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U.S. Forest Service Lifts Advertising Ban; Vail, Jackson Hole, Mammoth, & More Announce Corporate Sponsorships
Partnerships range from chairlift and trail name sponsors to ski area name changes
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The United States Forest Service (USFS) today lifted its longstanding ban on ski area advertising, which had prohibited resorts operating on public land from striking sponsorship agreements for chairlifts, trail names, lodges, shuttlebuses, and more. In reaction to the widely expected decision, several major ski areas announced wide-ranging long-term partnership agreements with major corporations.
Vail Mountain, Jackson Hole, Mammoth, Telluride, Snowbird, and Stevens Pass are among the ski areas partnering with the likes of Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Chevrolet, and Amazon. Details of each sponsorship vary widely, and range from chairlift and trail-name sponsorship to full-blown resort re-namings.
The USFS characterized the decision as a necessary step toward agency solvency after years of Congressional budget cuts. Ten percent of the revenues from any advertising deal with a ski area operating on Forest Service land will go directly to the agency’s operating budget.
“These assholes in Congress give us less and less each year,” said USFS Chief Ranger Stanley Treefoil. “Did you know that these idiots allocated $2.3 billion for fiscal 2023 to investigate whether President Biden used a fake ID to score an AARP discount at a Baton Rouge Denny’s in 1992? Meanwhile, my rangers’ per diem has been replaced with an ‘unlimited hunting license,’ meaning instead of just buying a sandwich, they have to find some rabbit or deer or bald eagle to shoot, dress, and cook. It’s embarrassing.”
The ski industry has broadly embraced the decision, characterizing these professional-sports-style agreements as a stabilizing mechanism for a weather-dependent industry.
“Just as moving season pass sales to springtime helped insulate America’s ski resorts from fluctuating winter weather, permitting advertising on Forest Service lands will help stabilize year-to-year revenue,” said Karrieanne Jackson, a revenue analyst at the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA). “Plus, just imagine how adorable your kids will look wearing florescent ‘Google Me’ vests during their group ski lessons.”
Not everyone was pleased with the decision. “Like the atrociously mis-conceived gondola that privately owned ski areas are trying to thrust up the gut of Little Cottonwood Canyon with public funds, this is yet another assault on the aesthetic of our pristine shared lands,” said Gary Overboard, a spokesman for Wasatch Backcountry Alliance. “We need to be focusing all of our energies on ensuring that as many people as possible can continue driving private cars into the wilderness, as is our right as U.S. Americans.”
Major ski areas, however, wasted no time outlining ambitious multi-year partnerships that in some cases modify place and feature names that have been in place for decades. Here’s a look at some of the more significant partnerships, and their implications for skiing and for skiers:
Vail Mountain wants to Live Más
Vail Mountain, the largest ski area in Colorado and one of the most-visited in America, signed a 10-year, $100 million agreement with Taco Bell that will touch nearly every part of the resort.
The most significant element will be a rebranding of the Back Bowls to the “Taco Bowls.” Vail’s seven bowls - Sun Down, Sun Up, Tea Cup, China, Siberia, Inner Mongolia, and Outer Mongolia – will be renamed, respectively: Taco Bowl, Chalupa Bowl, Mexican Pizza Bowl, Gordita Bowl, Crunchwrap Supreme Bowl, Doritos Locos Taco Bowl, and Think Outside the Bun Bowl.
Skiers will also benefit: once they scan their 2023-24 Epic Pass on Vail Mountain, it will automatically be loaded with 50 “Taco Bucks,” that can be redeemed at any Colorado Taco Bell.
“Vail Mountain is the best ski area in America, and Taco Bell prepares the best food in America, so this is a natural fit,” Vail Mountain Chief Partnerships Officer Rex Abigail told The Storm Skiing Journal on Saturday morning. “Plus, with the prestige of this major corporate sponsorship, we can now charge even more for lift tickets… [muffled] what’s that? No? We can’t actually say that? … [voice loud again on the phone] Hey can you delete that part?”
To promote the new partnership and alleviate stress for commuting skiers, Vail will deploy dozens of “Taco Trucks” to roam the shoulder of Interstate 70 on weekends and holidays. While a full menu is not yet confirmed, a draft copy leaked to The Storm featured a $99 “Experience of a Lifetime Cravings Kit,” which includes one taco. Taco Bucks, a resort representative confirmed, would not be redeemable at mobile Taco Trucks.
Local reaction was mixed. “I can think of worse ideas,” said Debbie Sandersen, who has lived in Vail since 1972 and was waiting for friends at the bottom of the Born Free Express lift on Saturday morning. “Like letting poor people live near me. In my opinion, the developable land around Vail is best used for sheep to poop on,” she said, referring to Vail Resorts’ now-contentious efforts to build an employee housing complex on the edge of bighorn sheep habitat. “And maybe as a parking place for the Taco Trucks.”
