Podcast #8: Liftopia CEO Evan Reece
Who: Evan Reece, Cofounder and CEO of Liftopia
Why I interviewed him: There are some mistakes you only make once. Spending New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Deciding in the parking garage as you’re exiting your vehicle to go stand in Times Square for four hours that nah I don’t need that ski coat it feels just fine in this flannel and hoodie standing here in this shelter even though I know it’s zero degrees outside. Mixing Captain Morgan and Ice House. Drinking Ice House. Rolling up to a ski area without a lift ticket on a midwinter weekend and just being like yeah let me go pick those up real quick. I had a few years there in the early part of this decade where I wasn’t able to ski much, and that time period just happened to coincide with the Great American Lift Ticket Inflation Epoch. After a regrettable daytrip to the Poconos in which I unloaded an unconscionable sum of money in an exchange that could have been classified as robbery had it not been entirely voluntary, I sought out alternatives. This being a few years before the megapass era arrived in the Northeast, I stumbled upon Liftopia and have been using it ever since. I wanted to talk to the man in charge of the whole operation, mostly because I was curious how the site was evolving in an ski era that is increasingly pass-oriented.
What we talked about: Liftopia’s founding in 2005; would you show up at the airport to buy an airplane ticket? Then why are you rolling up to Vail on the day after Christmas to do the same?; how shockingly long it took in hindsight to convince ski areas to sell their tickets online and to vary pricing over time; how difficult it is to break into the industry when you don’t come up as a dude jamming REO Speedwagon while bumping lifts; Liftopia has grown every single year it’s been in business; how the young ‘uns are buying everything else on line so if they can’t buy lift tickets this way they’re like what?; how Europe was way behind in the online ticket game but got certain parts of it right when they finally caught on; how social media and smartphones have changed how people discover and buy things; how ski areas are killing it on social; the mountains that are still around have more or less perfected the physical plant of chairlifts, snowmaking, grooming, etc., but most of them will always be bad at tech and so they really need to contract that piece of it out unless you’re like Vail or something and have money to throw at things like that; hey you probably don’t realize that Liftopia’s running the software that your local bump is most likely using to sell you lift tickets online; why ski shop discount tickets are bad for ski areas; where Liftopia fits into our Epik/Ikonik world; you won’t believe the percentage of Liftopia customers that already have a season pass somewhere; skiing as an adventure; why every ski area no matter how small or off the grid is worth visiting; how Vail landing its fleet around Tahoe turned the whole region into more of a destination and drove up lift ticket prices even at areas it doesn’t own; why the window price is not what skiing costs; how the industry screwed up this whole lift ticket thing so badly; why feeder areas shouldn’t try to drive prices up like the big dogs did; how the broader economy’s concentration of wealth has driven prices so high; how Liftopia is trying to keep skiing accessible; why Evan is afraid that the sport is becoming less accessible; it’s too soon to say if the former Peak mountains (Mt. Snow, Hunter, Wildcat, Attitash, Crotched, and a bunch more) will still be on Liftopia next year, but if Vail wants to team up, Liftopia would make a swell partner; the wild weird world of skiing in China and why Liftopia isn’t going there anytime soon; how skiing in China might be like Top Golf and no I’d never heard of Top Golf before this podcast; Big Snow and terrain-based learning; why the Northeast is such a phenomenal ski market to live in; some of Evan’s favorite Northeast ski areas.
Questions I wish I’d asked: I had a line of questioning around displeased online customer reviews that I didn’t have time to get to, just to give the company a chance to respond because while nothing is perfect, it is also hard to gauge the veracity of one-sided raging anonymous online complaints; I also wanted to ask about the quirky fact that there are many ski areas with the same name, like there is more than one Magic Mountain and Shawnee and Black Mountain, and I wanted to know how much of an actual problem that was for Liftopia even though they’re all in different states because people just do dumb things.
Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview: We live in a headline culture, where anything eye-popping or shocking or offensive tap-dances to the top of social feeds and defines any given topic for the vast majority of users who never bother clicking through for additional context or information. So this headline from the Aspen Times the other day – “Holiday Lift Ticket Prices Will Hit $219 in Vail, $184 in Aspen” – is going to become immutable reality for legions of outraged back-in-my-day people who remember when you could ski Stowe for 75 cents or whatever. So this is as good a time as any to remind everyone that with just the very smallest amount of effort and foresight, you can get a pretty good ski season for that $219. Liftopia is by no means the only way to achieve this, but it is a very good one and reliable one that is constantly pushing evolution within its industry, in both obvious and less conspicuous ways, and I figured why not talk to them directly about what they’re doing and where they think the industry is heading.
Why you should use the site: Because there’s absolutely no reason not to. Not all ski areas are on Liftopia, but enough are that you can stitch together a pretty rad adventure exploring places you may never have thought of otherwise. It can be a great place to find an add-on day for a lesser-known area near a big destination, as Evan says (like maybe you want to tack on a Bolton Valley Day if you’re hitting Stowe or Sugarbush), or to snag a ticket for a place where you have a pass but someone skiing with you does not (I’ll be in the Poconos for MLK weekend, and while I have an Epic Pass, my daughter does not, so I picked her up a two-day lift ticket for Jack Frost Big Boulder on Liftopia at a huge discount). I’m a big fan of megapasses and ski clubs and just general bargain hunting, but whatever you do to get on the slopes without taking out a second mortgage, Liftopia ought to be part of your mix.
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Check out previous podcasts: Killington GM Mike Solimano | Plattekill owners Danielle and Laszlo Vajtay | New England Lost Ski Areas Project Founder Jeremy Davis | Magic Mountain President Geoff Hatheway | Lift Blog Founder Peter Landsman | Boyne Resorts CEO Stephen Kircher | Burke Mountain GM Kevin Mack |