What if ski resorts marketed their mountains like ski production companies market the ski culture, athletes, and brands that they represent in their films?
What I am getting at is that although ski resorts have executed high quality commercials over recent years, they have not been able to cause the viewer to forget they were being pitched to. Granted that television commercials and web videos are not anywhere close to the center of marketing strategy for any resorts, I still believe that film can take a more influential role than it does now.
Ski film became popular in parallel to the emergence of “extreme” skiing probably most notably in the early 1980′s. On the whole films were compiled of endless tricks and stunts. No story line. There was music, ski jumps, and powder lines continuing in what seemed to be an endless loop of adrenaline-infused video. In retrospect, any film from this point up until the turn of the century was lovingly referred to as ski porn. Appropriately named – all action, no plot.
I have not uncovered what film was the first to break away from this trend, but certainly I have found some in recent years that have done an exceptional job at being about more than just shots of big air and stylish spins. Certainly the ski film conversation cannot go far without mentioning Warren Miller’s contribution to encouraging skiing in America and undoubtedly the influence his films have had on any skier, but my first ski movie I purchased was something not necessarily deemed a classic.
The movie was Contrast by Nimbus Independent. Filmed on the basis of taking a different approach to both documenting and editing, the Contrast is moved forward by the story of a small group of progressive and innovative skiers. To set the stage, the film begins with a silent shot looking forward at the empty chairlift ahead in a snowy scene – a peaceful moment that any ski enthusiast has enjoyed. The film then shifts to intertwining interviews with each skier reminiscing how they began their journey in the sport while we see glimpses of home videos. Their dialog continuous through video of the friends planning a ski trip together and the travel it takes to get there, where then the professional-caliber ski video begins. Throughout these skiers talk about how skiing is an art, it is an expression for them. They share how valuable the adventure in getting to their snowy destinations is as the film goes between the actual skiing and shots from the car ride of the open road. Contrast even came in two disks, one was the motion picture and the other was a DVD of webisodes called “en route.” This film deeply made an impression on me and how I view the sport and culture I love. As the name alludes, it contrasts conventional thought and gets you to think about what is truly important and what you should actually be spending your money on.
Films such as Contrast are about the fun of the sport and showing it in all of its different lights – skiing has never been only about the snow. The marketing needs to reflect that and stay close to that intimate experience between yourself and the mountain and the experience between friends. I think in a way the ski industry has done a good job over the years, but for me who really hits the fun of the sport on the head is the freeskiing film crews. Now you may mention that none of these videos are trying to showcase a family-fun area or other aspects that are generally showcased at a resort, but it could. If I heard that there was a video compilation on the internet showcasing a mountain I would be much more interested than seeing the (well done, but just not the same) commercials on tv. I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of one of those commercials for a mountain (naturally I won’t be sharing that link), and although they are done amazingly well, I think if a mountain was able to take the time to film all year the pure reactionary video from guests would sell more if done right.
Now the monetary cost and use of resources to get a season’s worth of film completed, organized, and edited for a ski mountain would at first seem far too monumental for its worth, but what if you put the skiers themselves in the position to do most of that for you? Let’s take a look at the probably unfamiliar name Andrew Whiteford and his contribution to ski film. Whiteford is credited with some of the year’s top Point of View (POV) videos which have circulated through Vimeo. Keeping mind he is a sponsored skier, you still watch his videos with amazement and enjoyment from anticipation of doing something similar yourself. POV photography has been growing for several years now because it gives such a unique, personal viewpoint. What if that viewpoint was delicately edited together to show what the actual, intimate experience is at any given ski resort? You could even take a competitive approach: check out the Jon Olsson Super Sessions (JOSS), a competition between 7 nation-based teams made up of 2 filmers, 2 pros, and 1 rookie who have 264 hours to put together a 5 minute edit that is judged on the aspects of the skiing and the film. My favorite video to come out of this format is the 2009 Team America video with Simon Dumont starting off talking about “that special moment when the light is perfect and the camera is in focus…” or on an unofficial level, the 2010 Team Canada celebratory parody of an old WWII film. For one last approach to the film idea we can look at the G.N.A.R. Competition and the movie that resulted from it put together by Unofficialsquaw. Yes the game may be slightly immature, but as the Skiing Magazine article points out, “it reminds us to stop taking everything so seriously” like Shane McConkey (the founder of the game) would have wanted it.
In essence, I would like to see film be used to appreciate the little things about the sport and culture of skiing. I also think that it would be of great advantage to many mountains to try and capture the small things about their resorts that keep bringing skiers back to market to their future skiers. In a small part, sidecountry (one of the growing elements of ski resorts) was embraced by resorts due to the popularity the videos gained with their skiers wanting to explore beyond the groomed trails (for example, Sugarloaf’s Bracket Basin). So I think that is enough proof to give the idea some consideration and certainly enough examples to continue enjoying the media behind a pastime I certainly love.