Where’s The Beef? At Jackson Hole
Jackson Hole has teamed up with Wendy’s to revitalize the burger chain’s popular 1980s “Where’s The Beef” campaign. While full details of the agreement were not yet available on Saturday morning, the ski area and restaurant said that the centerpiece would be a renaming of the Aerial Tram to the “This Way to the Beef Tram.”
“The Jackson Hole tram serves some of the ‘beefiest’ terrain in North American skiing, so aligning America’s most iconic lift with American dining’s most iconic slogan is a natural fit,” said Jackson Hole Partnerships Ninja Dan Montblanc.
To celebrate the partnership, Wendy’s will give away Bacon Double Deluxe burgers to the first 100 passengers in the tram line every day for the entire 2023-24 ski season.
Told about the plan, Tyler Swanson, a Jackson Hole local who moved to Wyoming from Iowa in December, seemed conflicted. “I mean on the one hand I pretty much reflexively hate everything other than reminding everyone that I’m a Jackson Hole local. On the other hand, those burgers would be handy to chuck at Ikon Pass holders. I made an 8-year-old cry on the Sweetwater Gondola last week because this little asshole had an Ikon Pass sticker on his helmet. It was awesome.”
The Snowbird tram goes higher than ever
America’s other legendary ski area tramway will also undergo a renaming, as Snowbird partners with Weed World, the largest distributor of marijuana products and accessories in America. The resort will rebrand its tram, renaming the blue car “Hot Box,” and the red car “Weed Wagon.”
Reached for comment, Weed World CEO Jason Kowalski said, “Brah did you know that E.T. wasn’t a movie? That shit was a fucking documentary, man. It for real-ass happened, Yo. If you just look at all the evidence, man, you’ll see that… that… um. Brah what were we talking about again Brah?”
Snowbird CEO Riley Overgarden seemed to be caught off guard by the announcement. In a brief phone call on Saturday, she noted that this partnership was “definitely not happening,” and that a sponsorship by a weed distributor “most certainly did not” align with the mission of Powdr Corp and its adventure lifestyle brands. “Jesus Christ, I think the fucking intern at-tweeted these morons and they thought it was official. I just got an email invoice from them for 50 million dollars. Excuse me, I have to go take care of this.”
Several elements of Snowbird’s website that had been updated to reflect the Weed World partnership remained in place several hours later, however. Daily lift hours had been changed from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. to “whenever the fuck we get around to it” to “4:20 Brah!” And season passes, the site promised, would be baked into an edible. A disclaimer on the season pass page reminded passholders, “Not to eat the pass because I did that shit once and it was gnarly as fuck Dude.”
A new ride for Telluride
Perhaps the most significant change will come in Southwest Colorado, where Telluride signed a comprehensive agreement with Chevrolet. The ski resort will henceforth be known as “Chevrolet Mountain.” The mountain will demolish all of its chairlifts this summer, and replace them with a fleet of four-by-four pickup trucks that skiers can drive up the runs.
“How do real-ass Americans get around? In their motherfucking pickup trucks, that’s how,” said Keith Stenson, CEO of General Motors, in a prepared statement. “I think skiers have had quite enough of this socialist mass-transit bullshit. Just as General Motors helped destroy all those wimpy trolley systems back in the 1950s, we’re going to make sure no skiers are ever again forced to share any form of locomotion with bitch-ass strangers.”
For Telluride officials, the move seemed calculated to hit back at Kia’s Telluride model, which the ski area had never sanctioned nor supported. “This upstart car company made the unfortunate decision to capitalize on and pirate Telluride’s brand equity for its own profit,” said Karla Rogers, Telluride Senior Vice President of Brands, Branding, Partnerships, Sales, Strategy, Content, Synergy, Equity, and Thinking Outside the Box. “Our partnership with Chevrolet underscores not only our distaste for the Kia Telluride brand, but our clear allegiance to a much studlier brand name.”
Asked what she thought about the ski area’s plan to remove its aerial lifts as she was emerging from the Prada store on West Colorado Avenue with 11 newly purchased handbags, Stephynies VonHowelHowsen-Walker-Dupotee seemed confused. “Wait, there’s skiing here?” she asked. “That is so meta.” Two bodyguards then stopped traffic in either direction while a helicopter landed in the middle of the street. “Is skiing the one that rich people do or the one that rich people make fun of?” she could be heard saying into her iPhone as she stepped into the helicopter.
