media as an advertising avenue. Wright, for one, is interested to see how that will change once marketing teams have endless ski-and-stay deals to promote. “It’s going to be interesting to see who bombs people,’’ he said.

Jay Peak could be one of them, but you won’t find such marketing ploys on its main Twitter feed, even though Wright understands there is an audience for that. The Vermont resort has created separate lines for deals, resort news, and snow reports.

While its main feed has focused on the changes and additions being made at the mountain base, a recent entry on @jay peak snow reads, “I don’t give a rip about ice arenas and new lodges - it’s still all about me.’’

It is, indeed, still all about the snow. But the way we learn about who has how much has changed dramatically.