I stumbled upon Alpine Meadows in 1994 while my wife, Shannon, and I were on our honeymoon. After two great days of spring skiing, we considered it one our favorite ski areas and couldn’t wait to go back.
We didn’t think it would take two decades, but our 20th anniversary offered a fine excuse. With such happy memories of Alpine, I found it a little disconcerting to learn about its likely demise under the leadership of Squaw Valley and KSL.
As a skier and marketing professional with expertise in tourism, retail and real estate, I felt compelled to offer this perspective. Living in the East, I offer some distance and objectivity, too.
Mountain Dew and Diet Pepsi are two very different products targeting two very different audiences, yet they are both owned by Pepsico (NYSE: PEP) and their profits end up on the same bottom line. It would be a strange disconnect to see Diet Pepsi ads lining the halfpipe at the X-Games and just as disconcerting to see Shaun White pushing Mountain Dew on Lifetime TV.
It doesn’t take much to understand that Pepsico can make more money building two, different brands that appeal to different types of people rather than push a single brand onto everyone. Selling both through the same distribution network behind the scenes creates the efficiencies that control costs. This branding approach has helped Pepsico record impressive results year after year.
At Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, private equity firm KSL Capital Partners is trying a different approach. Though the two ski areas are neighbors with barely a valley in between their peaks, they offer two different products that appeal to two different audiences, yet both were successful in much the same way Mountain Dew and Diet Pepsi have been successful.
After the purchase of Alpine, the outrage was a natural response, along with the fear that KSL would forever change Alpine’s character as it became but one little piece of Squaw Valley. And despite a variety of assurances, that’s exactly what’s happening.
Today at Alpine Meadows, terrain park rails are co-branded, painted on one side with the Alpine logo and on the other side with the Squaw logo. The Alpine Meadows iPhone app puts Squaw Valley on top of Alpine.
I think the Alpine logo likely won’t be around much longer. Over time, if KSL’s branding strategy is fully implemented, then there will likely be no Alpine Meadows, just more terrain on the back side of Squaw Valley. I don’t know if the level of backlash was anticipated, but it didn’t have to be this way.
Money that could have gone to area architects, engineers and construction people is going to lawyers. Rather than eliminate the Alpine Meadows brand, which carries a strong emotional connection for a loyal following (which leads to repeat purchasing and referral activity), and rather than discard literally decades of highly positive, accumulated brand equity, KSL would have been smart to promote Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley as two separate ski areas offering different experiences that appeal to different markets.
This forward-thinking strategy would keep Alpine’s dedicated following of families and in-the-know locals on board. In fact, this would help present KSL as a partner in developing the area rather than as a group of suits destroying the region’s unique and pristine character.
Since the well-to-do vacationers KSL wants to lure away from Vail Resorts often bring little or no emotional connection to either ski area, there’s little or no need to discard the Alpine Meadows brand.
Why not let the Alpine Meadows faithful spend happily at Alpine while the vacationers spend happily at Squaw Valley, as their money happily commingles on the bottom line? Sure, it’s easier to apply a single brand across every property and, sure, a few dollars are being left on the table at Alpine, but if their objective is sales and profits — the two metrics most worth measuring — then their branding strategy may not be the most effective approach.
I don’t know how any marketing professional could see the goodwill and positive energy on display at the Alpine Meadows season pass-holder party and decide it would be better to crush that spirit than to harness it.
Paul Entin is president of epr, a marketing firm based in Bloomsbury, N.J.. Learn more at www.eprmarketing.com.