elling mountain and ski vacations can
be complicated, requiring broad knowledge of a varied product.
That means knowing which resorts are good for families, which
are best for singles, which welcome snowboarders (as well as the
few that don't) and so on.
It's a product that also can vary by season; there's a different
dynamic for mountain vacations in the summer and fall than for
winter and spring ski getaways.
Mountain vacations have multiple components. This means the cost
can add up quickly once you figure in air, hotel, airport transfers
or car rentals, lift tickets, lessons and, increasingly, spa
treatments and alternative activities such as snowmobiling and snow
In the summer and fall, those other components can be mountain
biking, hiking and fly-fishing lessons, among others.
That's what makes mountain vacation packages a compelling
product for agents to sell. It bundles multiple components,
generally in an easy, mix-and-match way.
That means agents can customize a package to fit their client's
tastes and budget. It also means agents can provide clients with
the cost breaks that accompany the bulk purchasing vacation
It all adds up to profits for agencies while, at the same time,
enabling them to show clients the value of their services. They can
gain expertise on the ski product from packagers, earn commission
on multiple components and make the sale efficiently.
What you get
Most packages contain the basics: air, hotel, lift ticket and
airport transfer or car rental. Packages also can include lessons,
equipment rental and spa treatments.
Plans sold by airline tour operations, such as those sold by
American Airlines Vacations and United Vacations, obviously feature
special fares offered only by those carriers.
But other wholesalers, such as Apple Vacations, Aspen Ski Tours,
Gogo Worldwide Vacations and Mountain Vacations, have bulk
contracts with several major carriers, giving them broad geographic
However, keep in mind that a ski package does not necessarily
entail an air component.
Gogo has a large Northeast ski product line, which includes
Killington, Stowe, Sugarbush and Smugglers Notch, Vt.; Lake Placid,
N.Y.; and eastern Canadian resorts such as Tremblant in Quebec.
The Northeast is more of a weekend market and, therefore, more
of a drive market than western resorts, said Donna Mulligan,
director of marketing for Gogo.
Vacation packagers also have contracts with a variety of lodging
types, from a basic hotel room for the single skier who simply
plans to ski as much as possible and spend little time in the room
to four-bedroom condominiums for families who want to economize by
cooking meals and enjoy quality time in front of the fireplace.
Most resorts offer a variety of services that cater to several
types of clients. Resorts such as Steamboat Springs, Keystone and
Winter Park, Colo., are examples of family-friendly resorts that
also have spas.
Crested Butte and Copper Mountain in Colorado and Lake Tahoe are
areas that appeal to what Jim Muller, destination product manager
of Mountain Vacations, described as the "sleep and ski" type --
skiers who intend to ski or snowboard all day, eat out and party at
These clients want nothing more than a hotel room in which to
crash, he said.
Regardless of their target market, all of these resorts are
sophisticated marketers that offer services beyond the slopes --
spas, terrain parks for snowboarders (with a few exceptions) and
Prices vary as well, to accommodate not only different budgets
but tastes as well.
A family might prefer a condo because the kitchen enables them
to economize on meals. Young singles are better off with a low-cost
hotel room. Value is so important to this market that Mountain
Vacations actually has a sleep-and-ski category.
Skiing today is so complex that there's more to merely buying a
lift ticket. There are multiday ski passes, multi-ski area passes
and multi-activity passes.
And, these days, with high-speed lifts giving skiers more
down-mountain time than ever, vacationers tire out and, therefore,
are interested in lift tickets such as Durango, Colo.'s Total
Skiers who buy a four-day ticket can trade in a day of skiing
for alternate activities. These include a massage and a soak at hot
springs, a ride on the Durango Silverton railroad, a book of tubing
hill vouchers (tubing is a popular ski alternative), a day of
Nordic skiing, a sleigh ride and dinner.
American Airlines Vacations is an example of how ski programs
have evolved over the years.
Its mountain program was originally called Ski the West. The
company then added eastern ski resorts. Then it discovered there
was more to mountain vacations than skiing and changed the
program's name to Snow and Ski.
This year, it is expanding what had been a somewhat limited,
year-round mountain vacation program -- adding Jackson Hole, Wyo.;
Keystone; Vail; and Durango -- and said it plans to add even more
Apple Vacations, which sells exclusively through travel
agencies, introduced its ski program about five years ago.
It is now the packager's fastest-growing product; its ski sales
grew 150% last year, according to Neal Steinken, manager of product
It sells all major North American ski areas, 18 in all,
including resorts in Colorado, Utah and Canada. Apple will
introduce a summer program next year.
Aspen Ski Tours, doing business as Ski.com, opened its doors in
1972 and sells 25 different resorts in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New
Mexico, California and Canada.
