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Skiers keep up with conditions through social media

When Holiday Valley's Pat Morgan snaps a photo of the latest conditions at the Ellicottville ski resort -- and posts it on Facebook -- he can pretty much count on what happens next.

"Every time we post that picture, we'll get 10,000 to 15,000 impressions," the youth marketing manager for Holiday Valley said in early January. "We had some 40,000 connections on our page alone just last week."

Indeed, ski resort marketing has come a long way since the days of weekly ski columns in newspapers or even daily condition reports on the radio. Social media has opened an entirely new marketing method to not only the young people elevating it to an integral part of modern communication, but skiers of all ages who now depend Facebook and Twitter to remain in touch with the sport.

"Traditionally, it was radio, print and television," said Jane Eshbaugh, Holiday Valley marketing manager. "But more than five years ago now, we began using alternative media, starting with a forum that you get through our website.

"Now it's MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, and not just for younger people but for all generations," she added. "It's been really effective."

At the largest ski resort in Western New York, Eshbaugh estimates that 60 percent of Holiday Valley's customers now use social media to keep abreast of everything from the latest ski conditions to lodging availability.

The experience is similar at Kissing Bridge in Colden, even if officials there are treading lightly into the brave new world of Facebook and Twitter.

"We have a young woman taking care of social media for us, and she has a following," said Peter Calleri, Kissing Bridge director of marketing. "She puts out tweets about the latest thing -- like a new jump box. We let people know this or that has just opened, and all the new features."

Calleri estimates the ski resort has almost 2,000 fans on Facebook in just its first year.

But he is also adopting a "go slow" approach. He said radio and newspaper advertising still works and works well. He likes to think of social media as one tool of many used every day by Kissing Bridge.

"This has now come upon us, but I wonder how long it will last," he said. "It has to prove itself over a day-to-day basis. Right now, it's tough to judge what piece in your arsenal is bringing in the clients.

"We don't yet want to put all our eggs in one basket," he added, "not until it's proven itself over a long time."

At Holiday Valley, however, marketing officials are sold. Eshbaugh credits, Morgan, 29, with implementing the new technology to Holiday Valley's benefit.

Morgan says his efforts are concentrated on Facebook and Twitter and instant updates posted several times a day. He constantly monitors comments and feedback to stay in touch with customers.

"Some quirky comment is all it takes to get people calling," he said.

And it's no desk job for Morgan. He constantly roams the resort to seek out the latest photos or information for his instant communications, posted via his BlackBerry.

While he can post all kinds of electronic information through the ski area's website and social media outlets, he finds pictures are worth not only a thousand words, but a thousand responses from wired-in skiers.

"A photo will get a lot more impressions than a quote," he said.

His efforts also go beyond the slopes. If Holiday Valley's new Tamarack Club of upscale condos suddenly has a cancellation, social media communications (sometimes with a sweetener like lift tickets) can often instantly fill the void.

Morgan said he began to realize the power of social media as a marketing tool just a few years ago when he challenged a colleague at a New Jersey resort to be first to reach 2,000 fans on Facebook. "Within no time, both sites were at 5,000," he said.

Many Web surfers are beginning to use Facebook as a true news sources, he said, and news of the ski resort industry is no exception. "One you know the precise dynamics of social media," he said, "it really is something."