What’s the best way to get new­bies to take up ski­ing or rid­ing? Mis­sion Ridge, Wash., just might be onto some­thing with its Free­dom Pass.

Get­ting groms on snow is the fu­ture, so a ski area in cen­tral Wash­ing­ton asked it­self what’s the best way to max­i­mize the chance that new­bies will re­turn. Cham­pi­oned by ski school di­rec­tor Jodi Tag­gart, “we de­cided un­lim­ited begin­ner lessons would be a break­through,” says Mis­sion Ridge mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor Tony Hickok. “There’s no rush or pres­sure or sched­ule. You de­cide.”

Of­ten, it’s dif­fi­cult to see be­yond the good to the bet­ter. Or even to the great. Mis­sion Ridge, out­side of We­natchee, Wash­ing­ton, cranked out new skiers through its Learn 2 Ski in 3 pro­gram at a nice clip. For $99, you got gear, lift ac­cess to the begin­ner area, and three lessons. “It went through the roof,” says Tony Hickok, Mis­sion’s mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor. An ex­pected re­sponse could have been: Great work ev­ery­one. Let’s go ski­ing.

Not so much at Mis­sion. “We looked at the par­tic­i­pa­tion and saw that peo­ple were sign­ing up for it mul­ti­ple times,” Hickok says. “It just didn’t feel like the an­swer.” So it was back to the con­fer­ence-room white board.

The num­ber three is sa­cred in the in­struc­tion world. Re­search shows that it takes three lessons for a skier to get good enough to want to re­turn. Search­ing for a fresh an­gle, the Mis­sion gang kept com­ing back to the idea that the three in the Learn 2 Ski in 3 might be a box to break out of. The turn­ing point came two sea­sons ago when Josh Jor­gensen, Mis­sion’s 30-some­thing GM, agreed to a staff sug­ges­tion of mov­ing to un­lim­ited lessons. The Free­dom Pass was born.

Win­ner of last sea­son’s Na­tional Ski Ar­eas As­so­ci­a­tion’s Con­ver­sion Cup, the Free­dom Pass strate­gi­cally breaks down the bar­ri­ers to en­try into ski­ing, of­fer­ing gear, lift ac­cess, and un­lim­ited in­struc­tion for about $160. “It takes the pres­sure off,” says Hickok. “You learn at your own pace.”

There are lots ways to mea­sure ef­fec­tive­ness. Hickok has his own. “An in­di­ca­tor of the Free­dom’s suc­cess is that the pro­gram has been at ca­pac­ity for two years and we’ve done zero mar­ket­ing,” says Mis­sion’s mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor. “I like that.”

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