Its packages are bookable over the phone; agencies can use its
Web site for information on packages and last-minute, distressed
The company sells both winter and summer programs; the Aspen
Music Festival (June 19 to Aug. 17) makes up a large part of its
Gogo offers a summer mountain program, which is included in its
Company officials said the destinations that are popular in the
summer include Aspen, Breckenridge, Telluride and Vail, Colo.;
Jackson Hole; Park City, Utah; Killington; and Lake Placid, Lake
George and Bolton Landing, N.Y.
Many of these eastern summer mountain plans include features
such as an Olympic tour in Lake Placid and a lake cruise in Lake
MLT Vacations offers an extensive ski program, in conjunction
with Northwest Airlines WorldVacations, that features resorts
including Big Sky, Mont.; Lake Tahoe; and the Banff/Lake
Louise/Jasper region of Alberta in Canada.
Mountain Vacations sells a broad lineup of resorts for summer
and winter. It has a comprehensive geographic spread because it has
contracts with five major airlines for its air component.
The firm's product illustrates how selling ski packages enables
agencies to give clients money-saving value-adds.
For example, Mountain sells plans that include tubing or ski
lessons and lists the value of those extras -- $10 for tubing, $62
for a lesson -- that agents can show their clients. Its brochure
also stresses nonski activities, such as shopping and snowmobiling
in winter and fly fishing in summer.
United Vacations' ski program includes more than 26 North
American resorts in Colorado, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, California,
Nevada and Canada.
New this year are two destinations: Taos, N.M., and Mammoth,
Calif. Its summer program includes Aspen, Breckenridge, Copper
Mountain, Durango, Keystone, Steamboat and Vail, Jackson Hole, Salt
Lake City and Park City, Banff/Lake Louise; Whistler/Blackcomb and
Mountain operators step up with agent
By Kate Rice
ost mountain and ski vacation
packagers offer travel agencies a variety of support types,
including co-op advertising, fliers, brochures, in-agency training
and product-education seminars.
Several tour operators participate in the Ski Experts fall trade
show and agent-training program run by Michael J. Pierson
Associates in Irvine, Calif., including American Airlines
Vacations, Mountain Vacations and United Vacations.
The following is a sampling of some operators and their
• American Airlines Vacations conducts seminars on its own
The operator sends out weekly e-mails to travel agencies, which
can re-send the e-mails to clients or post them on their own Web
Like many vacation packagers, American Airlines Vacations
considers its snow and ski brochure a useful tool.
It has revamped the brochure a bit, emphasizing information such
as the number of lifts and trails at a resort along with a
destination's top selling point.
• Apple Vacations has a dedicated ski desk to counsel
Last year, it began individual training with travel agencies and
said it found that to be successful.
Apple also has a briefing document about skiing that enables
agents to find selling points about particular resorts as well as
the basic nuts and bolts of the company's ski program.
The firm helps out with marketing as well, with fliers, its
brochure and, this year, e-mails.
• Gogo Worldwide Vacations brings 500 to 700 agents to its
annual learning conference. The event includes sessions dedicated
to skiing that also cover the summer mountain vacation product.
The operator's agent-only Web site has fliers agents can e-mail
to their clients.
Gogo's sales reps went through a training program this summer in
Colorado to help them educate agents about the packager's ski
Some of Gogo's reservations agents also are participating in the
program. Agencies also can conduct in-house training with Gogo, an
approach the company said it has found highly effective.
• Mountain Vacations conducts its own training seminars as well
as participating in the Ski Experts shows.
These seminars will be held in Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta,
Dallas and Houston throughout the fall.
The company also operates about five fam trips each year, filled
on a first-come, first-served basis, aimed at agency managers and
• United Vacations distributes a detailed guide to agents with
resort information as well as information about booking its
packages through various distribution systems.
Market home to wide range of clients
im Muller, destination product
manager of Mountain Vacations, has a broad definition of the
ski-market demographic -- clients are between the ages of 28 and 55
and have annual incomes of about $100,000.
That's one way to look at the mountain vacation customer, but
there are others.
Travelers who vacation in the mountains, be it summer or winter,
are outdoor enthusiasts, according to Allison Kirchen, senior
product manager of United Vacations. These vacationers are
attractive because they are repeat clients.
"We do have a lot of families that take a week in Vail [Colo.]
every year," she said. "There is that core group that wants the
traditional week in the mountains experience."
A new and rapidly growing market for mountain vacations is the
This market's growth is so rapid it's almost "out of control,"
Some ski resorts have $20 million spas with waterfalls greeting
clients as they walk in the door, the latest in aromatherapy,
exotic mud wraps and so on.
Skiing and spas are a natural fit, said Donna Mulligan, director
of marketing for Gogo Worldwide Vacations.
"When you ski, you're using muscles you don't use any other time
of the year," she said.
Gogo introduced a spa-and-ski program last year. The benefit for
the agent: Spa treatments are part of the package price and fully
commissionable. -- K.R.