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When we started Liftopia six years ago, our original idea was around providing a mechanism for ski resorts to post last minute deals in a centralized marketplace driven by things that keep people from heading up to the slopes – bad weather, crummy snow, high gas prices, etc. There were so many times when we would find ourselves bailing on ski trips up to Tahoe when we didn’t feel like it was “worth it”. If only the resorts could offer a deal where the price matched the conditions then we’d be up there so much more often! We were by no means the first people to come to this realization, but we knew that somewhere in this date-specific variable pricing concept was the kernel of an idea that could have a very real and very substantial impact on the ski industry.

It took us a bit of time to realize that we were slightly off the mark with our initial strategy. There’s definitely an opportunity for ski areas to react to conditions on the ground via last minute date-specific deals, but there’s nothing really transformative there. If anything it continues the cycle of people waiting until the last minute before purchasing a ticket and it doesn’t do anything to alleviate the challenges for resorts in forecasting visitation.

Then it hit us. What if instead of focusing on a reactive pricing tool you combine that with a proactive pricing plan across the entire season, one that is developed through detailed analysis of both historical and forecasted data? What if through this two-pronged plan of proactive and reactive pricing we could help push ski areas in the same direction as hotels and airlines and rental cars, where the vast majority of inventory is sold online and the name of the game is advance purchase? Now we were on to something!

The beauty of an advance-purchase, dynamic pricing model (when well implemented) is that it’s a win-win for both resorts and consumers. Ski areas can manage yield and skier visits on the fly, adjusting prices throughout the season to hit their revenue goals while also targeting incremental customers. And skiers and riders are able to consume more of a product they love, since by committing to a date-specific lift ticket in advance they save up to 80% off, sometimes even more.

This has created a virtuous cycle on Liftopia and there’s no better way for us to explain this dynamic in action than by looking at the data. In 2008 our first lift ticket of the season was sold on October 13th. In 2009 it was September 28th and 2010 it was September 12th. This year our first winter lift ticket was sold on July 25th, and what’s amazing is this was only 28 days after our last lift ticket sold for the previous season. Next year we hope to see this gap disappear altogether. That would be very cool.

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