Free delivery to Stevens Pass
One of the largest deals will hit the Pacific Northwest, where Stevens Pass, the popular Vail Resorts-owned ski area just two hours outside of Seattle, will partner with Amazon, the tech giant headquartered in the city. Amazon Prime members will receive unlimited, unrestricted access to Stevens Pass for the 2023-24 ski season. To help alleviate any traffic that the extra visitors could bring, Amazon will “deliver” skiers from their doorsteps to the chairlifts in the company’s trademark bright-blue-on-blue vans.
“Feedback from our guests indicated that they really didn’t think there were enough people skiing here,” said Stevens Pass Crowd Management Specialist Darren Mistletoe. “Our goal is to have 45-minute liftlines at a bare minimum. It helps that the majority of our lift attendants are scanning Epic Passes rather than making sure skiers load in groups of four, but we needed to find an edge to really ramp up those wait times. The issue was that we didn’t have enough parking spaces to accommodate all of these potential Stevens Pass skiers. Amazon’s industry-leading logistics and transportation services take care of that problem, ensuring that our volume matches our ambitions.”
Stevens Pass skiers seemed skeptical that the partnership would improve the ski experience. “This is possibly the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Carlos Gutierrez. “They’re giving away skiing, but last week I brought my friends who don’t have Epic Passes here, and they had to sell their family dog to afford the $1,000 for one day of lift tickets. The kids were so upset.”
Amazon did attach one condition to the partnership – Stevens Pass will remove all bathroom facilities from the property. “Going to the bathroom is so gross,” said William Bullroy, an Amazon spokesman. “At Amazon, we have long prided ourselves on a bathroom-free policy at all of our global warehouses and distribution centers. Our employees should be focused on working, not peeing, and we think the same is true of Vail Resorts’ employees and guests.”
Driving through at Mammoth Mountain
Mammoth Mountain, an Alterra Mountain Company flagship in California, has also entered a sweeping partnership. The ski area will collaborate with a popular California-based burger chain and rename itself “Mammoth Mountain presented by In-N-Out Burger.”
Starting for the 2023-24 ski season, skiers will be able to place their In-N-Out orders at the bottom of the Cloud Nine Express, Canyon Express, and Gold Rush Express chairs, as well as both Panorama gondolas, and pick them up at an In-N-Out kiosk near the top terminal.
“Mammoth Mountain and In-N-Out Burger are California icons, so a union of the two is a perfect fit,” said Mammoth Mountain Chief Burger Brah Sean Sutherland, who is the first employee to hold the newly created position.
To celebrate the partnership, In-N-Out will introduce the “Mammoth Burger.” The burger will contain 879 calories, in honor of the 879 inches of snow that have fallen on Mammoth’s summit this winter, and cost $229, reflecting the price of the ski area’s peak-day walk-up lift ticket.
Mammoth regulars had a mostly positive reaction to the partnership. “Oh man I just love In-N-Out Burger,” said Tina Evans, who lives in the Bay Area but visits Mammoth nearly every weekend from November to June. “When I travel to other parts of the country, I won’t shut up about it. I tell everyone I meet how great In-N-Out is and how much better it is than whatever I’m currently eating. Like most Californians, I really can’t remind the rest of the world of this fact enough.”
And then there’s Antelope Butte
In Northern Wyoming, Antelope Butte, a 225-acre, 1,000-vertical-foot ski area will partner with Tim’s Bait and Tackle and Ammo and Vape Shop & Taxidermy, located west of the mountain on US 14.
“Well we called Microsoft, but they said they were already contracted with Crystal Mountain in Washington, which apparently they’re renaming ‘Microsoft Mountain,’” said Jeff Seeburger, who described himself as the general manager, cook, parking lot attendant, lift mechanic, and keeper of the horse stable and chicken coop. “So I called up Tim. We used to get high together when I got back from the Army, and his wife and my wife exchange casserole recipes for the holidays, so it all works out.”
Asked about the terms of the agreement, Seeburger said that Antelope Butte would plow the shop’s driveway after snowstorms of more than two inches, while the store would erect a pop-up vape shop in the ski area’s base lodge.
When a reporter stopped into the shop this morning, Tim was drinking a Coors and throwing chicken bones into a pen of around two dozen dogs. Asked why he agreed to sponsor Antelope Butte, he pointed to the opportunities to reach new customers. “Hell most teenagers don’t hunt or fish any more, but they sure as shit like that skiing thing. If they don’t come through here to buy their vape pods, at least I can get ‘em on their way to the hill.”
Asked if he enjoyed skiing, Tim nodded enthusiastically. “Especially when I bring my buddy Jack Daniels!” He then chuckled uncontrollably, dumped the rest of his beer into the dogs’ water dish, and walked back inside.
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